White Sox acquire Alex Rios...why?

MLBTradeRumors.com is reporting that the White Sox have acquired Alex Rios off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays for nothing in return. This essentially means the White Sox are responsible for Rios' remaining, prorated contract for 2009 and the roughly $60 million remaining on his contract over the next five seasons. Was it a smart move for a franchise that has been utilizing some combination of DeWayne Wise (.248 wOBA) and Brian Anderson (.283 wOBA) in center? My answer, is a firm no.

Despite all of the hype and brand name recognition (courtesy of Moneyball and Fantasyland) behind Alex Rios, his career has been nothing short of disappointing. While a lifetime .285 hitter who averages 90.3 runs per season and boasts a career 77.2 SB% may appeal to most fantasy baseball players, a player with a career .342 wOBA (league average is .335) and declining range in CF does not.

Since his peak of production 2007 (.368 wOBA, .201 ISO, 7.9 BB%, 9.3 Fielding Runs Above Average), Alex Rios has been on a steady decline. In each season since, Rios has seen his wOBA, ISO, BB%, K%, contact rate and defensive production all trend in the wrong direction. He quickly went from a young and promisingly productive 20/20 leadoff man worth 20.9 Batting Runs Above Average to an overvalued, underproducing asset whose bloated contract was not even the most ridiculous on the team (that honor goes to Vernon Wells, who signed a 7-year, $126 million contract in 2006). If not for the aberration uptick in the quality of defense Rios provided the Blue Jays last season (23.9 runs above average, the highest of a career that averages 11.3 Fielding Runs Above Average per season), Rios's total Runs Above Average value would reflect his three year skills decline.

So why, knowing all of this, would Kenny Williams allow J.P. Riccardi to dump Alex Rios and his monstrous salary on the White Sox? I am not entirely sure. Of course both DeWayne Wise and Brian Anderson* have been below replacement level in terms of their offensive productive for the White Sox this season, but so has Alex Rios, whose season Batting Runs Above Average mark sits at an embarrassingly low -0.5 runs. Furthermore, both DeWayne Wise and Brian Anderson provided considerably more defensive value for the White Sox this season than Alex Rios has for the Blue Jays. Where the two White Sox centerfielders combined for 10.1 Fielding Runs Above Average rating over 1561.0 innings of outfield work, Alex Rios has only been worth 0.1 Fielding Runs over 1951.1 innings! That's approximately one less win of contribution over almost 400 MORE innings of work. So yes, yes, those same two outfielders have cost the White Sox almost two full wins with their poor batting skills, but it's not like the Alex Rios machine and his slightly below league-average offensive this season are going to help the South Siders very much -- especially when you consider his .290 BABIP, declining speed score (5.6 this season) and decreasing line drive rate. At best, Rios has been league average this season. In reality, however, he is an underproducing player who eats up a lot of payroll and a valuable spot on a major league roster.

At Rios' current pace, the White Sox would have been better off acquiring ANY purely average minor league player and giving him a home in centerfield. It would not only save $60 million over 5 years, but give the White Sox an expendable option come this off-season and allow them to acquire a much better player at a much cheaper cost. Even if Kenny Williams thought this upcoming off-season's centerfield market was weak, there is no conceivable way to justify taking Alex Rios's contract off the hands of J.P. Riccardi, even at the cost of no talent (not that the Sox have much minor league talent to fawn over). Williams is paying $11.6 million more per season than he would a random journeyman minor leaguer of average ability and getting the same level of overall production.

Chalk this one up as a big win for J.P. Riccardi. He got the best value any team is going to see from Rios over the last two seasons, largely thanks to an abnormal UZR spike last season. For once, he did something good for the franchise. Kenny Williams, however, well...that's a different story.

*-Apparently some people think that retroactively commenting on the production of Brian Anderson somehow implies that I think he is still on the team. It does not.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

The White Sox have some big numbers coming off their payroll next year so it will be a wash. He will play center for the remainder of this season and it can't be worse than the play we've had this season. He will likely end up at one of the corners with Jordan Danks or Jared Mitchell playing center field and Dye moving to DH after Thome leaves. You can spit all the stats you want, but playing in the cell will help boost his numbers. It's a win win for both teams.

Anonymous said...

Just because they have salary coming off the books at the end of the year is no reason to burn it on a stiff like Rios. Definitely not a positive move for the Sox.

Anonymous said...

Time will tell, Kenny Williams is a gambling man.

ss said...

I don't understand why the White Sox made this move, but to say that you can just plug in an average minor leaguer and get the same results as Rios is just idiotic.

Anonymous said...

Brian Anderson was traded. Do you know who the Sox real center fielder is?

Anonymous said...

Brian Anderson was traded. Do you know who the Sox real center fielder is?

Anonymous said...

Brian Anderson is playing AAA at Pawtucket with the Red Sox. Do some research before writing.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Hey guys, I appreciate the comments, but where in the post did I say that Brian Anderson was still on the White Sox? As a Chicago native who follows the sport entirely too close via ESPN, MLBTR and Fangraphs, I was aware of the trade for Kotsay about 10 mins after it happened. The purpose of the comments I made was to retroactively look at the combined performance of what the Sox have played in CF for the majority of the season. It's not like trading Anderson erased the innings he played the field.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Rios's GB/FB ratio has increased each of the past 3 seasons and his avg HR distance has also decreased. The cell may inflate offense, but if Rios is hitting the ball less and less in the air with less power, its not like he will get a huge boost. It's not like Scott Posednik hits double digit HRs each season, is it?

Sexy Rexy said...

As a WHITE sox fan I like the trade. If Jerry is willing to sign checks then why not. He may kind of suck but he's still better than really option the Sox have.

Thome and Dotel, two HUGE contracts are coming off the books and soon Konerko and Dye's will too. AJ will also probably be gone too bringing up the extremely low cost Tyler Flowers.

I agree the money is a huge problem but the Sox didn't have to give up any prospects for him, I really don't see either his OR Peavy's contract getting in the way of anything b/c the Sox always spend money, and I'm sad to say it but he's the best option.

Although I still would like the OF of Quentin, Dye, and Pods right now better than any combination with Rios in it for this year

and I don't know where the Brian Anderson referance really comes into play but yes Rios is better than both him and Wise and yes obviously Anderson in not on the team anymore

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

To follow up my thought, I looked at Scotty Pod's value data and some combination of his barely positive defense and barely poor offense (which is still negative as it usually is because Pods is awful) has been equally as much in limited ABs for the Sox than Rios has been all season for the Jays. Basically, Pods and Rios have been equally productive this year, but Rios is going to get paid $11.6 mil more

Anonymous said...

I think Dave Cameron would love to hear your rebuttal to his now widely read article (which I'm sure you read 10 seconds after it was posted).

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/rios-wells

Anonymous said...

Somehow Alex Rios has become the most divisive player of 2009. Half of the analysts are jumping off bridges, and the other half uncorking champagne.

Could a blogger, for once, admit that they don't have a fucking crystal ball stop using second and third-order metrics the credence of Newton's law of gravity?

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

I actually posted this on the comments section. I'm very active on Fangraphs. Thanks for the heads up though!

Anonymous said...

I'm confused by some of the things you highlight to imply Chicago got the short end of the deal.

First, you say "Alex Rios has been on a steady decline. In each season since, Rios has seen his wOBA, ISO, BB%, K%, contact rate and defensive production all trend in the wrong direction." His ISO is within .007 of last year, his BB and K rates are virtually unchanged, and as you point to later, he had a career year on defense last year, meaning it couldn't have trended down over each of the past 2 years. You are correct that his wOBA has dropped this year. This is because his BABIP is 34 points below his career average.

Also, if you normalize his 2008 defensive value to his career standard, his worth is still about the same as 2007. So, really, this year is the outlier in terms of value.

Oh, and in the comments, you indicate his GB/FB rate has increased each of the past 3 years... Umm... it's actually a bit lower this year according to fangraphs.

Don't worry, you're going to hate Rios, but it won't be for his overall performance - it'll be due to his occasional, umm, 'performances'.

Anonymous said...

hahaha....rios' antics might be bug news in canada, but he won't be stealing any headlines for them here in chicago. we have ozzie "the mouth" guillen and i'm sure i don't have to remind anyone of the half a dozen wackos we have on the north side.

Anonymous said...

Heh, yeah, but imagine what happens with the first Rios vs Ozzie. That'll be a fun clip to watch!

Anonymous said...

i guess i'm uninformed about the Gaston vs Rios fights....do fill in the history for me

Anonymous said...

Oh, it's not that there were any Gaston vs Rios scenarios. I just can't think of Ozzie not exploding on the first bit of Rios-osity. When he has a brain cramp, you know he'd stop breathing if it wasn't involuntary.

Anonymous said...

ozzie can deal with "brain cramps". believe me, we have around 90 errors already this season. unless he's a clubhouse disruption (see nick swisher), he'll be just fine.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

If you were to normalize Rios' fielding rate to his career average of 1 win above average, he would be worth 2.3 wins this season -- far below the 4.5+ level of 2007 and 2008. It puts him in the level of value he provided in 2004.

Now I do not particularly subscribe to the theory Fangraphs uses to determine "Win Dollars" because i do not believe money is spent in a vacuum. You cannot just divide total expenditures by wins and assume that that is how players should be valued per say -- esp. because pre arb and pre FA guys have 0 or almost 0 control over salary figures. Guys like Rios do not perform as well as guys like Carlos Quentin but are paid handsomely more. Sometimes players like Vernon Wells skew data because they get overpaid based on outlier seasons.

Does it balance out over the course of the entire league? Not sure. Thus, I take those values with a grain of salt.

Besides, he's still worth under $10 mil a season at his current pace if you normalize the defense

The 'Bright' One said...

I bow to the greatness of David "MVP Eckstein

Sexy Rexy said...

I don't have a fucking crystal ball so as a fan I'm actually just hoping Rios's upside will previal and the ChiSox see a whole in Rios swing or seomthing that they correct.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the confusion... I didn't really word that part too well, but I actually meant to normalize his 2008 defense. You had correctly noted it as an obvious outlier, but when normalized, it still put the wins above replacement about the same as 2007.

As for this year? Yup. it's an off year both defensively and offensively. There haven't been any injury concerns and he still has the same speed, so his range should rebound to rebound to normal. As for offense, it's BABIP driven. This should rebound. I know about the line drive percentage, but lots of hitters go through variance on it from year to year, and we're only talking about 1.5 to 2 points in Rios' case.

daffadilly said...

Jays fan here. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by Rios. He should have been playing CF for the Jays, but they had "WELLS" I believe he was having a down year, and that a change will do him good. He has not been any kind of problem in the clubhouse, and even though he has had those "brain cramps", he is much better than his numbers are saying. Good luck to the WS and Rios.

Anonymous said...

Another Jays fan here...enjoy the drifting and dreaming experience that is Rios on a daily basis, Sox fans! The half-assed effort to first, forgetting to tag up to move up a base, or this year's newly-found fear of going near the wall out in the field should make all those millions worth it. Oh, and don't ask him for an autograph...

On the upside, he's apparently quite the expert at playing with rc helicopters...

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Rios' BABIP is .290, which is below his career rate of .328, but when you consider that league average BABIP is around .300, the declining speed score (down 1.1 pts be below his career rate), the decreasing LD% (down two whole points this season against his career average) and the declining avg HR distace, a .300ish BABIP is not unreasonable to call sustainable. In other words, Rios' offense has not been incredible "unlucky" this season.

Anonymous said...

ur an idiot, do u realize how bad anderson was and wise is offensively? and how bad pods is defensivesly? kenny just filled the center field black hole for the next 5 years with a minimum 20/20 good d guy. or would u have preferred luis terreo, rob mackoviack or darin erstad? this why stats heads like you cannot be trusted, things aren't dealt in sbsolutes. oh and by the way, u covered it nicely, but it really seems you thought that anderson was still on the team, and your ignorance that pods is the every day center fielder backs that up. f*ck u very much, *sshole

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

To me you claim and ask:

"ur an idiot, do u realize how bad anderson was and wise is offensively? and how bad pods is defensivesly?"


I respond by saying that I do in fact know how bad these players were offensively. Wise and Anderson were each cost the sox almost a full win of production, while Scott Posednik's been league average at both defense and offense this season. Have you looked at Alex Rios' numbers this season, however? They have been the exact same as Scotty Pods in terms of overall production. In less ABs for the Sox, Pods has been worth 1.1 wins. Rios has also been worth a total of 1.1 wins above average. YET, he costs more. And don't use a blind "underperforming" argument w/ respect to Rios because the whole post I wrote details how Rios is on the decline and not NEARLY as good as his contract makes him out to be. He's a slightly above avg player making super star money

Anonymous said...

"Rios' offense has not been incredible "unlucky" this season."

My point was that it wasn't a precipitous decline across the board for 2 years as you were portraying. Yup, he's having an off year. Line drive fluctuations happen from year to year, and this is his first time below 20% since 2005 (and then just barely). As for his speed score, a major hit on that was the run percentage (6.38 in 2008 vs 4.69 this year). Of course, 40% of his at bats this year came out of the #6 or #7 spot as opposed to only 5 ABs that low in the order last year. Since runs are heavily influenced by where you hit in the lineup, I don't know how Rod Barajas' all-or-nothing approach indicates Rios' speed. The biggest explanation for the low BABIP is the aberration of 12.2% IF fly balls. Considering he had never been above 8% before, this looks like a complete fluke.

I still think you're trying to find ways to say the sky is falling as opposed to realizing what you just picked up. He's a player having an off year (in which he's still an about average player even though his value has dipped by over 3 wins vs his average for the previous 3 years) at the age of 28, who has a contract for 5 years, 4 of which are a hitters' typical peak years. Oh, and he can play CF, which is a position that's been a bit of an issue in Chicago for a few years.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Let me show you the decline in peripherals that disturbs me:

K% by season (07-09): 16%-17%-17.9% >> that's a 6% increase in strikeout rate per season

BB% by season (06-09): 7.2%-7.9%-6.5%-6.6%

ISO by season (06-09): .213-.201-.170-.163

wOBA by season (06-09):
.365-368-.350-.329 -- league average is around .335


a 2% change in LD% is very significant. A 2 point variation is a 10% change against his career level. It drops his rough xBABIP from .320+ to .300. Thus, the .290 BABIP seems reasonable to maintain.

Anonymous said...

A couple of things:

The K rate for 2008 was 17.6%, not 17%. This means it's effectively the same between 2008 and 2009 (which you correctly stated was 17.9%).

The BB rate is 2 plateaus: (~7.5% for '06-07, and ~6.5% for '08-09).

The ISO? it's a .007 difference. We're talking about the difference of 1 HR instead of a single. It's statistically insignificant.

Line Drive rate? Yup. No argument here. It's more about if you see this as a trend or not. Right now, it looks like an outlier caused by a flukish number of popups. When I look at other hitters that consistently hit for a high BABIP, their LD rate can fluctuate several points from year to year, and then revert. Wonder if there have been any studies done on the variance of LD rates from year to year.

BABIP. It's down 34 points off his career norm. the decrease in wOBA reflects this, and nothing else.

So, the question is, do you see this as something that will continue. This is his only season below a .314 BABIP ('05. no other one below .324). Do you see this as his new LD rate going forward? He's only been below 20% one other time in his career (again, '05).

So, washed up at 28, or major rebound candidate? Both have happened before. Given his issues are BABIP-related, and only for one season, I would definitely say the odds are distinctly in Rios' favor. This is why, as a Jays fan, I was a wee bit displeased to see him let go. Of course, Riccardi is insanely risk-adverse (except to injuries, oddly enough) and suffers from bouts of shortsightedness. If he wasn't in the middle of his off-year, he wouldn't have been available in the first place.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

My bad about the 2008 K rate. Bigger spike in strike outs than I thought that season.

The change in wOBA is not just a result of a change in BABIP. wOBA is based on OBP and SLG. Both have decreased as a result of BB and ISO changes. The 2008 change in ISO was small and the result of less HRs and more singles, but his AVG HR distance fell that season from 399 FT in 2007 league avg is 400.5) to 391 FT. The sheer strength with which he drove pitches declined due to either worse contact (another metric thats been on the decline for Rios as his K rate has increased) or a decrease in strength. The former seems more likely.

Again, talking about Rios' BABIP, even if his LD rate were to bounce back, the speed rating is down 19% this year. Basically, he's running slower and less efficiently. BP long ago proved that speed ratings, efficiency and SB% has no change based on where in the line up a hitter bats.


I do acknowledge why oen might like Rios and his potential -- 20 HR, 15 SB guys are very appealing because of a rare balance in tools. HOWEVER, at $12 mil a year, I want production and expectation, not just potential upside

Anonymous said...

A bigger cluster of sabremetric cliche, I have never seen than this piece.

The 'Bright' One said...

Yeah, who needs those statistically proven sabermetric cliches when you can simply use your eyes like Steve Phillips

http://gameofinches.blogspot.com/2009/04/steve-phillips-is-making-my-ears-bleed.html

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

If only there was more to FJM about the comment "A bigger cluster of sabremetric cliche, I have never seen than this piece."