Alex Rios: 2010's Big Post-Hype Sleeper?

Alex Rios has had a strange career. Once highly touted by Scouts and Sam Walker (author of Fantasyland) alike as the next big thing amongst outfielders, a world of potential seemed to exist within the bat (and glove) of 1999's 19th overall pick. As this is a fantasy analysis post, I will ignore the value of Rios' +1 WAR glove henceforth.

After two seasons of below replacement level offense, Rios batted .300+ with 15+ HR/SB (.365 wOBA) in his third full major league season of play. Rios followed suit in 2007, hitting .297 with 24 home runs and 17 stolen bases (and a .368 wOBA). With increasing plate discipline, a 6.2 or higher speed score each of his first four major league seasons and with a +.200 ISO in back to back seasons, Rios seemed to project the kind of potential we hold Matt Kemp to today. At minimum, a 20/20 season, seemed in the cards entering the 2008 season. That's when things started to get off track.

Whereas Rios' plate discipline and power had been trending upwards the previous few seasons, Rios took steps back in his K%, BB% and ISO in 2008. The result was a different than expected, but still useful, with Rios hitting .291 with 15 HR and 32 SB (.350 wOBA). While his power regressed a bit (.170 ISO), Rios' saw an increase in his speed score (from 6.4 to 6.8) to go with an elite 80% success rate on the basepaths. Coming into 2009, people paraded Rios around as a .300/25/30 kind of hitter. His ADP barely edged the top 50 entering the season, along with other super outfielder Matt Kemp. However, whereas Matt Kemp ended the season as a top 5 fantasy outfielder, Alex Rios hit a mere .247 with 17 HR and 24 SB (.306 wOBA, 15% below league average when park factors are considered). The 20/20 promise still seems alive, but wheras Rios was hitting .300 with a .200+ ISO, a 16% K rate and a 7.7% BB rate just two seasons ago, Rios hit for a lower average than Adam Dunn in 2009 with his lowest ISO in four seasons (.140), an 18.4% K rate and a pathetic 5.8% BB rate (22nd lowest amongst all players to receive 500+ PA in 2009). Even worse was his 0.35 K/BB ratio, the 13th lowest mark in the majors (amongst all players with 500+ PA). Not exactly the pretty pictures owners expected with a top 50 draft pick.

But alas, there is some hope for 2010. Despite the decline in plate discipline results, Rios saw some improvements in the process. Whereas Rios walked less and struck out more in 2009, he swung at less pitches and even though he was chasing more pitches than he was in 2006-2007, Rios swung less at bad pitches in 2009 than he did in 2008. At the same time, Rios was making more contact. So what gives? A lot of Rios' struggles seem to be the byproduct of bad luck. Let's put the plate discipline results aside and pretend Rios' regression in striking out and walking is to be sustained for 2010. Nonetheless, his .273 BABIP was well below his .319 career mark and .321 2009 xBABIP. The poor plate disciple aside, Rios' 2009 luck-neutral, adjusted batting line would have been .286/.331/.443 (.764 OPS) had his BABIP reflected his xBABIP and we pessimistically assume all additional hits would have been singles. In real life, this batting line isn't exactly sexy and even paired with a +10 run glove, its hard to imagine Rios being worth the $12+ million owed to him each of the next four seasons. However, from a fantasy perspective, there is a lot to like.

A .286 mark is not too far off the .295 mark he averaged from 2006-2008, especially if you expect some rebound in peripherals based on his approach at the plate in 2009. Furthermore, though the .148 ISO is disappointing and hardly telling of even a 15+ HR season, Rios is now employed with an organization that plays 1/2 of its games at one of baseball's most home run happy fields. Whereas the Blue Jays play in a power neutral park, the White Sox play in a top 5 home run accentuating ballpark. Laymen translation: more home runs, or at least a steady output thereof, even if Rios' power game stagnates rather that rebounds.

So there's hope for a .290 BA and 15-20 HR season. What of the speed? Ozzie's made it no secret that he's going to let players be more aggressive on the base paths this season, even if it hurts the team's actual runs production. Result? A very plausible .290-20-30 season.

Depending on where the Sox bat Rios, the R/RBI will come. Depending on where the Sox place Gordon Beckham and Mark Teahen in the lineup, Rios will likely bat either 2nd, 5th or 6th. Given the White Sox weak offensive prospects for 2010, Rios will not likely be elite in both categories, but he is likely to be productive in either R or RBI, while not dragging down your team in the other category.

For 2010, Alex Rios has an ADP of 109, along with other moderate risk/high reward outfielders such as teammate Carlos Quentin and Jay Bruce. Other OFs drafted near him are Denard Span, Johnny Damon, CarGo and Brad Hawpe. Personally, I'd rather have Bruce and CarGo (both of whom I have the highest of expectations for), but Rios is not a bad option with one's 10th overall pick; especially given his strong upside. Yahoo has him ranked even lower, at #141 overall. Remember that Zack Greinke guy? Alex Rios may be that kind of post hype sleeper for 2010. It's in the cards.


Sexy Rexy said...

As a White Sox fan, I hope his numbers improve and you made a great case.

At the start of the season, I would expect the top of the lineup to look like this:


But the Sox are prone to moving Alexei for some god awful reason to the top of the order about 1/4 of the way into the season. But Quentin will probably only play 100 games- which still means Rios'll probably bat around the 5 hole for the most of the season- which means I would expect him to get his RBI's but not get his R.

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

With AJ and Juan Pierre batting behind you, how can you not score 100 Rs?

Sexy Rexy said...

Dude, I know. The pop of AJ, Alexei, Teahen, and the rotating DH will make sure Rios gets his runs.

Anonymous said...