A Tough (Few) Year(s) for Alex Rios

While the Tigers and the Indians sit atop the division, the AL Central is still a relatively open race. The White Sox and the Twins might sit 5 and 6.5 games out, respectively, but the failure of both the leaders to establish dominance has left questions open. All four of these teams have flaws that could certainly haunt them in the second half. That should open up opportunities for the two trailers to make up ground. The White Sox probably stand the best chance due to their strong pitching staff, which ranks fourth in the league with 14.6 WAR. They’ll need some help on the other side of the ball, though, if they want to seriously turn things around.

I’ve written previously about the team’s folly of using Juan Pierre at the top of the lineup, and at all. Yet he’s not the only one dragging down the offense. In fact, the entire White Sox outfield has accumulated just 1.8 WAR this season, and that includes Carlos Quentin‘s 2.4 WAR. While Pierre ranks the lowest at -0.7, the man standing to his left isn’t far behind. Alex Rios has produced -0.6 WAR this season. If this were just a half-season of futility the Sox might have hope for the future. But this is something that has been going on for about a year now.

The White Sox knew they were taking a risk when they claimed Rios off waivers from the Blue Jays in August, 2009. A year and a half earlier he had signed a seven-year contract worth nearly $70 million, which at the time didn’t seem like a bad deal for the Jays. Rios had always been hyped as a prospect, and in 2006 and 2007 he had produced 8.6 WAR on the strength of a .367 wOBA and a 17.5 UZR. At just 27 years old when he signed the extension, Rios figured to help the Jays throughout his prime years. He did decline a bit in 2008, producing just a .350 wOBA, but he also produced the best fielding numbers of his career. It was his second straight season with 5 or greater WAR.

In 2009 things took a turn for the worse, as is clearly evident in Rios’s stat lines. The Blue Jays at the time were clearly giving up on the present. They nearly traded Roy Halladay at the deadline, and were sure to do so in the winter. Yet it seemed unlikely at the time that they could unload the contracts of Rios and Vernon Wells, given their performances and future monies owed. But when they placed Rios on waivers in the standard August fashion, the White Sox claimed him. After a day or so of mulling the options, the Jays decided to cut bait and save the money. The White Sox were saddled with five years and $63.2 million. But with a player of Rios’s potential it might have worked out.

At the start of 2010 it appeared that the Sox had made a savvy move. Rios hit well enough in April, and then surged to a .471 wOBA in May. That was part of a White Sox rally that put them back in control of the AL Central. In June his performance dipped a bit, but not alarmingly slow; after a month like he had in May it was completely excusable. But from there his numbers dipped, to a .310 wOBA in July, .313 in August, and .297 in September. The Sox missed the playoffs and had to go back to the drawing board.

This year Rios has played like one of the worst players in baseball. We know he’s not one of the worst, at least in terms of talent. He’s put it on display before. But it’s not as though this is just a half-season slump that we can expect to correct itself. In the last calendar year Rios has hit .233/.282/.346, which amounts to a .277 wOBA. That ranks 137th out of the 140 qualified players. He has produced just 0.2 WAR in that time as well, which ranks 134th. Given this poor year-long performance, it’s tough to expect an improvement from Rios in the second half.

The problem extends even if we go back two calendar years. In that span Rios has hit .251/.299/.395, a .305 wOBA, and has been worth 2.6 WAR. That ranks 114th out of 133 qualified players. If we take that back even another year, which would include Rios’s worthwhile 2008 season — and give us the magical three-year sample for UZR — he has produced 6.5 WAR, which ranks 89th out of 124. His batting runs above average in the last three years is -10.3, which ranks 109th out of 124. Any way you look at it, his numbers are a far cry from the 8.6 WAR (29th out of 151) he produced from 2006 through 2007.

What, then, are the White Sox to do? The evidence is clearly stacked against Rios. He signed the contract coming off two superb years when he ranked among baseball’s best, but has proven to rank among the worst since signing. They’re likely not going to dump a talented player who earns a guaranteed $38 million in the next three years, and there’s absolutely no way to trade him at this point. The options look bleak beyond waiting it out. Unfortunately, given the way he has played waiting it out could do more harm than good.

Yet if the Sox want to take advantage of the wide open AL Central they’ll have to do something, not only with Rios but with Pierre as well. They have an enormous need in the outfield and aren’t well served at all by playing both of them every day. Making matters worse, they reportedly don’t have the budget to make a splash, so they can’t go out and get, say, Carlos Beltran as a half-year band-aid. That might make sense, in that they could sit Rios more often, especially against righties, while hoping that he can change something in the off-season and perhaps return to form in 2012. But a cheap outfielder who can hit righties well and who won’t cost a bounty in prospects does not exist in this market.

It appears, then, that the Sox hands are tied. They have the opportunity to do something with Pierre, but their problems cross over to Rios as well. He may well turn it around, given his talent, but it would be folly to expect that in the second half of 2011. His numbers from the last few years just don’t bear it out. Something has to change. Unfortunately, but the time it does change the Sox will likely be eliminated from contention.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

18 Responses to “A Tough (Few) Year(s) for Alex Rios”

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  1. It's Obvious says:

    DAYAN VICIEDO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

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  2. Ratto's Pants says:

    Lincecum 4 Rios!!!
    What…bad idea?

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    • SC2GG says:

      J.P. Riccardi on that one, and I remember this, “The deal has been on the table for a year now, and anytime he wants to do it, it’s done.”

      That wasn’t exactly what he said, not the exact words, but it was the meaning of what he said.

      That was like, year 7 of his 5-year plan.

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  3. Damaso's Burnt Shirt says:

    When the ChiSox picked up Rios, the RF job was given to a much traded utility player who hit 10 HRs in Sept. And that utility player’s name? Jose Bautista
    Now you know the rest of the story…

    Rios has some serious talent, but he’s a frustrating player to watch. He seemed to me a rally killer who was prone to hitting into a DP or K’ing at the worst possible moment. Don’t really miss that at all.

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  4. Pat says:

    Why the hell do Kenny Williams and Ozzie still have their jobs? It’s mind boggling to me. I guess they do just enough each year to keep the team alive, and Kenny makes a few good moves to outweigh his downright awful moves that he’s sure to make each year.

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  5. siggian says:

    “They’re likely not going to dump a talented player who earns a guaranteed $38 million in the next three years…”

    Well, they could put him on waivers and perhaps the Sox will pick him…. oh wait.

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  6. Eminor3rd says:

    He also has a .221 BABIP against his career .309. I’ve watched him all year. He’s been bad, but he’s also ripped a ton of line drives directly to the centerfielder.

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    • Sox2727 says:

      The reason his BABIP has gone to a career low is because his Line Drive% has decreased steadily over the last 3 years and his IFFB% is nearly double his career average. Those two factors will lead to the low BABIP.

      I’ve never pretended to be a hitting coach but to me watching him everyday it seems like there are just too many moving parts with his swing. The other thing that drives me off the wall is the fact that he seemingly has no interest in using the entire field. When he was having success in Toronto, it seemed like he drove the ball into the right-center gap with great regularity.

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  7. MeloJ says:

    I have always been a big fan of Rios, sadly my best jays jersey has Rios on the back. So I wear that one on the cooler nights when I can wear a sweater or coat to hide his name, he isn’t very popular among the fans who remember him…
    What I do remember of him in those great years was his swing. He had this beautiful light swing which looked effortless. You could not help but see the potential in a guy who had at times looked like he might hit 30 HR, Steal 30 & hit .300. Then we all know how he has been since. After last year I thought Chicago might have lucked out.

    Now that he is in Chicago I have not got to watch him very often, but I would imagine his swing is not as nice as it once was.

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  8. MikeS says:

    His defense is worse too. His lines to fly balls and jumps are not what they were a year ago. I don’t know if his offensive woes are bothering him in the field or what. The line on sports radio (always reliable) is that he doesn’t care. I have a hard time believing that about anybody good enough to make it to the big leagues. I don’t know that there is a single human in the world who could get to that level on talent alone without working at it at all.

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  9. WSO says:

    Boot two of four

    Juan Pierre: -0.7 WAR, owed a bit over $2M through end of 2011
    Omar Vizquel: -0.2 WAR, owed less than $1M through end of 2011
    Brent Morel: -0.2 WAR, can be optioned back to Triple-A
    Brent Lillibridge: 0.9 WAR and falling back to Earth at a rapid rate, owed around $200K through end of 2011

    Recall RF/LF Dayan Viciedo and CF Alejandro De Aza. Both are getting a LOT of BABIP luck in AAA, but have a better shot of being above replacement than any of these characters. De Aza is a lefty and can platoon with Rios.

    If they jettison Vizquel or Morel, they probably need to keep Lillibridge for infield depth. But there are plenty of nonessential and easily disposed of players on the roster. They can make adjustments if they have a mind to.

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  10. Jeffrey Gross says:

    Alex Rios’ monthly splits show it all — see the chart in this article I wrote for THT at the beginning of the month


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