Prior to this season, I held only a few memories regarding Sean Rodriguez. I had seen him play and never paid much attention to him. He was on another team, after all. I can safely say that I’ve seen a fair share of Rodriguez now, and I think he may just lay claim to the title in the header.
Rodriguez’s line entering Sunday wasn’t terribly impressive: .270/.308/.451 – or a .327 wOBA, a pinch over league average; he’d struck out in 34.4% of his at-bats and walked in only 3% of his plate appearances, so it should be no surprise that Rodriguez had more strikeouts (42) than hits (33) and probably will throughout the season. The knock on Rodriguez was always about his windmill ways…the strikeout
Yet contact doesn’t seem to be the biggest issue with Rodriguez when it comes to his strikeouts. He makes contact at a rate below league average, yes, but he’s also super passive. He swings at the first pitch at exactly league average rates, which has been sparked by a recent surge of first pitch swinging (his career rate is still 20%). Rodriguez has fallen behind 0-1 in 72 of his 133 plate appearances; that’s more than half the time, but even that number is deceiving because it doesn’t consider the 14 plate appearances where he put the ball into play. The reality of the situation is that Rodriguez has fallen behind in the count 0-1 more than 60% of the time, and it’s not because he’s swinging and missing.
Since we’ve already established that Rodriguez takes the first pitch 73% of the time, let’s find out how often he swings (and misses) on 0-0 and whether he finds himself equally passive in 0-1 counts. Of the 24 times Rodriguez has swung – not bunted, mind you – he made contact a little under 60% of the time. He’s not exactly Dustin Pedroia or Luis Castillo. Now, of those 72 0-1 pitches, Rodriguez has taken exactly 50%; a little under 20% of which were called strikes. That means he falls behind 0-2 without ever swinging the bat in roughly 70% of his plate appearances that don’t involve Rodriguez putting the ball in play on pitch number one. It’s only then that Rodriguez’s questionable contact skills become the issue with his strikeout rate.
Rodriguez has an OPS over 1.000 for the month of June, and, sure enough, of those 39 first pitches, he’s swung at 36% of them. Correlation does not equal causation, but one has to wonder if there’s something to the aforementioned numbers. Whether it is the pitchers began just lobbing strikes, or that he just became more comfortable with recording an out early in his at-bats.
Just that exercise alone makes Rodriguez captivating, but that’s not it. He’s fast. A lot faster than you’d expect someone who strikes out more than one-third of the time. He’s turned eight bunts into six hits this season and he’s added two infield hits, too. That means that eight of his 19 singles this year never left the infield. Combine that with a .180 ISO, which would, if he qualified, put him among such second baseman company as Rickie Weeks, Brandon Phillips, and Dustin Pedroia. His offensive package alone is unique; but that’s not enough since he also looks good defensively at second base.
Rodriguez’s total package makes him a speed-blessed, defensively-able middle infielder with pop and a strikeout rate over 30% caused not necessarily by his inability to make contact, but by his consistent inaction on first pitches.
How many of those exist?