Alex Rios: Buy Low Candidate

Alex Rios finished the 2010 season as one of the biggest fantasy bargains. Though he was nearly a 20-20 player in 2009, his average and OBP dropped to unacceptable levels, making him an afterthought in most drafts. Last season, he rewarded those patient enough to believe in a bounce-back; hitting 21 home runs and stealing 34 bases. Due to that versatility, Rios established himself as a five-category producer. Expected to produce at a similar rate this season, Rios was drafted much earlier. He “rewarded” owners by hitting just .163 through April. While Rios has improved somewhat in May, he’s still not meeting expectations. For owners looking to take advantage of slow starts, that also makes him a prime trade target.

Rios’ current slash line of .200/.264/.297 doesn’t exactly scream “player you need to acquire.” Thankfully, nothing in his stat profile says we should expect Rios to continue struggling. Though he’s produced very little value this season, his walk rate remains solid and his strikeout rate is actually the lowest of his career.

Both of those rates seem sustainable when you look at Rios’ contact and swing rates. Rios has been more selective this season; swinging at fewer pitches both inside and outside the zone. When Rios has swung, he’s made contact at a career rate. His current swinging strike rate is the lowest of his career; meaning he’s swinging and missing much less than usual.

As Jason Catania explained a few weeks ago, much of Rios’ struggles can be attributed to luck. His line has been dragged down by a .211 BABIP; a far cry from his .313 career average. His low BABIP is particularly puzzling when you realize that Rios is currently posting his highest line drive rate since 2008. Rios has also hit more ground balls this season, which should lead to a higher BABIP. This has come at the expense of fly balls, however, which could explain why Rios is currently posting the worst HR/FB rate of his career.

Outside of his poor HR/FB rate, there is another aspect of Rios’ performance that warrants concern. Rios has been absolutely terrible against fastballs this season. Though he has hit fastballs well over his career, Rios currently carries the fourth worst pitch value against fastballs this season. When a hitter suffers such a drastic decline against fastballs, it’s typically due to reduced bat speed as a result of age. Rios is only 30, and it would be surprising if he lost his effectiveness this early in his career. This is purely speculation, but it’s possible something was off with Rios’ swing early in the season. That could be an explanation as to why he has really struggled against fastballs this year.

Rios has rebounded a bit in May; posting a more acceptable .277/.306/.426 slash line over 49 plate appearances. That’s not a great line, and it’s an extremely small sample, but at least Rios has shown some signs of life after an abysmal April. So long as the struggles against fastballs don’t become a trend, Rios should rebound nicely. The fastballs issues are a legitimate concern, and shouldn’t be taken lightly, but every other rate stat tells us that Rios is going to perform much better as the season progresses. He’s still a great buy-low option, so grab him before he heats up.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


19 Responses to “Alex Rios: Buy Low Candidate”

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  1. johngomes says:

    its a decent play. not expecting the final season stat line to read 21HR 36SB .287 (any of those)

    you can flame me if i am wrong 110 games from now.

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  2. donnie says:

    Any chance that the White Sox have just faced an unusual amount of strong pitchers.

    Their whole team is struggling.

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  3. Caleb W says:

    I agree that Rios is a good buy low candidate, but a lower FB% does not lead to lower HR/FB. That is a logical fallacy.

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      That’s true.

      I guess what I should have said was he might not be getting a lot of loft on the ball right now.

      That’s a guess, though. I see your point.

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      • Caleb W says:

        The loft question is an interesting one. I have been thinking a bit recently about the fact that the league difference between BABIP on GB vs. FB is actually not that large if we change the definition of “in play” to include HR, and what this means for Ryan Howard or Bautista, huge HR/FB guys. For those guys, trading GB for FB would actually INCREASE the number of PA that result in hits (though it wouldn’t affect BABIP due to the exclusion of HR from the definition). So, as a measure of luck, BABIP remains useful, but as a measure of performance, not so much.

        Sorry if that comes out a little rambly.

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  4. J-Lo's Anus says:

    “Rios has also hit more ground balls this season, which should lead to a higher BABIP. This has come at the expense of fly balls, however, which could explain why Rios is currently posting the worst HR/FB rate of his career.”

    Why would hitting more grounders decrease your HR/FB?

    Sometimes I wonder who is writing for fangraphs these days.

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  5. B says:

    Why on earth is Rios a buy low candidate and Markakis is cut? Their lines on the year are identical, as is their potential.

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    • SKob says:

      I agree Markakis should not be dropped, but comparing him to Rios is ridiculous. Markakis has been in the league for 5 years now and while his rates have been getting better, his numbers have been getting worse. That’s actually really concerning since his numbers aren’t good this year. You gotta stop talking about his potential at this point.

      Aside from a poor average in 2009, Rios has been a solid fantasy contributor for 4 years. Through his struggles, he has still managed very good stats for fantasy. Way better than Markakis for the past couple of years.

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      • Ben says:

        Sure, I agree you gotta stop talking about potential. But they’re comparable players in a lot of ways. Rios a bit more power and speed, Markakis usually higher rate stats.

        The one thing this article doesn’t mention is his toe injury, which some thought was screwing up his batting stance. I don’t see any signs in his numbers other than BABIP, but it’s possible that won’t correct if he’s injured.

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  6. Brad says:

    Not be a dick, but if dave cameron is reading this, please vet your writers a little more thoroughly, the quality of writing and certainly analysis has really fallen off on what is far and away the best site for intelligent baseball discourse.

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    • Jason B says:

      Your *sole purpose* of posting that was to be a d!ck.

      (Not unlike when someone says, “I’m not a racist, but…” then inevitably follows that up with the most god-awful hateful thing you could ever wanna hear.)

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  7. Pat says:

    If you can pick him up as a free agent with nothing to lose, it may be worth it, but I wouldn’t trade anything of value for Rios. I am biased because I hate him, but he’s the kind of player who seems to kill my fantasy teams, has good seasons when I don’t draft him but sucks whenever I hold onto him. He likes alternating good and bad years.

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  8. Rylan Stolar says:

    Sometimes you guys need to watch some baseball before you write an article. I’m a Blue Jays fan, and while Rios has always tinkered with his swing constantly, I hardly recognized him when I watched a white sox game a few weeks ago. He was swinging with much less force. He’s starting with his hands extremely low, he has this weird weight shift as he raises his hands, then he swings using mostly his upper body. His swing has always been mostly upper body, but this is ridiculous. Whoever is the hitting coach there should be fired.

    Anyways, just because someone is hitting more grounders than fly balls and a few more line drives I don’t think we should expect their BABIP should increase, I’m no expert but when I play I seem to get more hits on well squared up fly balls than weak grounders and soft line drives. The few games I did see Rios play, his groundouts were soft. He just didn’t seem to hit anything with authority.

    I don’t think anyone should ever cite BABIP when making a case for a hitter. Everyone said Aaron Hill would rebound last year because he had a historically low BABIP. Anyone that watched him knew it was because all he was hitting were popups, lazy fly balls, and weak grounders.

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    • Toz says:

      You can, however, look at rate stats in combination with BABIP in order to make that determination. My panning of Aaron Hill was not as a result of his historically low BABIP. It was his terrible LD%, terrible swinging strike rate and terrible IFFB%.

      Like most other statistics (and this is where sabermetrics writers sometimes fail, and where the application to valuation and earnings in terms of fantasy fails), BABIP needs to be read in context.

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  9. Scott says:

    Bought Rios 2 weeks ago for Jorge De La Rosa. Still waiting for the breakout. Although I’m still happy with the trade.

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    • JohnnyComeLately says:

      I dumped Rios 2 weeks ago for Jaime Garcia. I’m happy with my trade too. The guy (Rios) has always been streaky though. I’m sure he’ll go on a hot streak soon enough.

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  10. SF 55 for life says:

    Just received Rios in a trade the other day actually. I traded Markakis, Lowrie, and Putz (fourth closer) for Alex Rios and Michael Young.

    I’m tempted to trade him for a closer but maybe I will keep him for another couple weeks.

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  11. That Guy says:

    Well, I kept Rios for a whole extra month after this article. Guess what? Today, I’m going to sell LOW. Later, Alex.

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  12. moosh says:

    he’s batting cleanup today! I’ll take a double double in HR and SB ROS.

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