After many weeks of speculation about whether Alex Rios would be donning a new uniform before season’s end, the Texas Rangers nabbed their Nelson Cruz replacement they so desperately needed. Rios departs the last place White Sox, a team tied for the second worst record in baseball, for a Rangers team that leads its division by a game. Jackpot! Do Rios’ fantasy owners also hit the jackpot? Let’s try to answer that question.
As always, a comparison of the two home ballparks will begin the analysis. Here are the relevant park factors for right-handed hitters. As a reminder, the factors are already halved to account for the games played at home.
*These are overall factors, not just for right-handers
Rangers Ballpark provides a significant boost to singles, doubles and triples totals. The effect is even greater when compared to U.S. Cellular Field. That should be a positive for Rios’ BABIP. When you also include the fact that Rangers Ballpark reduces strikeouts compared to The Cell’s inflationary effect, the ballpark switch should be a boon to Rios’ batting average, all else being equal.
Aside from his batting average, home runs may be impacted as well. Last season, The Cell was the most favorable park for right-handed home runs. Rangers Ballpark wasn’t too shabby itself, as it ranked tied for fourth. But although both augment long ball totals, Rangers Ballpark isn’t as friendly. So Rios could see a hit to his HR/FB ratio. His power has really jumped around from year-to-year to begin with, so it’s already been difficult to get a handle on his true talent. The ballpark move won’t make things any easier.
Rios doesn’t walk a whole lot and The Cell actually increases walk rates by a large percentage. Rangers Ballpark is more neutral in its effect, so Rios’ OBP might not be pretty. That could hurt his runs scored total. Then again, a lower walk rate could be offset by a higher BABIP and batting average, netting out to a neutral effect on OBP. On the whole, the ballpark switch should be a positive for Rios’ BABIP and batting average, but a negative for his home run total.
Now let’s dive into the team switch. One concern raised on last night’s The Sleeper and the Bust podcast was whether Rios should be expected to continue swiping bags. He already has 26 this season in 32 attempts. Fear not Rios owners, the Rangers aren’t shy about running wild, as they ranked tied for third in stolen bases heading into yesterday’s games. Obviously, simply looking at stolen bases totals isn’t the best way to measure a team’s willingness to run, as it depends on personnel just as much as organizational philosophy. Clearly though, the Rangers are willing to give the green light to those who have the wheels, and Rios has them. So there should be no worry about a decline in stolen base attempts over the remainder of the season.
Perhaps the most important factor pertaining to the move is the quality of the two offenses. The White Sox are last in the American League in runs scored and tied for second to last in wOBA. That’s even with Rios in the lineup every day. The Rangers, on the other hand, rank eighth in runs scored and sixth in wOBA, though that obviously includes Nelson Cruz. Any way you slice it, the Rangers offense is significantly better than the White Sox. Normally, this would be a good thing for the newcomer’s RBI and runs scored totals.
However, Rios was hitting third in the White Sox lineup, while he hit sixth in his Rangers debut versus a right-hander and fifth against a southpaw. That is going to cost him at-bats and hurt his counting stats. The RBI total, though, will likely be unaffected since the fewer plate appearances he will receive will be offset by more runners on base ahead of him. But his runs scored total could be in danger of taking a hit. Of course, the other thing to consider is that the stronger Rangers offense will get more at-bats than White Sox hitters since they turn the lineup over more frequently. This is true and will result in a narrower plate appearance loss, but won’t be enough to completely overcome the drop in batting order slot.
There are many factors at play here when analyzing these two ballparks and teams. I would say that Rios’ value actually remains about the same after the move, even after departing the worst offense in the American League.
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