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The Good Alex Rios Reappears

If there was a roller coaster ride named after a baseball hitter, its name would be Alex Rios. The White Sox outfielder has given fantasy owners and projection makers fits trying to make sense of his ups and downs. But there he was, sitting happily at the fifth slot among outfielders, having earned $22 for the 2012 season. Is this just 2010 all over again that will be followed with another 2011, or are we witnessing a new Alex Rios?

The secret to Alex Rios‘ success at the plate ultimately might have nothing to do with a move back to right field or even focusing on hitting the ball up the middle and the opposite way.

Those factors certainly will contribute, but the 31-year-old veteran has a simple approach he hopes to stick with throughout the good times and bad times…

This was actually published at the end of this year’s spring training. The article goes on to state:

During his forgettable 2011 campaign, when he hit .227 with just 13 homers, 44 RBIs and 64 runs scored, Rios altered his stance at the plate so frequently that he couldn’t present an exact count when asked recently.

And then here’s the kicker:

Now, Rios employs a stance that seems to fit best, which was the culmination of an extended search process beginning with offseason video studies of previous standout years to incorporate into the present.

So before the regular season even started, Rios made the decision to employ one batting stance consistently all season. Was this the reason for his success? No one can be certain, simply because correlation does not equal causation. But it would be quite the coincidence that we read about these changes and sure enough, Rios has his best offensive season since 2007 from a wOBA perspective, yet, it was due to some other factor.

Aside from a rebound to his 2006 and 2007 level of power, his line drive rate also jumped to above 20% for the first time since that period. Though, he still hits a bit too many pop-ups to be confident he’ll post an above average BABIP every year.

So, from a distance perspective, was the power rebound for real? In 2011, his fly balls and home runs averaged just 261 feet. That’s a pretty pathetic number and below the low-270 league average. In 2012, that distance surged to 287 feet, suggesting the power did indeed increase. In 2010, when he posted the second highest HR/FB of his career, which was a hair below his 2012 mark, his balls averaged 284 feet. So his distance perfectly matches up with his HR/FB rates, excellent.

Rios also continues to run, though his stolen bases haven’t exactly been consistent, ranging from a low of just 11 in 2011 to a high of 34 in 2010. I think another low-20 stolen base total has to be the most appropriate projection at this point.

Overall, I do think there’s more downside than upside for Rios when simply looking at his 2012 season. However, this wasn’t a new level of performance really, it was just him putting everything together once again. He may be undervalued since some fantasy owners no doubt have sworn him off. The one caution is that he’ll be 32 next season and so there’s the age-related drop-off to be concerned about. That said, I remain a fan.