Blame it on Rios

“Here is where I am conflicted. I see Rios, and he’s got so much natural athletic talent, it’s almost unfair. He’s got more raw ability than Hill does … but I get the impression that Rios is like the hot girl you knew in high school who treated most people like crap because she knew her looks bought her a lot of latitude.

I’m not saying that Rios treats people like that; rather, it’s that Rios knows he has ungodly talent and sometimes he lets that carry him. One of the best things the Jays did for him was state in 2006 that he would share right field with Eric Hinske. That gave Rios the motivation he needed.”—March 27, 2008

“I’d be inclined to keep Eric Hinske (.270/.355/.529; 12 HR) around as insurance (and motivation). I don’t doubt Rios’ natural talent—however I really don’t doubt Murphy’s Law.”–August 11, 2006

It is time.

A team shouldn’t make changes when the team is winning. It’s the proverbial “if it ain‘t broke, don‘t fix it.” After losing back-to-back games in the final at-bat it gives the Jays the opportunity they need to make a change—to light a fire under Alex Rios and drop him down in the batting order. His swing is off and he’s hurting the ball club’s ability to score runs.

I had the epiphany last Sunday. It began in the top of the second inning. Kevin Mench opened the inning with a walk and Joe Inglett reached on an infield single. David Eckstein dropped a bunt on the left side advancing the runners and bringing up Marcos Scutaro.

With Scutaro up I remember hoping he didn’t walk since Rios was on deck and I reflexively thought that bases loaded, one out and Rios at bat would get sinkerballer Jon Garland out of the inning. To me, the double play was close to automatic. In the ninth, with the Jays looking to tack on an insurance run, Eckstein beat out an infield hit and Scutaro reached on a high chopper.

Rios was up—as I detailed after the game I knew what was coming and was pleading to whatever forces might be listening not to trust the at-bat to Rios. As you’ll see in a moment, I had ample reason to foresee what was about to happen. For example:

Over his last 67 plate appearances, Rios has hit 29 ground balls, 22 of which were turned into outs and five of those into two outs. He has had 47 base runners and left 41 on base. He has had 23 runners in scoring position and cashed in six while hitting into five double plays. His last 67 plate appearances have resulted in 55 outs.

Further, he came up with the sacks juiced three times and struck out twice and hit into a double play. He’s 2-for-9 with RISP and two out (both singles). Of his 17 hits, seven were ground balls that found holes; only eight balls in play were hard-hit line drives.

Ideally, your No. 3 hitter should be the team’s best batter. That hasn’t been Rios either this year or of late…

Over Rios’ last 67 PA…

Player             BA   OBP   SLG       
Rod Barajas      .400  .447  .857
David Eckstein   .412  .545  .529 (came off DL May 27)
Lyle Overbay     .298  .411  .617
Marcos Scutaro   .327  .400  .442
Scott Rolen      .321  .406  .429
Shannon Stewart  .296  .377  .389
Brad Wilkerson   .245  .278  .429
Alex Rios        .266  .309  .313
Aaron Hill       .244  .311  .293
Matt Stairs      .200  .333  .233

in 2008...

Player         OPS+
Rod Barajas    143
Scott Rolen    139
Lyle Overbay   123
Matt Stairs    109
Marcos Scutaro 100 
David Eckstein  94
Alex Rios       90 

In both cases we see that Rios is ill-suited for the premier spot in the lineup. Even more worrisome is that his home run power tails off in the second half. In 2006, he hit 15 home runs in the first half and just two in the second half. Rios was coming off a nasty staph infection however in 2007: first half, 17 HR; second half, 7 HR. Thus far in 2008 he has three home runs; he had 10 at this point in 2006 (.305/.355/.547) and 13 last year (.358/.396/.622). He’s batting just .262/.320/.369. Adding to the misery is that he is well below league average in driving home available base runners. Even worse, just one game into June he’s topped his 2006 total of hitting into double plays and matched 2007’s effort and is just five away from setting a career high and the season isn’t yet 60 games old.

No matter how you look at it, this isn’t a three-hole hitter at the moment.

As I stated (above) in previous years, he is the kind of guy you have to build a fire under. Move him down in the batting order, maybe call up Adam Lind and sit Rios from time to time. Get him motivated to fix his swing, make him earn back the elite spot in the batting order. As distasteful as it sounds, it could be his new contract has brought on a degree of complacency and it’s time for a little tough love on John Gibbons and J.P. Ricciardi’s part.

Regardless, the status quo will not serve the Blue Jays well. Baseball is a “What have you done for me lately?” sport and lately Rios has been hitting like a bottom of the order hitter. After all, nobody would suggest Brad Wilkerson bat third but over the last 15 games (Rios has played) Wilkerson has two home runs, 11 RBIs, a .707 OPS and hit into two double plays while Rios has 0 home runs, 6 RBIs, 5 GIDP and .622 OPS.

Retroactive Review: Ace
Looking back at some of Justin Verlander's most interesting moments.

It’s time to play Rios according to his present production and not his past seasons. It’s time for the Blue Jays and Alex Rios to put some serious work into rectifying his swing. It’s time to stop trusting the offense to a man not producing.

It’s time to demote Alex Rios to the bottom of the lineup.

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