$11.5 million is what the Braves will give Sean Rodriguez over the next two years, and that seems fine even if he reverts to a utility infielder that faces mostly lefties. But there’s a few things Rodriguez did right last year, and if he does those things right again, he’ll be worth much more than the money he’s due. A team like the Braves needed to make a signing like this.
Going into last year, Rodriguez had a .143 isolated slugging percentage in over two thousand plate appearances. He walked 6.5% of the time. He’d been 28% worse against righties than league average that far. He was at his best defensively in the corner outfield and at second base.
That last part was true again in 2016, but he did play first and third and even short some, too. The rest was totally different. He had an ISO a hundred points higher. He walked more than he ever did before, and the right-hander was 20% better than league average against righties. He hit the ball harder than ever had before, and he hit fewer pop-ups than he had before.
Probably, he won’t do all of those things again.
It’s fun to find the change he made, though. Because he added launch angles all in the right places. He raised his launch angle while hitting fewer pop-ups, in other words. Take a look:
|% Above Ideal Power||11%||10%|
|% Below Ideal Line Drive||52%||43%|
Below Ideal Line Drive = Below 10 degrees
That’s a good trick.
He also improved his selection against righties. He started swinging at pitches over the plate instead of in on his hands at least. Check out his selection on the four-seam in against right-handers before last year (left) and then last year (right).
Maybe he’s done it by being more athletic in his stance. Here’s a stiffer 2015 stance.
He’s more crouched and anticipatory in 2016.
Maybe that’s how Rodriguez homed in on his ideal launch angles. Maybe he changed his stance a bit and was more aggressive with his leg kick. Maybe he saw the ball really well against righties, and maybe it won’t happen again, or maybe there was real change here.
It doesn’t matter! The Braves should do this either way. It makes sense for most of Rodriguez’s potential outcomes.
If he’s ‘just’ a decent right-handed hitting utility man, he’s got some potential partners. Left-handed hitting second baseman Jace Peterson is probably close to league average against righties, so he could work well in tandem with Rodriguez. If hot prospect Ozzie Albies comes up, Rodriguez helps in the outfield with Nick Markakis, who’s best days against lefties are behind him.
And then there’s the benefit if he retains any of his gains. Billy Beane once explained why the Athletics have always bought veterans on short contracts to me last winter meetings, as we talked about why h Athletics don’t do total teardowns. Anyway, he said that the Athletics had to sign Rich Hill and guys like him.
I’m “taking a chance on some upside,” Beane said to me then. “In Rich Hill‘s case, you’re banking on a guy that was dominant for a while. If you’re wrong, you know why you’re wrong, it’s because we bet on a small sample size.”
The Braves will pay for a useful right-handed utility man with power when they sign Sean Rodriguez to this contract. If they get a more regular player, they have him for two years at a good price. If they didn’t get any thing more, they know what sort of analysis they can blame it on, at least, and the price wasn’t high.