Sean Rodriguez: can his early success continue?

jrollison
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Sean Rodriguez has shown himself to be a very valuable bench bat thus far in his brief Pittsburgh Pirates tenure. While many were excited at his considerable utility skills, none likely predicted the offensive output he has displayed thus far in 2015. I know that I did not. From my piece – “Sean Rodriguez does not need to produce offensively” from March 9:

"His lackluster 2015 spring thus far pretty much answers the question for us, and the answer is definitely not offense.  No, we need Rodriguez to be exactly what he is billed as:  a multi-position wunderkind that can provide days off for our often-overworked infield.  Rodriguez also seems very ill-fitted for a pinch-hitter role, as his career .AVG and .OBP will attest to.  He seems to be in a weird sort of limbo between reliable bench player and Quad-A type of player.  I firmly believe that if he did not have such ability to play multiple positions that he would not be a Pittsburgh Pirate."

Now, I will launch into my mea-culpa. Yes, I was flat-out wrong in my assessment of Rodriguez. As a refresher, here is a look at his career numbers, including his hot start with the Pirates.

YearTmGPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
2008LAA59187167183481310311455.204.276.317.593
2009LAA1229254500240037.200.276.440.716
2010TBR11837834353861929401332197.251.308.397.705
2011TBR13143637345832038361173887.223.323.357.679
2012TBR1123423013664141632502775.213.281.326.607
2013TBR962221952148101523131759.246.320.385.704
2014TBR9625923730501331241211066.211.258.443.701
2015PIT1518173600131005.353.353.529.882

So we know now that Sean Rodriguez has a bit more offensive value that we had anticipated. Now that our eyes have been opened, a bigger question looms.

Will his offensive success continue?

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To answer that question, one should first look at Rodriguez’s .BABIP (batting average on balls in play). When he puts the ball in play, Rodriguez is hitting an other-worldly .455. Expect a healthy regression here to say the least. Next, consider that he only sees an average of 3.7 pitchers per plate appearance, right below his career average of 3.8. Last, look at his strikeout rate. For his career, Rodriguez strikes out at a 27.2% clip, well above the league average of 20%.

From those items alone, you may be thinking that I am about to make the case that his success cannot continue. Quite the contrary. I fully expect Sean Rodriguez to continue to flourish in his role, and here are my reasons why:

1.   He is hitting a lot of line drives. Rodriguez’s LD% comes in at 27.3%, well above the average of 20%. Nothing is more conducive to racking up base knocks than a line drive, and Rodriguez is spraying them around at a career clip.

2.  He hits left-handers well enough. While off to a slow start against southpaws in 2015 (0-for-4), Rodriguez traditionally can hang around against lefties, posting a .264/.341/.402 slashline while lowering his strikeout rate by 2%. S-Rod also has a bit of pop against LHP, hitting 17 of his career 46 home runs against them in addition to 44 doubles.

3.  He is doing it from a starter’s role as well as from the bench. One of the more fascinating subplots to the April 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates has been how Clint Hurdle has used Sean Rodriguez. While at times appearing to be Pedro Alvarez‘s personal caddy, Rodriguez actually has very good splits between starting and coming on in late innings. Take a look at just how close the splits are:

SplitGPAABRH2B3BHRRBISBCSBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
as Starter312112400121002.364.364.6361.000
as Sub12661200010003.333.333.333.667

Yes, those slashlines are pretty attracive either way. This is even more proof that I was absolutely wrong in my pre-season assessment. Whereas I had subscribed to the thinking that Rodriguez would be used strictly as a late-inning replacement, Hurdle has proven me wrong by showing that he can excel and contribute in both starting and substitute scenarios. Should Alvarez’s splits against LHP continue to crater, we could see more platooning at 1B with Rodriguez getting more starts.

Perhaps it is a tad too early to tell if the Sean Rodriguez trade is another win for GM Neal Huntington, but Pittsburgh Pirates fans should be excited and encouraged by Rodriguez’s effective start.

Next: Liriano, balanced offense lead to 8-0 win

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