It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Perhaps “worst of times” is too harsh to encapsulate Eddie Rosario’s 2022 campaign, but it was not good. Coming off a historic postseason run — you may have heard about his NLCS performance against the Dodgers — the Braves opted to bring Rosario back on a two-year pact for $18 million. The club needed a left-handed outfield bat for the middle of the order, and Rosario, a perfectly average corner outfielder for the better part of career, made sense to bring back at a reasonable price point.
Unfortunately, the good vibes wore off quickly and it was a season to forget. Rosario finished with one of the ten worst performances among any position player in 2022, despite missing over half the season.
The Braves acquired Rosario in exchange for Braves legend Pablo Sandoval at the 2021 trade deadline. The rest was history. And then came the re-signing last offseason to that $18 million, two-year deal.
What were the expectations?
No one should have expected Rosario to continue his Babe Ruthian warpath from the previous October. Coming into the season, Rosario’s career wRC+ sat at 105, which was a reasonable expectation for a player in his age-30 season. There were no obvious warning signs that a big decline in production was coming, and the freak eye injury which required surgery and cost him 2.5 months could not have been foreseen.
Rosario didn’t really do much in 2019-2021, as the xwOBA overperformance that made his production look pretty good from the four seasons prior mostly dried up. Still, he seemed like a platoon or fourth outfielder type, worse than an average regular but not horrendously brutal, coming into 2022. That made the deal he received look strange if not outright suspect, but there was little reason to expect sub-replacement desolation, and yet...
.212/.259/.328, 61 wRC+, 6.3 BB%, 25.2 K%, -5 Defensive Runs Above Average, -1.1 fWAR
To be blunt, it was bad. If you are searching for any kind of optimism, I can point you to his marginally better slash line of .243/.281/.379 (81 wRC+) once he returned from the eye surgery in early July. He improved to an 88 wRC+ from August 1 to the end of the season. Unfortunately, he continually outhit his xwOBA again, even with those bad wRC+s, so the reality was even worse.
I would contend it is very difficult to miss 10 weeks in the middle of a baseball season and hit the ground running upon your return, but it just never came together for Rosario. The big jump in strikeouts is a real concern; this is a player whose calling card was high contact, and struck out in 14.5 percent of his plate appearances from 2019-2021. His strikeout rate actually went up when comparing his numbers before and after the eye surgery. Alex Anthopoulos mentioned Rosario’s contact skills when discussing the signing last spring, and they clearly were not there.
What went right? What went wrong?
Given that Rosario’s -1.1 fWAR was the 10th-worst mark in MLB for any position player (and no pitcher had a worse mark), this is a case where “pretty much nothing went right” is even more apt than it was the other times we’ve written it in this season in review series. In many respects, Rosario’s 2022 batting line looks like one from someone who couldn’t see the ball at all, which makes sense, since he couldn’t. He also came back from a rehab assignment very quickly, so it’s possible that his eyes, and the rest of him, weren’t quite in game shape by the time he returned. The fact that he never really got back to something that looked like an MLB-quality bat isn’t very encouraging. His defense was also nearly as bad in September as it was in April (April: -3 OAA in 15 games; September: -2 OAA in 18 games), so either the eye surgery wasn’t a panacea, or he just played super-horrendous defense both with and without eye issues in 2022.
As a result, Rosario’s 2022 had few moments to remember, but he did have some. On August 2, he uncorked a three-hit, five-RBI performance against the Phillies in a 13-1 romp. He drove in the tying and go-ahead runs with an infield single in the third, had an RBI double in the fifth, and a two-run grounder single in the eighth.
There was also the homer he hit against the Mets in New York a few days later, which helped uncork a rout that ended up being the only game the Braves won in that dreadful series.
These two games were part of a stretch between August 2 and August 15 where Rosario had a 118 wRC+ in 47 PAs. However, this wasn’t anything but a mirage, as he still had a .275 xwOBA in this stretch. It was nice for him and the team, but it didn’t suggest anything was fixed.
As for the bad, well, the real question is how to choose. The most obvious was the game that actually sent him to go get eye surgery. On April 20, Rosario didn’t start but came into the game as a pinch-hitter with the Braves down by four, but two on and none out. He proceeded to show that he apparently really couldn’t see the ball.
To be clear: this shows only strike three, but Rosario chased a similar slider in the dirt and managed to foul it on the prior pitch, and had done the same thing against the same pitcher the day before, including a foul on a low-ish slider for strike two and a strikeout on one in the dirt for strike three.
To make matters worse, Rosario came up later in that April 24 game with two outs and the tying run on second, after the Braves rallied for three runs against Louis Head. Rosario again couldn’t see a slider from a righty basically in the dirt:
And then he ended the game by swinging at this and missing it badly, and was shuttled off to the ophthalmologist or whatever.
It seems possible (likely?) Anthopoulos and the front office are quietly poking around to see if another club might be interested in taking on Rosario for 2023, even if it involves a bad contract swap. The Braves tied for dead-last in the majors last season in left field production, and it is one of the few spots on the roster that could be substantially improved this winter.
Short of a contract swap, Rosario figures to be part of the plan for 2023. The Braves need more out of him, quite frankly.
The glass-half-full take is he was bothered all season by the eye injury and never found his groove, and he will figure things out after an offseason to clear his head and showing some signs of improvement down the stretch. The glass-half-empty take is he's on the wrong side of 30, just saw his strikeout rate nearly double while showing minimal power, didn’t actually perform that well in 2019-2021 aside from a few weeks after the Braves acquired him, does not play good defense, and the club is stuck with him for another year. A right-handed platoon partner of some kind makes sense, although that would still leave Rosario playing quite a bit. It will be very interesting to see what the club does in left field. At least things can’t really get much worse.
If Rosario does anything positive in 2023, it’ll probably exceed expectations. He is currently projected for something like replacement level, or even slightly below. That might be a little harsh given that the projection systems don’t know he played with pretty bad eyesight for a bit, but it’s not that harsh given how terrible he was even after returning, without much of a change in the pre-eye surgery and post-eye surgery lines.