Many Braves fans will remember Eddie Rosario as a postseason hero from 2021, and for good reason. Some may believe that his postseason heroics may have led the Braves to retaining him on a two-year contract for the 2022-2023 seasons, and there are always going to be questions about why the Braves went with him over Jorge Soler or Joc Pederson. But, no matter the reason, Rosario played out the final year of a two-year, $18 million deal for the Braves in 2023.
What were the expectations?
Rosario’s contract turned disastrous almost immediately. In 2022, he dealt with an eye issue that not only saw (pun intended) him miss time, but, understandably, led to a drop off in production both offensively and defensively. Rosario was amazingly awful for the first three weeks in April (-24 wRC+) before hitting the shelf with his eye troubles, and he didn’t really get back to normal for the rest of the year, as he posted just an 81 wRC+ after returning... and that 81 wRC+ was the result of him outhitting his xwOBA by about .030.
As a result, Rosario finished 2022 with -1.1 fWAR, which was the 12th-worst mark for a position player that year, despite getting only 270 PAs.
All of this make 2023 a tricky year, expectations-wise and projections-wise. Rosario’s projections were horrible, basically giving him central estimates of being replacement level or slightly below. That made sense in the context of believing that somehow his eye issues were never going to get fixed... but even if you assumed they would be, expectations probably weren’t too high. After all, even including his post-trade run in 2021, Rosario only managed 0.8 fWAR that year. Even the most sanguine expectations probably figured he was about a 1 WAR outfielder coming into 2023, which is not really the type of guy you want to be starting on a contender.
In the end, the projections paid the price for not adjusting for the nature of his eye issues, though that is fairly outside their purview. Rosario bounced back to post 1.4 fWAR in 516 plate appearances. His slash line was .255/.305/.450, good for league average in terms of wRC+, right at 100. His xwOBA was basically the same as his wOBA, too, so the results were not undue, in either direction.
Defensively, Rosario had his best season in a while. While there was much derision and jeering about him getting a Gold Glove nomination in left field from fans that had watched him all year, the reality was that his nomination was not even undeserved, given that he finished with +2 OAA-runs on the year, and left field is a defensive wasteland.
So, Eddie Rosario ended up clearing expectations, and clawed back a tiny bit of value contract-wise after his awful 2022. But, he didn’t exactly make it back to average production overall, though he didn’t get too far from it either (1.4/516 is 1.6/600, and average is around 2.0/600).
Fans were probably hoping more for the 134 wRC+ he put up after the trade to the Braves in 2021, but that was probably never in the cards over a full season.
What went right?
A lot of small things went right for Rosario, even if the aggregate results weren’t too exciting. His walk rate of 6.6 percent was his highest, aside from the shortened 2020 season. It wasn’t a good walk rate, but it was still an improvement.
More importantly, Rosario appeared to completely change his batting style to mirror that of a lot of Braves teammates. His hard-hit rate and exit velocities trended up, well above career marks. He posted a .393 xwOBACON, over .030 higher than his career average, after having cleared .380 just once and .370 just twice in his career prior to the 2023 season. Pretty much, if he could make contact, his quality of contact was up across the board. His barrel percentage of 9.5 percent was the best of his career, and he had the most total barrels in a season since his 2019.
Going further, though Rosario was platooned for much of the year, he somehow managed a .307 wOBA and .320 xwOBA against southpaws, which is impressive considering his career pre-2023 marks of a .298 wOBA and .284 xwOBA when lacking the platoon advantage.
As mentioned, he managed a nice defensive season for a left fielder. He posted his second-best OAA in the OAA era (2016-on). Among the 30 left fielders with the most innings played there this year, his OAA was third-best.
As far as season-defining moments, well, you should already know this one. Rosario contributed to one of the true storybook moments of the Braves’ impressive campaign with this go-ahead, two-outs-in-the-ninth grand slam:
What went wrong?
The big issue for Rosario was pretty obvious. Even though he apparently absorbed the Powerpoint and traded a bunch of z-contact for more damage on contact, like a bunch of the rest of the team, it didn’t actually end up helping him relative to the prior, slappy version of himself. Why not? Well, he just couldn’t overcome the extra strikeouts that the new approach added, and he lacked the raw power to make the change a good one. Rosario’s strikeout rate and walk rate both ended up below average (as in, both bad). His whiff rate was closer to his whiff-rate-while-having-an-eye-issue than any of his other whiff rates. While not a bad thing in a vacuum, it became a real problem because Rosario utterly failed at only swinging at good pitches.
Rosario’s chase rate of 43.5 percent was his highest since 2015, and among the worst in MLB. Transitioning from a contact-oriented guy who slapped and connected with mostly everything to a guy who took giant hacks didn’t really end up moving the needle: sure, he did way more damage when he connected, but his guessing was terrible. Case in point: he posted the lowest rate of swinging at meatballs in his career, over five percent below his career rate... even though his approach should’ve largely rested on identifying meatballs and/or meatball counts and trying to mash those pitches in particular.
Had Rosario not swung at so many bad pitches, it would have been really interesting to see where his overall line ended up. Alas, that’s not a tradeoff that can be so easily avoided. There’s a lot more to say here, including noting the fact that Rosario still made contact on non-strikes, despite his new approach, at an elevated rate that drove down his overall contact quality and maybe ended some PAs prematurely on bad pitches, but you probably get the idea already: the Braves and Rosario tried something, and he succeeded at implementing it, but it didn’t really work out or change anything in his overall output. Go figure.
In terms of quirkier things, another thing that went wrong for Rosario is that two separate times, within the span of about three weeks, he hit into a double play in extra innings that involved Sam Hilliard getting thrown out at home. Both of those games then turned into walkoff losses the next inning.
What a weird thing to have happen twice.
Rosario got a single in seven PAs in the Braves’ NLDS loss.
Eddie Rosario is no longer under contract with the Atlanta Braves, so there is no telling what the future will hold for him. He could even be a Brave next season if they work out a contract that works for them. He is a free agent and can sign with anyone who offers him a deal.
It will be interesting to see where he lands, and Braves fans will always be thankful for his play in 2021 in which he was a postseason hero.
In terms of outlook, the early Steamer projections have him as a fifth outfielder type, with a below-average batting line and below-average left field defense that seemingly doesn’t care about his 2023 defensively. That seems a little harsh, considering that projection is probably once again baking in his 2022 without adjustment, but it’s hard to argue with the idea that Rosario seems more suited for a bench role than a starting role at this point — something that’s been true for a half-decade now.