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Eddie Rosario’s wild ride continues

In need of a big-time rebound in 2023, Rosario’s campaign has started off both bizarre but promising

Cincinatti Reds v Atlanta Braves Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

Eddie Rosario has already had his share of ups and downs with the Atlanta Braves. If there’s one thing that’s been consistent about his time in Atlanta, it’s that there really hasn’t been any consistency: it’s always been something with the outfielder, whether good or bad.

When the Braves acquired Rosario at the Trade Deadline in 2021, he wasn’t even healthy, and didn’t debut in Atlanta until about a month after he was acquired. (Fun trivia: you could also argue that Rosario made his Braves debut before being acquired, due to appearing in the second half of a suspended game that started before he was traded from Cleveland to Atlanta.) He then proceeded to put up 0.6 fWAR in 106 PAs, hit for the cycle on just five pitches, go berserk in the playoffs and get named NLCS MVP, and end up with a championship ring. After that, he snagged a sizable-for-his-production two-year, $18 million deal with the Braves...

...which propelled him into a nightmarish 2022 season where he experienced some combination of: A) playing baseball while unable to see, due to a swollen right retina and blurred vision; B) an arguably too-short rehab stint after eye surgery, leading to, C) pretty awful play even when returning in the latter part of the season, and therefore D) -1.1 fWAR in 270 PAs, tied for the ninth-worst mark among position players in MLB that season.

Coming into 2023, Rosario’s overall track record (2.4 fWAR/600 if you exclude 2022, or 2.0/600 if you do include it), combined with his recent performance (below-average full seasons in 2019 and 2021), and the horrendous nature of his 2022, even after he returned, really tanked his outlook. He was essentially projected as replacement-level, no better than a random bench-filler from Triple-A or the waiver wire. Still, the Braves had him slated for a starter-y role, rotating through left field and DH with Marcell Ozuna and sharing time at DH with the team’s two catchers.

That brings us to the actual start of the 2023 so far, where things have once again, gone off the rails. Due to the tiny sample we’re working with, Rosario’s baseball existence looks even weirder than before. His production in his first 37 PAs of the season has been replacement-level, even after he hit a game-winning homer in the eighth to notch a sweep of the Reds on Wednesday night, but everything is so much weirder than that. With the explicit acknowledgment that none of this really means anything given that we’re just 13 games in to the 2023 season, let’s nonetheless take a look at a few ways in which Rosario’s 2023 has been fittingly bizarre so far.

Offensive inputs that make no sense

Coming into Thursday’s off-day, Rosario’s offensive Statcast data featured the following nonsense:

  • An 88.1 mph average exit velocity, in line with his career mark (88.0), and still notably below league average: 37th percentile, when compared against the set of regulars that the Statcast display uses.
  • A 10.8 degree average launch angle, currently a career-low, and also well below league average.
  • A 32.1 sweet spot percentage (sweet spot refers to hitting balls with a relatively useful launch angle), also slightly below league average.
  • Walk and strikeout rates both below league average, albeit in a way where his BB/K is also below league average.

And yet...

  • An xwOBA north of .400, currently in the 86th percentile among that same set of regulars, per Statcast, but also...
  • An xwOBACON of nearly .500, 23rd among the 154 players with as many or more batted balls as he has, and slightly above the foursome of Juan Soto, Byron Buxton, Luis Robert Jr., and teammate Ronald Acuña Jr.

Friends, I am here to tell you that leaving aside the facts that A) it’s baseball and B) it’s a very small sample of baseball from which the above is drawn, as the title says, this makes no sense.

Rosario is not, in aggregate, hitting the ball hard. Nor is he hitting the ball high, or even high enough to get good outcomes. He is not pulling off any kind of plate discipline wizardry. Yet, his xwOBA and xwOBACON, which are largely and entirely driven by a combination of exit velocity and launch angle, respectively, are, if not elite, almost there. Even in a small sample, it seems like this combination of stats should be impossible. And yet, here it is, appended to Rosario’s being, somehow.

Then, how? The answer is simple, but it is anything but simple to achieve. Rosario is making awful contact when he doesn’t hit the ball well, but absolutely crushing it otherwise. Specifically, Statcast has a few different contact quality categories:

  • There’s your “poorly” archetype, which includes tappers, grounders, and can of corn fly balls. On these, Rosario has a 79.7 mph average exit velocity and 1.2-degree average launch angle. By comparison, the league hits these balls notably harder (82.8 mph average exit velocity) and way more in the air (9 degrees of average launch angle), though it’s not like it matters, because these balls are outs more than 90 percent of the time.
  • There are flares/burners, which are bloops that are generally good bets for hits, but hard to replicate. Rosario is also undershooting the league’s average exit velocity on these by more than four mph.
  • And then there’s “solid contact” and barrels, which is what hitters want. In this case, Rosario isn’t doing better than the league, but it’s pretty similar: 103.0 mph exit velocity relative to the league’s 103.6 mph, and a higher launch angle than the league by three degrees (27.9 to 24.6).

Combine the above with the fact that literally a quarter of Rosario’s batted balls are in that last bullet of good stuff, while the league only manages half that rate, and you get a maybe-not-easy-to-believe-but-still-true answer: Rosario is hitting the ball extra-poorly when the contact is crappy, but is making great contact so frequently that his averages look out of whack compared to his xStats.

Is he morphing into Braves-Rosario?

When acquired in 2021, and then re-signed, Rosario was somewhat of an odd duck given the way the Braves, as a team, approach hitting. His acquisition-mates, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler, were more typical “whale away” hitters, but Rosario was always a contact-oriented hitter who had more in common, profile-wise, with someone like Ender Inciarte than the lineup of whiff-tolerant sluggers the Braves have built.

But take one look at the handy Statcast percentiles feature, and become bewildered:

There’s a lot there, but only a few columns really matter in terms of what I’m talking about.

The max EV achieved by Rosario this season, on this “single,” is already a career high.

The combination of solid contact and barrels described earlier has given Rosario (so far), his only hard-hit rate notably above league-average. His strikeout rate is up, because he’s whiffing a lot. Most tellingly, his z-contact rate has cratered, while his z-swing rate has remained high. Those are very “Braves” hallmarks, and the Rosario of the first couple of weeks of the season kind of seems like the ur-Brave from that perspective. I mean check out this absurd chart.

What’s even sillier about this chain of events is that Rosario currently has an o-contact rate higher than his z-contact rate. That’s not really a good thing, because morphing into a Very Braves Hitter apparently hasn’t helped his plate discipline or pitch discernment. But it has led him to take giant rips instead of contact-oriented hacks, hence the gaudy xwOBACON mentioned before.

When the Braves acquired players like Orlando Arcia and Sam Hilliard, the throughline made sense: take guys who could swing harder and have them swing harder on things they can crush, and ignore the whiffs and whatever that follows. I never figured Rosario was a guy that the Braves would even trying to change, given his middling high-end exit velocities from earlier in his career, but not only have they done so... they’ve apparently succeeded (in this tiny sample, of course) with flying colors. In fact, while a lot of the team appears to be stuck in some kind of awful grounderitis-due-to-bad-swing-decisions rut, Rosario is running the highest z-swing, lowest grounder rate (except for Kevin Pillar), and highest fly ball rate on the team.

So maybe the Braves are morphing Rosario into something that more closely resembles their ideal hitter... or maybe he’s just absorbing the mojo from the rest of the lineup. Either way, wild stuff.

And yet, where’s the production?

The two elements above have largely been positive signs, yeah? A good xwOBA, and a change towards a raking-oriented profile. So, what’s the issue?


In the final two games of the Reds series, Rosario compiled four hits, including a double and a homer. That raised his wRC+ on the season from... 5... to 67. His fWAR through 13 games (in which he’s appeared in 11?) A pristine 0.0. Wait, what?

In no uncertain terms, Rosario’s actual production has been swallowed up by that most fearsome of adversaries: xwOBA underperformance. Despite all the good stuff, he is currently underhitting his xwOBA by an insane .124 points. His xwOBA is 39th in MLB among the 266 players with the most PAs. His wOBA is... 193rd. He has the eighth-biggest underperformance in baseball. It’s not quite what’s happened to Marcell Ozuna so far this season, but it’s really close, and the difference is that Ozuna’s xwOBA isn’t great, but Rosario’s is.

Rosario has barreled three balls so far this season. He has more outs on barrels (two) than hits (one), and his hit was the video up above that ended up being a single due to the presence of baserunners. His solid contact, something that results in a hit about half the time for the league? Three outs, and his game-winning homer yesterday. At least he got that homer, I guess.

What’s crazy about this is that it’s the exact opposite of Rosario’s entire being up to this point. Rosario has thus far played in parts of nine seasons in the majors, and to this point, he’s outhit his xwOBA in all of them except the current season, and 2021. His entire career, including 2023, includes an xwOBA overperformance of .019, which is 32nd out of the 311 players with 1,600 or more PAs in the Statcast era, just outside of the 90th percentile. If you set the PA bar higher, his percentile still hovers somewhere between 80th and 90th. But here we are, and in a year where he’s made real contact quality improvements, he’s getting the opposite of a reward for those efforts.

There are two ways this can likely play out going forward. First, Rosario can keep up the mashing and his results can creep up to match his inputs. That’s the happy version. Second, Rosario can completely shake off all the great gains he’s made in a tiny stretch of PAs and go back to the mediocre-hitting slappy-type guy he’s been. The line will creep up, too, but it’ll be hard to notice because it won’t be creeping up to the same level of contact quality, so it’ll just look like he was awful-to-meh all season. That’s the not-so-happy version.

Also I have no idea what’s going on with his speed

This is far more small sample theater than anything else, but it’s still funny.

Rosario’s sprint speed? Currently in the eighth percentile. He’s never even had below-average speed before.

But his Outs Above Average? Well, he somehow already has +1 OAA and has turned an 88 percent average catch probability on balls hit to him into a 95 percent success rate. He’s showing his best jump in the outfield since 2018, when he was a more sprightly, non-terrible-ish fielder.

I don’t know how you reconcile those two things. You don’t actually have to, they’re just silly. He’ll get more opportunities to run and his sprint speed will go up; he’ll get more opportunities in the outfield and his jump and OAA will probably decrease.

Still, it’s been a wild ride so far.

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