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Eddie Rosario, the ever-present talking point

He doesn’t just live in interesting times, he seemingly causes them

Atlanta Braves v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

At this point, it’s like Eddie Rosario was cursed by an ancient wizard to generate an infinite array of discussions. How else could a guy who still has -0.1 fWAR on the year manage this?

Shortly after the season started, I noted that he was, in true Rosario fashion, starting off the year in categorically weird fashion. Since then, though, things have only gotten odder. I’ll try something different with this post: less text, more images. A conversation with tables is still a conversation, after all.

Just so we’re clear: in terms of consecutive two-week periods, we have:

  • One with great inputs and bad outputs
  • Two with fine outputs and bad inputs
  • One with bad inputs and outputs, immediately followed by...
  • An elite series that featured a two-homer game, then a game with a barreled triple, and then a game-winning, last-out grand slam.

Back in mid-April, I also thought that Rosario might be transitioning into a pitch-guesser. I haven’t seen much to suggest that that isn’t true, but I do want to maybe add some nuance to this with a few more tables.

Rosario was always a swing maniac. Even before his eye troubles, on pitches in the zone, before two strikes, he took an extra sixth swing for every five by a league-average batter. On pitches outside the zone, the rate was even more exaggerated, because he swung more or less as much as feasible. With two strikes, his swing tendencies became even more exaggerated — he swung almost every strike, and swung at balls with two strikes about 50 percent more often than a league-average batter.

In 2023, so far, this is even more exaggerated. He’s swinging at basically the same rate of pre-two-strike pitches in the zone, but essentially every pitch in the zone when he has two strikes. (In fact, in April, he literally swung at every two-strike pitch in the zone he got.) His chase rate has become ridiculous, though he’s somehow reined it in with two strikes. If you wanted to build a syllogism, you could say he’s guessing before two strikes but always guessing, “I can crush this!” With two strikes, he goes back into protect mode, which looks a lot like the way he approached entire PAs earlier in his career.

To be clear, though, swinging at everything isn’t a new thing for Rosario. Check out his percentile ranks at z-swing and o-swing:

But, there is a difference, and it fits with what you’d expect with regard to him guessing.

Check out the following, from 2021, which was a relatively low-swing season:

As useful benchmarks, remember that the average whiff rate is 25 percent, and the average xwOBACON (xwOBA on contact) is around .370. Rosario had an extreme no-whiffs-in-zone bent, especially on stuff in and/or low, but he didn’t do much damage unless the pitch was some variant of middle or up/in. Despite rarely whiffing at inner third and low pitches, his damage on them was piddly.

But, now let’s go to 2023:

Rosario is still swinging at everything. He’s no longer swinging less at stuff on the outer third, and aside from up-and-away, he’s even less judicious at avoiding swinging at balls. His whiff rates have skyrocketed. He is whiffing on middle-middle pitches more than a third of the time he swings at them, which is about as psychotic as everything else going on here. But the damage when he swings? Oh baby. If he makes contact on a down-the-middle pitch, boom. Those inner-third pitches he made piddly contact on before? Also boom. Even away is a boom. Middle-high and middle-low have been a challenge (and that bottom-middle is a place he is still making frequent contact), but this is quite a turnaround.

Put all this together, and it’s not surprising that:

  • Rosario has by far the best barrel rate of his career, and is above league-average in that respect for the first time since 2018.
  • Rosario is running the highest average exit velocity of his career.
  • Rosario has collected the hardest-hit ball of his career in 2023.
  • Rosario has the best sweet spot rate (the sweet spot is more or less the optimal launch angle for liners and homers) of his career, and is exceeding the league-average rate for only the third time in his career.
  • He has by far the best xwOBACON of his career (duh).
  • He has by far the best hard-hit rate of his career, and the only above-average hard-hit rate of his career.
  • He has one of the highest strikeout rates of his career, mirroring the rate when he couldn’t see from last year.
  • He’s not walking at all, because his approach is “I can hit this, and hit this hard,” even when he can’t.

As a result, his batted ball profile is kind of funny. He’s basically taken a smattering of weak contact and spread it into flares and barrels. His solid contact rate is the same as he’s managed for his career, he’s just moved a few lazy flies and weak grounders into moonshots.

Has it even been a worthwhile tradeoff? Ehhhh. While it puts him on the same footing and approach as most of his teammates, he’s lost so many walks that his xwOBA is below average, even with the xwOBACON going from meh to great. Further, all of this has been made possible by viewers like you pitchers throwing a career-high rate of strikes to him for whatever reason. It’s not like he’s forcing them to do so by not chasing — he has the highest chase rate of his career! Do you want to see what happens when Swingy McGee keeps the same swing rates and pitchers start avoiding the zone?

Probably the only useful postscript to this post is that Rosario came into this season with replacement-level projections. When working through assessing the Braves’ depth and lack of action in signing better LF/DH options, I noted that the biggest challenge for them was going to be committing a ton of PAs to Rosario no matter how he plays. Nearly 200 PAs into the 2023 season, well... Rosario has been replacement level (-0.1 fWAR) and the Braves have committed a ton of PAs to Rosario anyway. It paid off in June, as Rosario has been the Braves’ WPA leader in all three games, and had what could be the play of the season with his last-out grand slam. Will it keep paying off? Probably not, but see the title of this post. I doubt that June 5 is the date after which the story of Rosario’s season stops being interesting.

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