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Wilin Rosario, Feast or Famine?

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His rates improved, his splits became more extreme, and he broke projection machines.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Last season I loved Wilin Rosario, and I think I was with the consensus when I say most people thought he would continue to improve going into his age 25 season, after hitting 28, and 21 in the prior seasons, along with a lovely .292 average in 2013.

Pros of this season are that he improved to a career best walk rate, 5.6%, and lowered his strikeout rate, 17.1%, another career best.  His 286.91 ft. average homerun and fly ball distance was good for 81st in the MLB, was an improvement over last years distance, and he did that despite two trips to the DL for a sickness, and wrist inflammation.   Lastly, his contact rate, despite being below average, was a career high, along with his swinging strike rate being a career low.

Unfortunately there is more bad news than good for Wilin in 2014.  He had a career low in games played, a career low average, a drop of 50 points in babip, along with a big drop in slugging percentage.  It's also looking like his 2012 season where he averaged over 300ft per homerun and fly ball was a bit of a fluke.

This seemed to happen because he hit more grounders than ever before, and he pulled the vast majority of them.

Courtesy of Fangraphs

Generally ground balls are a decent way to improve your average but in Rosario's case, he only hit .176.  This could mean a few things.

1.     He was unlucky.

2.     He was predictable.

3.     He wasn't hitting the ball hard enough to get ground balls through the holes.

4.     He's too slow to get infield hits

I'll cut Rosario some slack since he didn't have the healthiest season, and I think he'll be able to hit the ball a little harder next season, resulting in more ground balls making it through the holes, but I know nothing is going to help him get down the line any faster.  He's been listed at 5'11 220 for a few years now, and is nicknamed the baby bull, he's never going to be fast enough to churn out infield hits regularly, also when you're pulling so many grounders eventually teams are going to start moving fielders into better positions to stop you.  Unfortunately, I don't have access to this year's shift data, but the odds of even minor shifts being implemented against Rosario grow as he shows that he is becoming more and more predictable.

Two more troubling issues are his lefty/righty, and home/road splits.  Last season Mr. Rosario managed to produce these two splits.

Split

PA

AB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

vs RHP

303

281

0.249

0.290

0.359

0.650

vs LHP

107

101

0.317

0.346

0.644

0.989

Split

PA

AB

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

Home

217

198

0.343

0.387

0.540

0.928

Away

193

184

0.185

0.212

0.321

0.533

This is troubling to say the least, and explains a lot about his approach to me.  One it says he is probably pulling the classic shoulder dip, where you hit more flys the opposite field and grounders to the pull side.  So I googled Rosario contact, and while seeing some tilt in the shoulders is to be expected, it became clear that Rosario's is substantial.

For comparisons sake, here is a much better hitter, Albert Pujols, hitting a lower pitch with basically the same tilt as Rosario on a belt high pitch.

So then when you put those poor road and righty splits together, you end up with this.

Split

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Road vs. R

141

0.158

0.191

0.211

0.402

If that isn't pathetic, I don't know what is.  If the reverse splits were the issue I had to worry about, I'd have an easier time dealing with this, but road games and righties happen a LOT.

While I don't have the technology to sit and breakdown his swing, its clear that there are serious holes in his swing; he's likely having big issues with breaking balls, and obviously has issues with pitches going away from him, while he feasts on balls coming in.  I'm also very confident the straighter a pitch travels towards Rosario, the better he is against it.  The reason I can say that with such confidence, is because his whiff zone profiles make it so obvious what pitchers are doing to him.  Here he is flailing away at righties.

And by comparison, drilling lefties.

He also shows some classic slugger problems by being much better off against hard stuff from righties (fastballs, sinkers, cutters) than against off speed pitching (everything else).

Hard pitches

Off speed

So if I was able to figure out all of this in about an hour of work, I think it's going to be pretty clear to MLB teams next season how they should attack him.   He does have the luck of being able to play at altitude in 90 games in the NL West alone, where breaking pitches won't be able to catch the thinner air, it doesn't seem likely that he improves greatly unless a hitting coach sits him down and revamps his swing to allow him to hit more types of pitching with greater efficiency.  He is still young, just 26 years old this upcoming season, and last season the Colorado Rockies spoke about letting him play other positions to allow his bat to get in the lineup more often, prior to Justin Morneau's explosion.  Apparently the Rockies are aware of his talent, and seem intent on getting something out of him before they eventually trade him away. They likely know his value is greatest in Colorado, and trading a guy who could potentially flourish there, for someone worse is a classic Rockie maneuver.

Since I don't want to be so pessimistic on a guy I recently loved so much, I'll end this on a high note.   Next season Steamer projects Rosario to have an OPS over 800, and the second best wOBA, .350, amongst all fantasy catchers, behind Posey.  If everything fails, at least he'll be a great platoon guy to watch as an unownable fantasy producer, who can help all the other Rockie players when he plays against lefties.  Look at how he was made the strike zone almost impenetrable for lefties with their hard stuff.

All stats from Fangraphs, all zone profiles from Brooksbaseball.net