During a season currently in the midst of a downward spiral, Julio Rodriguez has been a reason for hope.
After a rough first month of the season, Julio Rodriguez has quickly become one of the brightest young stars in baseball. Coming into this season, there was lots of excitement and hesitation when it came to Rodriguez. The numbers he had put up in the minors, the olympics and spring training were more than enough to get the hype train in motion. The Mariners past history with prospects, on the other hand, was the cause of the hesitation.
The Rough Start To 2022:
After seeing guys like Jarred Kelenic struggle continuously at the major league level, nobody was really sure just how good Rodriguez could be. He had the track record in the minors, but had never faced real major league pitching. Those concerns escalated after Rodriguez’s first 20 games. Through those 20 games, Rodriguez was hitting .205 with four doubles, no triples, no home runs and nine RBI. He was also striking out at a worse than expected 37% clip. That was no thanks to the umpires and they’re obscure strike zone they had for Julio, though.
Despite that, there was still reason for hope. Through those same 20 games, he had a league leading nine stolen bases. Not only that, he had an excellent 90.1 MPH average exit velocity and 51.2% hard hit rate. His ability to hit the ball hard was there, he just needed to adjust to what the pitchers were giving him. Especially with pitchers practically refusing to pitch him a fastball. Through May 22nd, Rodriguez was getting offspeed pitches 53.2% of the time, more than any other Mariners hitter. Pitchers were also refusing to put anything near the zone for him. In those 20 games, only 37.8% of the pitches he’d seen were in the zone. League average is 48%.
He also hadn’t done himself many favors when it came to contact. Getting so many offspeed pitches and not seeing much in the zone had Julio rushing at the plate. Because of that, his zone contact rate to start the year was below average at 78.4% (league average is 82%). He struggled despite swinging at an above average 72.7% of pitches in the zone (66.8% league average).
The Impressive Month Of May:
Something changed once April ended. With May winding down, it almost seems as though Rodriguez had been giving the rest of the league a head start. In the 26 May games, Rodriguez has looked like one of the best players in all of baseball. Hitting .314 with three doubles, a triple, six home runs, 16 RBI and also stealing five more bases is absurd for a rookie. Especially one who’s just 21 years old.
Much of his improvement in May correlates with the improved quality of contact. He’s managed to improve on his zone contact rate (80.8%) while also tearing the cover off the ball. In May, Rodriguez’s average exit velo jumped to 92.1 MPH and maxed out at an impressive 114 MPH. He’s also almost doubled his barrel rate from April at 11.7%. This resulted in a hard hit rate of 46.8%.
Through May, Rodriguez ended up with an OPS of .879 and WRC+ of 160. Both of which are elite hitter numbers. Even more elite given his age and lack of previous major league experience. His xwOBA (.382) was good enough to fall into the elite category as well.
His quality of contact isn’t the only thing that’s improved, though. Rodriguez also cut down his strikeout rate to 25.5% which has been huge. Staying around league average (23%) will be crucial to Rodriguez continuing to grow. He just needs to work on his walk rate (4.5%). Being as much of a free swinger as he tends to be (55.2% swing rate, 38.6% chase rate), that’s going to limit his on base ability a bit. Especially with him only seeing 38.4% of pitches actually in the zone for the month.
Overall Season Outlook:
As good as Julio Rodriguez was rumored to be, he’s somehow surpassing those predictions already. To put Rodriguez’s season into perspective, there are only two players this season that are better than the 85th percentile in average exit velocity and 96th in sprint speed. Those two players are Julio Rodriguez (87th/98th) and…Mike Trout (93rd/96th). Yep, it’s already possible to find stats that include only Rodriguez and Trout.
Not only that, Rodriguez has a 78.6% hard hit rate against fastballs. I didn’t know where to put this into the article but it’s something that needs to be seen. 78.6% is ABSURD. To help out that into perspective, Trout is at 50%, Aaron Judge is at 69.6% and Shohei Ohtani is at 72.5%.
Much like Trout, Rodriguez has shown he has quite the defensive ability as well. After playing mainly the corner outfield spots in the minor leagues, he’s played nothing but center field at the major league level and thrived. In fact, his outs above average ranks in the 89th percentile and he’s shown he’s one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.
He also brings a joy to the game that you can’t fake or replicate. You’d be hard pressed to find another major leaguer who has as much fun playing the game as Julio Rodriguez. Whether it’s fielding routine fly balls, beating out infield singles or hitting home runs, you’re always guaranteed one thing…JRod is going to have one big ass smile on his face while he’s doing it.