On Tuesday, Josh mused about the possibility of the Angels signing all of their former players on the free agent market. While the article was more thought experiment than anything, one name did stick out as a reunion that could make some sense.
Sean Rodriguez, of course, was the "mystery piece" in the Scott Kazmir trade. With his inclusion announced days after the trade was consummated, it took most of our opinions of the acquisition from "hmmm" to "ugh!". Alex Torres has been nothing more than a fringe reliever while Matthew Sweeney never made it past AA. Kazmir, of course, was a disaster for the Angels.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, has developed roughly the way most of us expected, as a decent utility infielder with some pop in his bat. He held down that role well the last seven seasons with the Rays and Pirates, though he never quite forced the issue to earn himself a spot as a starter. Until, perhaps, now.
At age 31, S-Rod (that was a thing, right?) clubbed a career-high 18 HR in only 342 plate appearances, essentially matching the power output we enjoyed from Jefry Marte. Overall, Rodriguez hit .270/.349/.510, far and away the best production of his career. Conventional wisdom says to be leery of a free agent coming off a career season. After all, the Angels are already betting on one of those guys in Cameron Maybin. Would it be wise to double-down and sign a 32 year-old utility infielder to fill the hole at second?
At first blush, the answer would be "no." Riding a .344 BAbip to a .270 average is a fairly decent indicator that there's some flukiness going on. Rodriguez has never posted an above-average offensive season before this year and it seems rather suspect that he has suddenly figured things out in his early thirties.
But it's not impossible. Like the aforementioned Maybin, digging through some of his batted ball data shows a clear shift in process that may have led to more balls falling in for hits. Simply put, he was tagging the ball harder than ever, with an average exit velocity of 93.4 MPH on fastballs, tied for tops in all of baseball. Overall, 43.1% of his balls put in play were classified as "hard", by far the highest total in his career. Where did this boost in power come from? According to Pirates blogger Jason Rollison, a simple adjustment:
In a piece we published earlier this year, Rodriguez's father, Johnny, let us in on a little secret. Sean's leg-kick was taken away from him early in his development by the Los Angeles Angels, who saw him as a line drive hitter. Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach Jeff Branson added the leg kick back in, and that fact alone accounts for the huge increase in slugging numbers.
Huh, go figure. But would a leg kick alone really account for that much more power? It would be instructive to point out that there was also a drastic shift in his plate discipline numbers, drawing walks in 9.6% of his plate appearances, above the league average and well above what he had done recently in his career. As would be expected, the bigger hacks and more patient approach also led to an increase in his strike outs, up significantly to 29.8%. Even in this strike out-friendly era, that number is in the upper-bounds of acceptability, right up there with Chris Carter and Mike Napoli.
The Pirates have a pretty good second baseman in Josh Harrison, so Rodriguez has only seen about 200 innings of work there the last two seasons. While the Rays and Pirates have used him as a Swiss Army knife throughout his career, his best glove work has been done at second base (8.1 UZR/150) and the outfield (9.5 UZR/150). He also has positive rates at first and third base, with shortstop the only position where he has fallen short in the defensive metrics. Though in a pinch, he's likely fine there.
Sean Rodriguez is not a perfect fit. Even with altered hitting mechanics and a better approach, he is still likely in for some regression, and it wouldn't take much of a drop off to bring him right back down to replacement level. He is on the wrong side of 30 and the strike outs could become a major issue, especially if the power dips. He also bats right-handed, meaning signing him to be a starter would leave Kole Calhoun as the lone lefty in the Angels' line-up.
Echoing Rahul's point from yesterday, Neil Walker needs to be target 1-A for this club. I don't think I'm going too far to say that he is their most obvious free agent fit, going all the way back to when they foolishly passed on Adrian Beltre. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. If Walker intends to ply his trade elsewhere, Sean Rodriguez might be a perfectly suitable fallback option.