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Why the Alex Rios signing might work out for the Royals

Can the Royals new rightfielder bounce back?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in just four days you are reading a second "reason for optimism" article. That's probably not a good thing, but here we are.

Last night the Royals inked former Ranger/White Sox Alex Rios to a one-year deal worth $11M. Twitter wasn't too happy and neither were most of the readers here. Also Rany had his classic Rany-bait tweet:

I mean...come on. No mention that it's a one-year deal for Rios, two-year deal for Morales, and neither one of them are pitchers? How many people here would take Morales/Rios at basically the same price as Shields for the next two years than Shields for the next 4-5? I'd imagine everyone here.

First, let's get some of the ugly things out of the way.

  • Rios projects to be worth 0.7 wins next year and a line as such: .260/.298/.394 92 wRC+ and average defense
  • $11M is more than you should probably pay for someone with the above line
  • Rios will be 34 next year and players generally don't get better past age 30
  • Last year Rios was basically replacement level, putting up one of his worst career years
  • Rios doesn't walk much or get on base posting a career 5.9 BB% and .323 OBP
  • Rios ISO has declined by nearly 100 points since 2012
  • Rios 2014 BABIP was one of the highest of his career, yet he had a 92 wRC+
I think that's the general picture of Rios there, and if I missed any key points feel free to leave them below. Also, a popular (perhaps famous?) baseball writer who has his own proprietary projection system (who's name I refuse to Beetlejuice on here) posted his systems projection for Rios as a Royal:

For prosperity sake, the said writers name spelled backwards is iskrobmyzS naD.

Given everything above, are there reasons to be (or try to be) optimistic about Rios next year?

It's a one-year deal

There that old baseball cliche that "there's no such thing as a bad one-year deal." That's absolutely not true, but in a relative sense, one-year deals generally don't turn out to be catastrophic franchise drowning deals, and every team can likely afford a one-year $11M deal.

Is $11M that much?

The big theme going around baseball writing right now is that teams are paying for right handed power, and Alex Rios is at least right handed. In Rios case though, the "power" has been there at times, and for his career he's hit about 15 home runs per 600 PA. Right fielders last year averaged 14 per 600 PA.

$11M probably isn't that much

Rios' 2015 projection isn't too peachy, but in 2012 and 2013, Rios was a much better player. In 2012 he was worth 4.2 wins while in 2013 he was at 3.1. The next year, 2014, he plummeted to 0.2. The normal decline is about 0.5 wins down each year, and even an aggressive decline wouldn't knock him down that much. Essentially Rios won't even need to be half as good as he was in 2013 to be worth his 2015 contract.

Fangraphs crowdsource predicted 2/$20M for Rios. Dave Cameron predicted 2/$18M, and Tim Dierkes said 1/$8.5M. With the large amounts of revenue available in baseball now and the seemingly inflated costs this offseason, Rios fell basically in like with the pre-market estimations.

Average defense and baserunning

While rightfield isn't the most crucial or hardest of defensive positions, Rios grades out around average defensively the past few years and projects to be basically the same in 2015. Rios was once a much better baserunner, but the good thing is that he still projects to be a basically average baserunner, and for a player in his mid-30's that's #respectable.

The plate discipline profile

Last year for Rios didn't bring any drastic change in his plate discipline profile that caused his struggle. He swung at ~3% more than his career average on outside pitches, but he in turn made 5% more contact than average. This was perhaps in response to the fact that pitchers threw him 5% less pitchers inside the zone as compared to his career average. Other than that, the profile was really just the same and Rios has a better than average contact% and a lower than average k-rate.

There's not a lot of causation out there, at least what I can surmise, that would explain Rios sudden drop from above average player to replacement level player. Jeff Sullivan suggest an increase in inside fastballs, but for his career Rios has hit .343 on fastballs on the inside zone.

Rios HR/FB% had an extreme drop down from 10.1% in 2013 to 2.9% despite hitting the same amount of flyballs (obviously due to the career drought of home runs). Meanwhile his batted ball distance average remained relatively unchanged: 266.48 feet in 2014, 268.86 ft in 2013. His batted ball data also remained relatively unchanged.

Rios certainly plummeted in 2014, and both of the main projections systems currently out have Rios rebounding in some amount (though not returning to a similar but depreciated value from 2013 as possibly expected). Rios is pure bounce-back candidate, and as suggest above, he only needs to be worth about 1.5 wins to be worth his contract. Given the usual linear decline from 2013 Rios should be worth ~2 wins this year. That's probably in the 70th percentile or so outcome range but it's not absurd, and Rios was a very good player just two and three years ago.