The Twins Need Early Season Eddie
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsOver the last three years, Rosario has hit 23 home runs on pitches outside of the rulebook strike zone. The next closest is Trey Mancini with 15. His .403 slugging percentage over those three years is the best in the game. He maintains a .247 average outside of the zone -- fourth-best behind guys like Altuve and Benintendi.
Everyone wants to hold up Ted Williams’ magical multi-colored chart as a sacred tablet when it comes to hitting instruction but the truth is that for many hitters, their “happy zone”, as Williams called it, can also extend to areas out of the box. From 2015 through 2017, Minnesota Twins fans witnessed Brian Dozier slug 16 home runs on pitches out of the zone, mostly at his eye level. For Rosario, his extrazonal happy place was on pitches between him and the plate, where he could turn and burn, or above the zone, where his deep barrel turn assisted him in catching elevated fastballs.
So naturally, being able to make solid contact on those pitches is going to beget more out of zone swings. It’s a dubious skill set, to be sure. Like being really good at smoking an entire pack of cigarettes at once. Sure, it may look impressive in the moment but eventually you are going to pay for it. If you stick to your strength -- swinging at pitches in your happy zone wherever that may be — you will succeed. If that target drifts however...
And here is where Rosario has run afoul of late.
When Rosario started the season off hot in March, April and May, his 40% chase rate was the fifth highest in the league. He was just hitting a lot of those out of zone pitches well. He had six extra-base hits, including three home runs. The vast majority of those swings came on pitches just inside. Since the end of August, however, pitchers have gotten Rosario to extend his arms and chase after pitches off the other side of the plate.
In April, Rosario swung at just 27% of pitches that were outside. Over the last couple of weeks, Rosario’s swing rate at those pitches has increased to 51%.
Opponents have noted this trend and have adjusted accordingly, feeding him more pitches just off the plate and allowing him to generate weak contact, if any at all. At the beginning of the year, pitchers would challenge him and give more ripe pitches. Between his ability to drive those pitches and his inability to lay off the outside ones, teams are staying away.
This is a swing decision issue. There have been no mechanical changes that would result in a hole in the swing. Rosario could stand to quiet his pre-swing movements similar to Miguel Sano -- the big drawback of his hands undoubtedly lead to some timing issues -- but he has always had the big load process and has had previous success with it. And there hasn’t been a substantial drop in exit velocity on contact that would suggest an injury, as even the most minor nagging injuries can alter things at this point in the season. In fact, his exit velo is better now than back in April. That said, this has the signs of an issue upstairs.
As the “Eddie” chants grow increasingly louder at Target Field and the stakes have risen, Rosario has found himself without the lineup cushion that once surrounded him. Furthermore, his innate desire to play the role of the hero may be a catalyst for his audacious swing rate. He is forcing things to happen when he and the team would be better served if he exercised patience.
There is no question that the Twins need Eddie Rosario -- the early season version Eddie Rosario -- more than ever. That would require some restraint. Does Rosario have that kind of restraint? Does he have the ability to turn off the ego and quiet the voice in his head that tells him to swing and drive in that run no matter where the pitch is?
With the division lead shrinking and a postseason run at stake, the Twins need Rosario to wrangle it.
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