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Eddie Rosario is Ed-ily and steadily improving

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He’ll never be a walk-machine, but Eddie Rosario has made small changes in his approach that have yielded dividends.

Minnesota Twins v Los Angeles Dodgers
Eddie Rosario had a career game Monday against the Dodgers
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Eddie Rosario has had a mighty eventful week, namely due to his unintended substitution Tuesday evening after Paul Molitor’s botched double-switch and subsequent 18-minute delay.

Rosario’s inadvertent expulsion (now that’s a ripe and ready-to-pick euphemism) stung more acutely because the leftfielder was coming off one of the finest games of his young career. The night before, Rosario went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a dinger and three RBI against the Dodgersjust one of four career three-hit, three-RBI games for Rosario.

What made Monday’s performance all the more impressive was the manner with which Rosario reached the three-hit/-ribby threshold. To wit:

(1) Rosario swung at only one ball in his four plate appearances, and said ball was extremely borderline and also on which he doubled

(2) Two of Rosario’s three hits came against lefties

(3) All three hits landed left of centerfield

Let’s break down why these three points are important, one-by-one, and how Monday’s standout hitting performance illustrated the underlying improvements that have yielded some positive results for Rosario over the past couple months.

Point No. 1: Rosario displayed some plate discipline!

Eddie Rosario is not a man who likes to walk. As someone who rarely walks, Rosario will always be beholden to his Batting Average on Balls in Play, for better or for worse.

Mapping his hitting prowess this year (using Weighted Runs Created-Plus) against his BABIP reveals just how intertwined the two stats are.

Image via Fangraphs

There will of course always be a positive correlation between BABIP and wRC+ (or any analogous hitting stat), because good things happen when you get hits. But drawing walks provides a batsman a defense against the BABIP demons. Rosario lacks any such defense.

For Rosario, the only way to succeed is to hit it where they ain’t. When he does, he thrives. This is why even a small improvement in plate discipline could really help Eddie excel.

So far this season, Rosario has made small but marked improvements in his plate discipline; Rosario’s previous career high in walks came in 2015, his rookie season, when he coaxed 15 free passes. This year, Rosario hit the 15 mark on July 3 and is now at 18 through Thursday. That doesn’t sound like much, but for Rosario those walks represent some encouraging baby steps.

Not only that, Rosario has worked a few free passes that weren’t as simple as standing still: in his first two seasons, 11 of Rosario’s 27 walks (40.7%) were on four pitches; this year, three of Rosario’s 18 walks (16.7%) have gone 1-2-3-4.

Rosario’s making small but heartening strides, as some handy-dandy Fangraphs graphs will show ya.

Image via Fangraphs

Sure, he’s still well below league average, but for Rosario this represents the kind of improvement fans look for out of a hitter with under two full years of big-league experience. Rosario has paired an improved walk rate with a decreased strikeout rate, the ideal combination.

Image via Fangraphs

His strikeout rate has plummeted enough to even dip below league average! As every other MLB hitter digs deep into the K-zone, feasting more gluttonously each season, Rosario has cut back to just celery, thank you very much. In 2017, he’s been downright abstemious.

Image via Fangraphs

Rosario’s improved plate discipline was on full display in his second at-bat against Hyun-jin Ryu on Monday.

Here’s the plot of the six pitches Rosario saw against Ryu — and, again, Rosario only offered at those within the zone. He even took a borderline strike and some close balls!

Image via Baseball Savant

To the video.

Pitch No. 1

Good solid take. It’s a first pitch, though, so how did Rosario do when a take was a little less automatic?

Pitch No. 2

Again, close pitch that Rosario didn’t want, though it did nick the zone. He even had the temerity to give the ump a dirty look. Well played.

Pitch No. 3

This is Rosario’s most encouraging take, in my eyes. Ryu’s cutter was moving off the plate and must have looked awfully tempting, but Rosario managed to lay off.

Pitch No. 4

Rosario got his hands started early but, again, shows a level of patience Twins fans haven’t seen much of over the past three seasons.

Pitch No. 5

Here Rosario unleashes the kind of selective aggression that a 3-1 count is built for: take all that outside junk, wait for the high 3-1 fastball and let ‘er rip.

Pitch No. 6

All that waiting paid off here when Rosario gets a fastball that caught a little bit more of the plate and was a bit juicier, height-wise. Rosario’s patience paid off.

On a more granular level than walks and K’s, this is specifically where Rosario has improved so much in 2017: laying off balls. (“O-Swing%” is the percentage of pitches a batters offers at outsize the zone.)

Image via Fangraphs

Again, Rosario isn’t going to lead the league in any of these categories; but as he continues to improve his plate discipline on pitches outside the zone, so too will his overall results improve.

Watch how: as his O-Swing% falls, his Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) rises — specifically in the last 40 games, when Rosario has really turned it around. Turns out, not swinging at balls is a good way to succeed at the dish.

Image via Fangraphs

Rosario has especially excelled at spitting on low pitches, which he was susceptible to in his first two seasons. (The first image is 2015-2016, the second this season.) Pay attention to that bottom row of five boxes.

Image via Brooks Baseball

Rosario swung at fully half of the balls thrown low-and-inside in his first two seasons — the bottom right corner of the above GIF — and he’s cut that number down to 26.79% thus far this season. There are smaller but similar changes throughout the bottom third of the strike zone, a huge step in the right direction for Rosario.

I’ve thrown the relevant plate-discipline numbers into one table to really drive the point home: Eddie Rosario’s approach at the plate is trending in the right direction.

Eddie’s plate discipline from ‘16 to ‘17

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact% SwStrike%
Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact% SwStrike%
2016 41.7 76.9 56.9 73 15.3
2017 37.5 75.7 54.5 77.6 12.2
+/- -4.2 -1.2 -2.4 4.6 -3.1

The best part of that table? He’s making more contact — a great sign for a guy who’s run a career .336 BABIP. That table just warms the heart, as much as a table can do such things. It’s what progress looks like.

Minnesota Twins v Los Angeles Dodgers
Hands up if you’re feeling yourself!
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Point No. 2: Rosario stroked a couple base knocks against lefties!

Eddie had three chances against southpaws on Monday, and he performed quite well: a double, a homer and a strikeout.

In his third at-bat Monday, his first against Dodgers lefty reliever Grant Dayton, Rosario again didn’t chase any balls outside of the zone and again took a borderline pitch — all before smashing a homer into the left-field seats on the first tasty-looking pitch.

Image via Baseball Savant

It looked even prettier in vid form.

Rosario is stroking lefties this season, particularly when compared to last season.

Eddie vs. the Lefties

Season PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO w OBA wRC+
Season PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO w OBA wRC+
2015 120 3.3 24.2 0.289 0.311 0.500 0.211 0.343 116.2
2016 83 3.6 26.5 0.263 0.305 0.289 0.026 0.266 60.5
2017 93 2.2 21.5 0.292 0.304 0.449 0.157 0.317 94.8

When all three seasons are laid out next to each other, 2016 looks more like the anomaly; taken as a whole, Rosario’s always been pretty good against lefties. For his career, he’s hit .272/.301/.461 against righties and .283/.307/.427 against lefties. That converts to an OPS+ 4% worse against same-handers.

Where Rosario has improved against lefties is in the bat control/power department: this year, his K-rate is a pretty-damn-good 21.5%, and his Isolated Power is a downright robust .157. Sure, 93 plate appearances is a minuscule sample, but K-rate stabilizes relatively quickly and I could use some good Twins-related news. After the whooping the Dodgers dropped on the Twins, I’ll take some incautious optimism.

Rosario’s ability to hit lefties is also badly needed on a Twins team that scuffles against southpaws. The Twins entered Friday’s series against Oakland with a .246/.323/.381 team slash line against lefties for a wOBA and wRC+ that both rank 22nd in MLB.

If Rosario can stick to abstaining from tasty pitches just off the plate against lefties, it will be a huge boon for the Twins in their ongoing tribulations against wrong-handers. (I can use that term; I am one.)

Point No. 3: Eddie’s exploring heretofore unexplored green spaces!

Point the last: Rosario’s three hits Monday against L.A. all went to left field, a promising development for the fella.

Rosario is smacking the ball to left more frequently and making less soft contact, per Fangraphs. (Last graph, I swear. I’m glad I don’t pay buy the screenshot.)

Image via Fangraphs

If you take a look at the home run from the clip above again —

— you can see Rosario tracking the ball deep into the outer edge of the zone and taking the ball the other way. The quintessential image of Rosario struggling, for me, is one of him pulling off on a pitch in an attempt to pull it. Sure, that’s anecdotal, but the data does seem to back it up.

Here’s a non-graph visual aid (first image — the one with the smaller Sauron’s Eye near first base — is from 2015-16; the second — with the larger black-red splotch on the right side and the more uniformly yellow-filled outfield — is from this year):

Image via Baseball Savant

Rosario has expanded his batted ball expanse to the far reaches of left-center and left, particularly to the deeper reaches of the opposite-field corner. It’s a small sample, sure, but the early returns are good.

This year, Eddie Rosario is swinging at fewer balls, swinging and missing less, hitting the ball harder and to more fields against both lefties and righties. There was little good to take from the Dodgers series, but there is that: an Eddie steadily improving.