When Cleveland signed Eddie Rosario in the offseason, they expected him to be their one consistent performer in an outfield filled with question marks. They gave him $8 million, a king’s ransom for a team operating with a payroll under $50 million, and slotted him into left field from day one. He’s been there in 43 of Cleveland’s 46 games so far, plus one game at designated hitter.
It’s not even June, but so far the signing has belly-flopped into the shallow end, and it’s not trending in the right direction. As of this writing, he sports a .226/.273/.329 slash with Cleveland, good for a 66 wRC+ and a lot of disappointed walks back to the dugout.
Rosario has always been a streaky hitter — as much as anyone not named José Ramírez typically is — but his current downturn is by far the longest of his career. Looking at his 15-game rolling wOBA average, he normally starts climbing back up to a peak after being in a deep valley by now. Instead, the valley has turned into a chasm and is in danger of becoming an abyss.
If Cleveland intends to dig themselves out of injury purgatory and actually compete for a playoff spot, they need him to find himself. Like right now.
On the surface, he seems to be doing just that over the last few games. He’s riding a five-game hitting streak and only a handful of strikeouts in his last 21 plate appearances. Streaks are fickle, though, and in that span, he’s only hit singles.
The power that carried Rosario to 24 or more homers in three straight seasons (and it probably would have been four with a full 2020 campaign) is seemingly gone as he has hit just three in Cleveland to go along with a disappointing .329 slugging percentage. Even at Progressive Field, where he has historically raked, he has a wOBA of .184 and 21 strikeouts to just two walks.
Expected values don’t paint a promising picture, either. Rosario hit one ball relatively hard for a middle-of-the-road max exit velocity, but his overall hard-hit rate ranks in the 20th percentile. His rolling xwOBA averages, which can typically signal that a player is coming out of a long slump if they start to rise, have flatlined. He has been at or below league average in expected wOBA (a measure of the expected outcome based on the quality of contact) over his last 50 and 100 plate appearances. Over his last 250 plate appearances, which takes us back to 2020 when he was actually hitting, is only barely above average and drifting towards the median.
The issue could just come down to hitting the ball on the ground too much. According to Baseball Savant, Rosario has made solid contact 8.8% of the time, yet with a 44.1% groundball rate, he’s barreled the ball a career-low 3.7% of the time. How do you fix that besides just telling a guy to hit the ball a little higher and hope it works? I don’t know, and I don’t know that Cleveland knows, either.
Perhaps Rosario is missing the edge gained from his notorious aggressiveness at the plate, as he’s swung at pitches outside the zone at a career-low 37.1% of the time and made contact 69.3% of the time — also near his career-low. His overall contact is better than ever at 82.1%, and he’s swinging and missing less than ever, yet nothing seems to work.
Or perhaps we’ve expected too much of Rosario, who has been a career-average hitter that seemed to tap into another level when he’s playing against Cleveland. Maybe the idea was that the fury he showed while facing Cleveland pitchers would translate to when he’s playing on the same team as them. That hasn’t been the case so far, though.
Maybe in another dimension where the pitching staff is intact, Franmil Reyes has a healthy oblique, and any other outfielder could hit, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal that Rosario is struggling the way he is. He could be hidden in a cloud of other talents as he tries to find that secret sauce to get his bat going. But right now, in this unfortunate reality, Cleveland needs Rosario to tap into something, anything to bring him back to a league-average hitter. Otherwise, they’re in trouble.