Amed Rosario has earned a longer look — but where?
A lot has been made of Rosario’s August, and for very good reason. It’s been a wonderful run, and if you expand it even further, Rosario is hitting .309./344/.450 since May 1. It’s the kind of line you really want from a leadoff hitter, and combined with his speed it seems like he’s a shoo-in for a big role on the 2022 Cleveland squad.
All that being said, I can’t for the life of me figure out the long-term role for Amed Rosario.
Of course a near-.300 hitter is always a valuable player, at least in theory. It’s just that his .300 is kind of an empty number. Hitting is good, important even, and we tend to love the .300 mark as the tipping point between “some guy” and excellence. Whatever advanced rate stat you want though, Rosario is much closer to “some guy” than excellence. That’s not bad, it’s just not great.
Coming off this absurd hot streak, Baseball-Reference notes his Rbat+ at 104, FanGraphs has his wRC+ at 105, and the two sites post his WAR at 1.9 and 2.5, respectively. It’s certainly the type of player that is helpful in the lineup, especially one that’s consistently running out Austin Hedges, Yu Chang, or Owen Miller. However, the issues become more obvious when we look further. For instance, his 5.4% walk rate this year, and 4.6% career, is far below the league average 8.4%, which is a black mark for any leadoff hitter. For a player so influenced by the fates of BABIP, Rosario’s inability to grind his way on base with any regularity is a real problem.
Who cares though, right? He’s fast, he can squeak a few infield hits out that could have been walks instead. And he does have 20 infield hits this year, right up there with Trea Turner (23) and Cedric Mullins (17). So that’s good; he just lags both of those guys in walks. I don’t want to harp on that too much, and Rosario is always going to be a higher BABIP player, but the .422 mark he posted in August is screaming REGRESSION, as is the .372 mark he’s posted since May 1. I do like his bat in the lineup, whether it’s leadoff or otherwise. The higher-order numbers simply speak to a fallback to real life.
More than that, if there’s one thing Cleveland isn’t short on, it’s shortstops. Rick Manning might have thought otherwise the other day, but the fact is that between Gabriel Arias, Tyler Freeman, and Brayan Roccio, there’s a ton of talent set at that position that’s supposed to make an impact sooner rather than later.
Now, prospects are fun, but they’re by their very nature suspect as well. That said, when we look to next year and beyond, Rosario can’t possibly be a shortstop, right? He’s just not that good at it. Maybe we’re spoiled from the last half-decade of sterling play at the position, but right now we’re looking at a guy who’s ranked 93rd in baseball in outs above average, and if you watch him just doesn’t have the range that you want at that position. The arm isn’t strong enough, he can’t go left with any expediency, and he makes life unduly harder on the actual elite player standing next to him.
Rosario is here, now, and hitting at a league-average clip at the moment. I certainly see the attraction in slotting him as your shortstop for the foreseeable future. And perhaps that’s who he is for this team: “placeholder who performs well until the young studs get good”. It’s just that with a team that’s so dependent on its rotation to succeed, doesn’t it seem like a poor choice to put a minus at the most important defensive position? Beyond that, the obvious answer is second base. If we’re looking at it in honest terms though, he’d be basically a worse version of Cesar Hernandez or a declining Jason Kipnis — a league-average or slightly better bat with questionable defense. It’s an answer to the question, but is it what we really want?
Look, league-average offense is good. Cleveland has been begging for it out of most of the lineup for years. Heck, for a few years there, once you got past about the fifth spot in the lineup it was effectively minor leaguers the rest of the way. Rosario helps mitigate that, whether he bats first, second, sixth, or ninth. It’s just that it’s hard to find room for him. He’s not a shortstop, and between Myles Straw and Harold Ramirez there’s not much room in the outfield (and he’s not good at that anyway), so the issue remains, what do you do with a poor fielding, good hitting (for his position) middle infielder who’s going to lose his position sooner rather than later?
We’ve seen too much of a logjam of crud and mediocrity the last few years to have to deal with that when the actual good crops from the farm start hitting the majors. He probably deserves 500-plus at-bats in a major league season. He’s talented as hell and has physical tools most players only dream of. His streakiness demands regulars playing time too, so he’s wasted as a bench guy or on the shuttle from Columbus or something.
There’s an answer to how to make it work in Cleveland, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it is right now.