Back on June 22, Alex Rios was slashing .288/.330/.467. He had eight homers and nine steals with 37 RBI and 32 runs scored. He was a top-100 player, a draft day steal, and impossible to trade.
I aggressively shopped Rios for a week, asking for straight-up trades for players like Colby Lewis (ranked 94), Matt Garza (255), and Ian Kennedy (307). One guy hated Rios so much he wouldn’t even give me an injury-striken, DL-occupying Brandon McCarthy (133) despite having a starting four-man outfield of Michael Bourn, Colby Rasmus, Lucas Duda, and Yoenis Cespedes.
Two weeks later, I’m glad everyone in my league hates Rios.
In those two weeks all Rios has done is slash .444/.444/.704 in 54 at-bats (that’s right, he literally hasn’t walked once) with three homers, four steals, 10 RBI and a whopping 13 runs scored, good for the fourth-best line in fantasy over that span. Over the last month Rios has been the sixth-best player. He’s climbed all the way to 28th-best on the season.
And it’s because Rios does it all. How balanced are his fantasy contributions? He’s one of just five players with at least 10 homers, 10 steals, 40 runs, and 40 RBI while maintaining a batting average north of .300. The others? Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Mike Trout, and Carlos Gonzalez.
The question now becomes “Can Rios maintain the pace?” Let’s take a category-by-category look.
.315 Batting Average
Rios is a career .277 hitter who hasn’t hit over .300 since 2006 (.302). His BABIP this season is .336, noticeably higher than his career .308 BABIP. Both of those seem to indicate his average should drop, but those numbers don’t paint a complete picture.
Rios is striking out just 13.0 percent of the time this season (career 15.9%) and struck out just 11.9 percent of the time last season. Normally his pitiful 3.9 percent walk rate would worry me, but this is now two straight years (and exactly 900 plate appearances) where Rios has demonstrated low strikeout rates despite career-low walk rates. The best news of all is the line-drive rate Rios sports, currently 24.1 percent. He’s seeing the ball incredibly well, and that’s fueling his .336 BABIP. Rios has had line-drive rates over 20 percent in four other seasons (2004 and 2006-08). In those four seasons he finished with BABIPs of .355, .336, .319, and .331. In short, thanks to his great line-drive rate and career-low strikeout rate, Rios could conceivably maintain his .315 average and should certainly be a .300-plus hitter this season.
Rios has played 81 of Chicago’s 84 team games, putting him on a 156-game pace. That means his 11 homers right now project to 21 on the season. Rios has twice hit 20-plus homers, hitting 21 in 2010 and 24 in 2007. He regularly hits 17 or more, doing that four times in the last six seasons.
His 11.5 percent HR/FB rate is currently a career-best, but he does have two other seasons north of 11.0 percent and three north of 10.0 percent. Playing in U.S. Cellular Field and its 135 park factor for homers to right-handed batters, Rios should have no trouble hitting 21 and should threaten to set a new career high. He needs to start hitting more fly balls, though. His 35.6 percent fly ball rate is his lowest since 2005, though the ballpark will help offset that.
Rios has 13 steals on the season, a total that puts him on pace for 25 thefts. Rios has always had speed, but he became a big-time threat to run back in 2008 when he stole 32 bases. From 2008-11, Rios has stolen 101 bases, averaging 25.25 per season. And that includes the unusually-low 11 bases he stole last season (due in very large part to his .265 OBP). Nothing out of the ordinary here.
87-RBI and 91-Run Pace
Back in 2010, his first full season with the White Sox, Rios totaled 88 RBI. His batting average with runners in scoring position this year is .372, which is a little high, but he’s also struck out just seven times in 72 such at-bats (9.0%). That helps explain it. If Rios keeps batting over .300 with 20-plus homer power, he shouldn’t have trouble reaching 87 RBI.
As for the 91 runs, Rios hasn’t scored that many times since 2008 (91 runs exactly). That season he had an OBP of .337. In fact, Rios has had an OBP of at least .330 three times (excluding seasons he was injured), and in those seasons he scored 91, 89, and 114 runs. It also doesn’t hurt that the White Sox have scored exactly 400 runs entering play on Saturday, tied with the offensively capable and aptly named Bronx Bombers for fifth-best in the league.
Stop hating on Rios. He’s back.