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2021 Braves player review: Eddie Rosario

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Rosario came out of seemingly nowhere and set the world on fire as a Brave

National League Championship Series Game 6: Los Angeles Dodgers v. Atlanta Braves Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Eddie Rosario was the last of the quartet of outfielders the Braves acquired in July to make his Atlanta debut, but was hardly a case of “last and least.” Instead, he was scorchingly good through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, playing a huge role in vaulting the Braves to a championship in 2021.

Acquisition

A fourth-round pick of the Twins back in 2010, Rosario had a nice run with his original team, putting up 11.5 fWAR in 2,830 PAs across six seasons. Eligible for a final year of arbitration in which Rosario was expected to make somewhere between $8.6 and $12.9 million, the Twins chose to non-tender him, a decision very similar to the one the Braves made with Adam Duvall. Like Duvall, Rosario couldn’t get something in the range of his arbitration-eligible salary once a free agent, signing a one-year deal worth $8 million with the team now known as the Cleveland Guardians.

His stint in Cleveland did not go well, and with there being little chance of an AL playoff spot, the why-didn’t-you-call-them-the-Spiders salary-dumped Rosario onto the Braves in “exchange” for Pablo Sandoval at the Trade Deadline, who was immediately released by his new team. While Rosario was only owed another $2.8 million or so at the time of the trade, he was sent to Atlanta along with some cash to cover part of his remaining contract. Given the essentially-zero acquisition cost, it’s safe to say no one saw Rosario’s huge three months coming.

Expectations and Projections

Coming into the 2021 season, Rosario was coming off four straight seasons with an above-average batting line, but had also outhit his xwOBA pretty substantially in that span, as well as in every year of his career to date. The xwOBA outperformance and some inconsistent defensive work in the outfield suggest that he was maybe an average producer for 2021, with some extra downside if his xwOBA underperformance didn’t stick, which is why he got the deal he did from Cleveland.

By the time the Braves acquired him, things were worse than forecasted. The 29-year-old had amassed just 0.3 fWAR in 306 PAs, with a below-average batting line (86 wRC+) that neither featured xwOBA overperformance nor could be chalked up to the reverse. On top of that, Rosario was on the shelf with an intercostal/abdominal strain, and per Alex Anthopoulos’ comments, the Braves felt that rushing him back from the injury would pay far fewer dividends than letting him get back up to speed at a more relaxed pace.

2021 Results

Rosario made his Braves debut on August 28, nearly a full month after being acquired, and made his first Atlanta start the next day. He buzzsawed opposing pitchers pretty much from the get-go, posting a 147 wRC+ in his first 29 Braves PAs, and then after a few days relegated to the bench, a 290 wRC+ in his next 28 PAs.

His regular season line for the Braves featured a 133 wRC+ and 0.6 fWAR in just 106 PAs, twice as much production as his time in Cleveland with around a third of the PAs. This, too, was not the result of xwOBA outperformance, as Rosario’s .375 wOBA as a Brave nearly matched his .377 xwOBA across those 106 PAs. While his last 44 PAs in the regular season were a bummer (51 wRC+), no one really remembered, because he went absolutely ham in the postseason, posting a 186 wRC+ in 68 PAs. Again, that heady batting line in October was, for once (or for thrice at this point), not (entirely) his usual Eddie Rosario-ness, as he had a .437 postseason xwOBA to go with his .451 wOBA in those 16 games.

All in all, it was a pretty underwhelming, 0.9 fWAR season for Rosario. But few are going to remember it that way, given what he did as a Brave — a combined .400 xwOBA and .405 wOBA from an essentially-free Trade Deadline acquisition is pretty much what the chef’s kiss onomatopoeia was made for.

Dark shading reflects Rosario’s postseason exploits

What went right? What went wrong?

Look, y’all know what went right. Rosario was amazing for his 174 combined PAs as a Brave. He won NLCS MVP, had a key hit in the NLDS, and was pretty much the terror of the postseason for opposing pitchers. Only four batters with 10 or more postseason PAs in 2021 had a better postseason xwOBA, while only seven had a better postseason wOBA.

From an approach perspective, there’s not too much weird stuff to point to with regard to Rosario reinventing himself as a Brave. His average exit velocity didn’t really budge much, for one thing. What did change was pretty much the usual story these days: he started hitting the ball in the air, and moreover, pulling the ball in the air. He had gotten away from both pulling the ball and making it airborne in Cleveland, and the reversion-and-then-some with the Braves paid immediate dividends. His plate approach didn’t really change much — more chases but more contact on those chases — it was the pulled air-balls that reinvigorated Rosario.

What went wrong, then, were his 300-plus PAs in Cleveland, that serve as an apt contrast to his Atlanta heroics. It didn’t affect the Braves, but one wonders about how Rosario’s second go at free agency will shake out: his 2021 season was in some ways a resplendent success... and in other ways, pretty disappointing.

One thing that hasn’t come up yet is the topic of Rosario’s defense. It remained, in a word, inconsistent. Viewers of the playoffs were treated to both some really good stuff (his assist on a wallball in Houston, his no-look stab), and some bizarrely bad plays. All in all, Rosario remained defensively in that average-give-or-take-a-few-runs range, which makes his defense a value drag, but not an insurmountable one.

Road to the Title

If there was ever a player made for this section, Eddie Rosario might be it. As a Brave in the regular season, he added around 0.8 WPA and 0.8% cWPA. In the postseason, he added another 1.1ish WPA, and a whopping 18.15% cWPA. While he faded a bit in the World Series, with negative WPA and cWPA to go with a .227/.346/.318 line, the NLCS was his series (.560/.607/1.040) and he rightly won MVP, as no one else on either team was even that close to his performance in terms of helping win the series.

The ultimate achievement here was perhaps his Game 2 of the NLCS, where he went 4-for-5, including the rally-starting single to tie the game in the eighth, the trip around the bases that led to a run scoring, and of course, the walkoff hit in the ninth. Throw in a couple of defensive plays, and there’s that chef’s kiss thing again.

Oh, and he hit the game-winning homer in the deciding game of the NLCS.

So, y’know, the road to the title was paved with Eddie Rosario being awesome.

Outlook for 2022

This is where that whole “alternative perceptions of 2021” thing comes in. Rosario was awesome for his last 175 or so PAs, but pretty underwhelming for the first 300 or so. His combined batting line, including the playoffs, featured a matching .335 wOBA and xwOBA, which combined with his defense, suggest another average-y, maybe a bit below forecast for 2022. That puts Rosario in a pretty similar place to his non-tendered status ahead of this season. Maybe his heroics post-trade will play a role in him extracting a multi-year or hefty single-year deal from someone, but it’s hard to see that right now. Still, it only takes one team to buy in to the belief that they can get him to stick with his air-pull tendencies and pay him accordingly.