Despite a Rough Night, Eddie Rosario Has Had a Run to Remember This October

One of the more endearing (or maddening) features of postseason baseball is the random journeyman who seemingly comes out of nowhere to go on a tear long enough that he helps push his team through to the World Series. In the grand tradition of non-stars-turned-League Championship Series-MVPs such as Eddie Pérez, Cody Ross, Delmon Young, and Howie Kendrick comes Eddie Rosario. The Braves’ left fielder went 14-for-25 with three homers in the NLCS against the Dodgers, and carried that hot streak through Game 1 of the World Series against the Astros, though his 11-game hitting streak came to an end on Wednesday night; he was also charged with an error on a play that helped break open Game 2.

The 30-year-old Rosario has hit .426/.471/.702 (207 wRC+) with three home runs and 11 RBI in the postseason thus far while collecting hits in every game through the first two rounds, and adding two in the World Series opener. All of those homers and nine of those RBI came in the NLCS, when he hit .560/.607/1.040 and tied the single-series postseason record for hits shared by Albert Pujols (2004 NLCS), Hideki Matsui (2004 ALCS), Kevin Youkilis (2007 ALCS), and Marco Scutaro (2012 NLCS). Rosario is the only one from that group to need only six games to reach 14 hits instead of seven.

Rosario’s arc is all the more remarkable because he didn’t even debut for the Braves until August 28, that after being given away for essentially nothing twice within the past year. After six solid but unspectacular seasons with the Twins, where his power was often offset by low on-base percentages and occasionally spotty defense — his career highs of 32 homers and 109 RBI in 2019 yielded just 1.2 WAR, for example — he was non-tendered last December. He signed a one-year, $8 million deal with Cleveland in late January, but hit just .254/.296/.389 (86 wRC+) with seven homers and 0.3 WAR in 78 games before landing on the injured list with an abdominal strain in early July.

On July 30, when Cleveland (50-49) actually had a better record than Atlanta (51-53), the still-injured Rosario was sent south along with $500,000 in exchange for Pablo Sandoval, who was immediately released; the move saved Cleveland about $2.75 million, but didn’t help them finish above .500. Rosario wasn’t even healthy enough to play again until August 28, though he homered seven times down the stretch en route to a .271/.330/.573 (133 wRC+) line and 0.6 WAR in 106 PA with his new team. In one of those statistical accounting quirks you don’t see very often, Rosario’s debut with his new team was backdated to July 21 because he played in the completion of a suspended game against the Padres on September 25.

Along with fellow July acquisitions Joc Pederson and Adam Duvall, Rosario helped to restore productivity to a Braves outfield that had lost Ronald Acuña Jr. to a season-ending ACL tear and was without Marcell Ozuna due to a domestic violence suspension. The restocked unit hit .255/.310/.528 (116 wRC+) with 27 homers from August 28 to the end of the season; only the Cardinals’ outfield got more dingers in that span.

In the Division Series against the Brewers, Rosario collected hits in the first three games, none of which led to a run. He came up big in Game 4 after entering the game as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning; with the Braves trailing 2-0 but the bases loaded, he greeted reliever Hunter Strickland with a two-run single, though Milwaukee took back the lead in the next half-inning, albeit only temporarily. His contributions in the LCS, on the other hand, began with his first plate appearance, when he singled and scored a first-inning run against opener Corey Knebel. He took command of Game 2, going 4-for-5 capped by a walk-off single off Kenley Jansen to give the Braves a two-games-to-none lead.

Rosario helped to give Atlanta a chance to stretch that to three-games-to-none when his fourth-inning bases-loaded walk chased Walker Buehler, though the Dodgers rallied back to win. He had another four-hit effort in Game 4, hitting a solo homer, a triple, and single off Julio Urías, then adding a late three-run homer off Tony Gonsolin; had he hit a double in his final plate appearance, he would have joined the Red Sox’s Brock Holt as the only players hit for a cycle in a postseason game. Instead he became the second player to collect two four-hit games in the same postseason series, joining Robin Yount (1982 World Series). After his two-hit showing in Game 5 went for naught, he broke a 1-1 tie with a three-run homer off Buehler in Game 6, more or less wrapping up both his award and the dethroning of the defending champions.

Rosario’s hot streak continued into the opening game of the World Series. Though he struck out against Framber Valdez with one out and Austin Riley on second in the first inning, he singled to start the third, and then Duvall followed with a two-run homer that chased Valdez. Rosario added a one-out double off Phil Maton in the seventh, though that went to waste when Travis d’Arnaud grounded into a double play following a Duvall walk.

So what’s gotten into Rosario lately? Better contact and more of it, particularly with two strikes. He’s been hitting the ball harder since he got to Atlanta:

Eddie Rosario Batted Ball Profile
Season Team GB/FB GB% EV Barrel% HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2017 MIN 1.13 42.4% 87.2 6.7% 32.1% .290 .257 .507 .460 .349 .320
2018 MIN 0.81 35.7% 87.7 7.2% 33.2% .288 .234 .479 .409 .340 .292
2019 MIN 0.89 37.4% 89.2 7.7% 35.7% .276 .255 .500 .487 .329 .322
2020 MIN 0.76 35.2% 87.5 6.2% 35.4% .257 .244 .476 .435 .333 .316
2021 CLE 1.02 39.1% 88.6 4.6% 35.3% .254 .239 .389 .382 .295 .296
2021 ATL 0.64 30.1% 88.2 9.6% 37.3% .271 .280 .573 .508 .375 .365
2021 ATL Post 1.45 41.0% 90.2 10.0% 45.0% .426 .375 .702 .596 .499 .433
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

During his limited regular season action with the Braves, which consisted of 83 batted ball events (compared to 241 with Cleveland), Rosario produced barrel and hard-hit rates that would stand as career highs if maintained over the course of a full season — and he’s improved upon those in October. What’s odd is that he’s doing this while hitting the ball on the ground with much greater frequency than before; while he had groundball/fly ball ratios around or above 1.0 early in his career, his rates have been falling, except for this October. Even with all those grounders, he’s hitting the ball hard enough that his expected batting average and slugging percentage are well above what’s he’s done in any regular season; he’s nearly 10 percentage points above this year’s career-high hard-hit rate. It’s worth adding that while he pulled the ball at a 56% clip after the trade, he’s back down to 42.6% in the postseason, in line with his career norms.

Though Rosario is still prone to chasing outside the zone, with a 39.5% O-Swing rate post-trade during the regular season, that’s 3.7% below his career mark. Like his barrel and hard-hit rates, his post-trade 8.5% walk rate and 13.2% strikeout rate would both represent career bests if maintained over a full campaign; they’re much better than his pre-trade marks (5.6% and 15.4%, respectively) as well as his career marks (7.0% and 16.9%, respectively). His postseason rates (7.8% walk, 13.7% strikeout) are in the range of his previous Atlanta numbers.

It turns out that while Rosario’s overall 98 wRC+ was his lowest mark since 2016, he had the lowest swinging strike rate of his career (9.5%) and his best season ever when it came to hitting with two strikes. In fact, he was one of the very best in baseball in that context:

Top Hitters With Two Strikes
Player Team PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Luis Robert CHW 134 8.2% 45.5% .298 .366 .488 135
Yuli Gurriel HOU 276 10.9% 24.6% .295 .373 .448 129
Matt Olson OAK 363 12.7% 31.1% .235 .339 .442 119
Brandon Belt SFG 202 14.4% 51.0% .178 .312 .467 112
Brandon Nimmo NYM 201 14.4% 39.3% .250 .358 .384 111
Bryce Harper PHI 317 13.2% 42.3% .223 .331 .429 105
Eddie Rosario CLE/ATL 195 6.7% 31.3% .242 .292 .462 101
Jose Altuve HOU 329 8.8% 27.7% .247 .316 .402 100
Santiago Espinal TOR 120 6.7% 25.0% .295 .342 .393 100
José Ramírez CLE 327 9.5% 26.6% .227 .306 .426 99
MLB Non-P 95353 8.4% 42.0% .176 .252 .286 49
Eddie Rosario CLE 148 6.1% 31.8% .245 .291 .417 92
Eddie Rosario ATL 47 8.5% 29.8% .233 .298 .605 131
Minimum 100 plate appearances with two strikes.

Ten of Rosario’s 14 homers came with two strikes, six for Cleveland and four for Atlanta. His success in that context has carried over to the postseason; in 25 PA, he’s hitting .375/.400/.750 with four extra-base hits and six RBI. With the exception of the walk-off hit off Jansen’s first pitch, most of his big moments have come with two strikes — the two-run single off Strickland, the triple and homer off Urías, a double off Blake Treinen, and the three-run homer off Buehler — were hits with with two strikes, as was his single off Valdez. That’s part of what’s made his October so remarkable and so memorable.

During the regular season, Rosario did the most damage on the inner third of the strike zone, batting .291 and slugging .673 for a .389 wOBA. Woe to anyone leaving a pitch to him on the inner third in October, as he’s hit .692 and slugged 1.385 for an astounding .863 wOBA. Meanwhile, he’s shored up his weakest spots within the zone. Where he hit .165 and slugged .278 on balls in the outer third in the regular season, he’s at .364/.727 in October. Likewise for the lower third, where he’s gone from .235/.346 to .889/.889 (yes, you read that right).

Small sample success in areas that he struggled? You betcha! How about a .438/.471/.750 line in 17 PA against lefties, after hitting .265/.288/.363 (76 wRC+) against them this year? Or his .600 AVG/1.200 SLG in five PA against offspeed stuff, after going .230/.360 against such pitches during the regular season? Four-seamers 95 mph and above? Where he hit .211 but slugged .500 on those pitches during the regular season, he’s up to .800/.1000 in five PA against them during the playoffs.

So far, the only kryptonite anyone’s found against Rosario in October is sliders, against which he’s hit just .100/.100 with a 22.2% swinging strike rate, after going .258/.404 with an 11.3% rate during the regular season. To paraphrase the Seattle Pilots’ Joe Schultz in Ball Four, “Somebody’s getting him out — the bastard’s only hitting .426!”

Indeed, the Astros held Rosario hitless on Wednesday, with José Urquidy striking him out on a changeup in the first, getting him to line out (91.7 mph) to first base on a curveball in the second, and to ground to shortstop via a four-seamer in the fifth. Maton retired him in the seventh by getting him to chase a fastball upstairs and hit a routine fly to center.

Unfortunately for Rosario, his biggest impact on Wednesday night’s game was defensively. After playing a carom off the outfield wall perfectly and throwing out Yuli Gurriel trying to stretch a single into a double in the eighth inning of Game 1, Rosario’s aggressive attempt at another assist in Game 2 went awry. With Gurriel on second and Jose Siri on first, Martín Maldonado singled to left field. Rosario came up throwing, but neither shortstop Dansby Swanson nor third baseman Riley was covering the bag and able to make a play on the sliding Siri, who got up and scored when the throw kept rolling to the backstop. Rosario was charged with an error, and the two runs expanded Houston’s lead from 2-1 to 4-1.

Afterwards, manager Brian Snitker said his defenders “got caught in between a little bit… You’ve got to throw the ball to the cutoff man [Swanson], let him cut it, the simple play. Because that’s where — when a ball is hit like that, that’s where guys instinctually go.” Conceding the base would have kept Siri on third, but with Max Fried unable to extricate himself from the jam quickly, he might have scored anyway, and as it was, the Astros added another run in that inning.

Mistakes happen, but with the Braves splitting the first two games in Houston, they’re hardly in a bad spot right now. There’s no guarantee that Rosario’s October success will continue, but already he’s done far more than anyone could have ever expected to put them in position to win a World Series.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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Joe Joemember
10 months ago

Swanson wasn’t the cutoff man (as indicated in 2nd to last paragraph). Riley left 3B to cutoff a potential throw home. Swanson was suppose to cover third.