Missing in August: Alex Rios’ Bat

There was a time this season where Alex Rios was leading the White Sox otherwise lackluster offense. After having an average, but still somewhat productive April, Rios exploded in May. He posted a 1.106 OPS that month with eight home runs and eight doubles. He stole nine bases, was playing great defense in center field, and could be found on the WAR leader board. If the White Sox starting pitching hadn’t been serving up batting practice, Rios would have been a MVP candidate.

August 5, 2010: Chicago White Sox center fielder Alex Rios (51) during the MLB baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan.

In June and July Rios returned to his April numbers, productive for a center fielder, but not dominant. In August though, Rios has been horrible. In 19 games this month, Rios has produced a .588 OPS. He has one home run, August 3rd against Detroit, and four other extra base hits. He’s struck out 14 times, and only drawn three walks. That kind of production from the three hitter makes it very difficult to produce runs.

This isn’t to say that Rios is totally to blame for the White Sox recent drop in the standings, he isn’t the one giving up late inning home runs to Alex Avila, but Rios’ slump certainly isn’t helping the White Sox right now. He’s improved from his disastrous 2009 season, but when the season ends his overall numbers might not look as good as we once thought.

The good news is that Rios continues to play an excellent center field, UZR has him a 2.0 this season, Dewan +/- has him at +7, and that really helps him contribute despite the ice cold bat. Ideally he should probably be hitting a bit lower in the lineup, where his slumps won’t be so bothersome, but the current White Sox lineup doesn’t really pack the punch to have Rios hitting fifth or sixth.

Rios could still rebound in September, and perhaps a repeat of his May performance can put the White Sox back within spitting distance of the Twins, but right now he deserves at least some of the blame for the recent fall from first place. He’s too important to this offense for the team to survive him having a .600 OPS any month of the year.

Even if he simply duplicates his performance from April, June, or July (mid to high .700s OPS) Rios should finish the season with around 3 WAR. Not bad at all for a guy the White Sox got for free, and certainly not something to complain about. He would be worth his contract, which was no certainty in March. It also doesn’t make him a superstar though, and he might not be a guy that can be counted on to carry a team to the playoffs. When Kenny Williams goes out to add to the team this winter, it is something he should consider. Adding another productive bat, someone who can move Rios down in the lineup, should benefit both Rios and the White Sox.

As it stands now, it sure would be nice to see Rios find his bat soon, so that the White Sox can at least try and make September interesting.

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