It’s Time To Bench Jack Wilson
A few weeks ago, I laid out a case for Luis Rodriguez to play more often. After watching the rest of April, I’d like to amend that sentiment – I now think Luis Rodriguez should be the Mariners starting second baseman.
I’ve written several times about why I think Rodriguez is interesting, and why the Mariners should give him a real chance to show whether his power surge in the minors last year was real. Even in limited action, Rodriguez is showing that he may really have made some sustainable improvements that make him a pretty interesting player. After yesterday’s home run, Rodriguez now has an Isolated Slugging of .176, not far from the .200 mark he put up in Charlotte last year. However, we’re only talking 42 plate appearances, so you can’t take any set of results too seriously – it’s the demonstrable change in approach that gives me reason for optimism.
Rodriguez has put 28 balls in play this year – you know how many have been hit on the ground? Five. His GB% is just 17.9%, the lowest mark of any Major League hitter with at least 40 PA this year. Even in a small sample, this is a staggering change from the marks he put up previously in his big league career, when he was your typical slap-it-on-the-ground utility infielder. Now, Rodriguez gets significant loft in his swing, and his approach is to try and hit every ball in the air.
That kind of offensive attack leads to fewer but more impactful hits. Rodriguez has essentially traded average for power, and instead of being an empty .280 hitter, he has a chance to be a .260 hitter with some thump. That’s a good trade-off for a guy who has the ability to hit the ball with authority, as he showed last year in Charlotte and so far in April, Rodriguez fits the bill – he’s strong enough to turn on pitches and drive them into the gaps and occasionally over the wall.
Rodriguez’s season line doesn’t look all that great, thanks to a .222 batting average on balls in play, but that’s not going to last. Even the most extreme fly ball hitters in the game post BABIPs in the .250-.260 range, and since Rodriguez is probably more of a doubles guy than a home run guy, his expected BABIP is probably even a bit higher than that. His BABIP, and his overall line, will rise as the season goes along.
However, even with his current unsustainably low BABIP, he’s still out-hitting Jack Wilson, who continues to show no real offensive abilities whatsoever. Wilson’s entire value is wrapped up in his defense, but as a second basemen who is only playing the position out of obligation – and who doesn’t have enough experience there to be good at it – he doesn’t offer a ton of value in the field either. At this point, there isn’t a huge gap between what Wilson and Rodriguez provide at second base defensively, while Rodriguez’s bat is far more potent and interesting.
We all know Jack Wilson’s days in Seattle are numbered. His continual inability to stay on the field, his age, and his declining abilities mean that he’s just playing out the string until the M’s trade him this summer, eating most of his salary in the process. The hope was that he would play well enough to generate some trade interest and get the team a better return, but that’s just not happening – no scout is going to come watch the Mariners play and report back that they’ve wildly underestimated Jack Wilson previously. He is what he is, and everyone knows exactly what that is. If they’re interested in that package, nothing Wilson will do between now and July will change their minds all that much.
So, now, handing Wilson at-bats that could go to Rodriguez is essentially just throwing away an opportunity to find out just how interesting he could actually be. The only way to know whether Rodriguez can sustain success with his new fly ball approach to hitting is to give him a few hundred at-bats and see what happens. Jack Wilson is in the way of that opportunity.
Ideally, the Mariners would just make Luis Rodriguez their starting second baseman as soon as possible. Dustin Ackley’s going to come up at some point this summer, in all likelihood, and Rodriguez’s chances for playing time will take a hit at that point. The opportunity to run him out there everyday is now, and there’s no better alternative on the roster. Adam Kennedy and Jack Wilson aren’t going to be part of the next good Mariners team. They can still fill roles on the roster, but they shouldn’t be starting ahead of Luis Rodriguez.