This article is by former Dingerball writer Keenan Lutzko
Outside of having one of the best names in all of baseball, Blue Jays First Baseman Rowdy Tellez, had few things go his way in 2019.
After being drafted in the 30th round out of high school and signing for $850k, which was the most money given to any player drafted after the 10th round in two years, the Blue Jays thought they were potentially getting their first baseman of the future. His first stint in the bigs in 2018 supported this case as in 23 games as a September call-up, Tellez hit .314 with a .943 OPS that included an insane double stretch that saw him hammer six in his first three games. But man ‘o man after 2019 does that ever feel like an eternity ago.
Ladies and Gentlemen shield your eyes if you must but here’s the ugly from the formally known Ryan John Tellez’s 2019 season.
Let’s start with the abysmal 21:116 K to walk ratio, which was fueled by some pretty atrocious plate discipline. Supporting nearly a 32% whiff rate, Rowdy just had the inability to consistently put the bat on the baseball. A lot of this can be contributed to just poor pitch selection, as evident by the near 40% o-swing percentage. All of this culminated into a slash line of .227/.293/.449 and a measly .1 fWAR. Yup a sub .300 OBP, you just hate to see it.
What really gave Tellez fits in 2019 was the breaking ball. Rowdy just couldn’t handle the Uncle Charlie, as shown below.
It was his kryptonite all season, and whenever a pitcher got two strikes on him, they would just pound breakers in the dirt and Rowdy would hopelessly flail at them, trying to golf it into the seats.
In short if Tellez wants to stay a big leaguer, he’s going to have to be way more productive at the plate, because everyone knows his glove and legs aren’t doing him any favors to get him into the lineup. There were reports from camp this spring about the classic “best shape of my life” mumbo jumbo and maybe there is something to that, but regardless Rowdy is going to have to revamp his approach at the plate.
BUT ALAS Blue Jays Fans all hope is not lost because believe it or not, there are some positives from last year’s hitting profile for the Dionner Navarro lookalike. I truly believe that with some slight adjustment Rowdy has the potential to be another productive, young, controllable player on this Jays team, and add another intimidating ripple into a lineup that is already sneaky dangerous.
First, let’s look at the expected stats. In pretty much all measures, Rowdy’s actual stats underperformed in comparison with the expected stats. His AVG was .227 but his xAVG was .251. His SLG was .449 but his xSLG was .476. His wOBA was .308 but his xWOBA was .332. The latter two categories were both well above the major league average as well.
Now why did the expected stats outperform the results so much? One thing that stands out is the brutally low .267 BABIP Tellez carried over the season. The low BABIP is pretty uncharacteristic as there’s no history of Tellez having a low BABIP in the minors, so there’s reason to suggest positive regression on that front. Especially when you consider that Rowdy has no problem hitting the ball hard when he does make contact, as evident by his near %42 hard-hit rate, which is about nine points better than the league average. When you pair the hard-hit rate, with an 80th percentile avg exit velocity, and a barrel rate that puts him in the same company as Eugenio Suarez, Keston Hiura, and Freddie Freeman, one can start to dream on some untapped power potential. It’s not as if Rowdy can’t put the ball in the air either, as proven by the 27% FB rate, it’s just a matter of attacking the right pitches, and not consistently falling behind in the count making him susceptible to the strikeout.
There’s also reason to believe that some of these changes have already started to take place. After being recalled from a temporary stint in the minors in mid-August after making some mechanical adjustments, Tellez went on to have his worst month, where he slashed .167/.286/.278 in 36 August at-bats. Things looked bleak, and it appeared the lack of consistent playing time was stunting swing timing and limiting his ability to transfer over the adjustments he’d made in the minors. When the calendar flipped over to September though, did Rowdy ever make some noise.
Appearing in 22 September games, Rowdy put up a blistering 139 WRC+, hit 6 big flies, and posted a .931 OPS. What’s important to note is that during this month the BABIP went up to .300 which is right in line with the league average so it’s not as if this was a BABIP inflated result. It may even suggest that this is the norm rather than the outlier. Additionally, Rowdy seemed to sell out to pull the baseball a lot more, pulling the ball over 50% of the time in September. He wasn’t sacrificing hard contact to do this either as his hard-hit rate was the highest out of any month at over 50% and paired with the pull rate, it allowed a few more balls to fly over the wall. Though the 31.6% HR/FB rate he had for September is likely unsustainable, perhaps the newfound emphasis on pulling the baseball will allow him to increase his already respectable career average of 21.7%.
Again, if Rowdy wants to be a constant on this Blue Jays team for years to come, he’s going to have to produce a heck of a lot more than he did last year. A WRC+ that’s sub 100, and an OBP that’s sub .300 on a bat first, first baseman isn’t going to cut it for a team with future playoff aspirations. However, I believe we have yet to see the best of Rowdy Tellez, and I believe he has the tools to be a serious power threat in this Blue Jays Lineup. Now, with the offseason additions of Travis Shaw and Joe Panik, playing time may look a little murky for the 25yr old but if given his opportunity I think this will be the breakout year no one is expecting from a Jays player. I think over the course of a full season you’re looking at a player with the potential to hit .260 with 35+ HRS, and produce a 115 WRC+, and if he is able to get the strikeouts in check and learn to hit a breaking ball, I think the ceiling could be even higher.