Every culture has a different name for them. The Aztecs called them Tlacuache tlacatzintli or “opossum man” for those that come out at night, but hide during the day. The Mayans called them the b’ak ik’ or “child wind” for their strange, unpredictable nature. In AMERICA, we call them the Every Other Year Guy. These are the ballplayers who take the idea of regression to the mean to a whole new level. Rather than slowly leveling off to established career norms, these are the men who fly wildly between the best and worst of predictions, in the end averaging their true talent level, but never are they good and bad. Their careers can be graphed like this:
But while Aubrey Huff and Kyle Farnsworth can claim membership in this proud and selective group, it’s Alex Rios who has come to define the term. Look at the chart again, this time under spectrometer:
That’s right, Alex Rios has become That Guy, down to the very molecular level.
And yet, it all started in 2008. Before, Rios was taking the path of the average gifted young man. Two promise-filled, below-average seasons to start his career (with 1 HR in 426 AB in 2003. Weird), followed by two above average seasons. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then 2008 came. Rios’ numbers took a dip, but he was still an above average hitter, knocking out 15 home runs and posting an OPS+ of 115. Nothing to be alarmed about. But when the calendar turned over to 2009 came. Rios’s line dropped to 264/.317/.427 with the Blue Jays before being dumped on the White Sox where he managed only a .530 OPS before the end of the season. Who was this player that had once shown such promise? Though we didn’t know it at the time, a strange mutation had appeared in his blood. He was now an Every Other Year Guy.
Holding true to the thereom, and with Mercury properly aligned with whatever Mercury is supposed to be aligned with, Rios rebounded with a .791 OPS. Kenny Williams was heralded as a genius for having the foresight to pick up Rios on the sly while everyone else slept. This was the Rios that would live now and forever!
But disaster struck once again in 2011. We still didn’t, couldn’t, be prepared to understand what Rios had become. That, much like farmland when it’s been over-tilled, Rios would need a season to recharge. 2011 saw Rios once again sink down in the muck, posting a career-worst 64 OPS+ while hitting only 13 home runs and stealing 11 bases after posting 21 and 34 the season before. Clearly this guy was no good, he was a bum, a no goodnik.
In 2012 though, the pattern has been firmly established. We know who this Alex Rios is: he’s a Phoenix, forever rising from the ashes and falling once again. Should the season end today, Rios would have established new career highs in average (.318), slugging (.539), OPS (.887), and with a strong finish could top his career high in home runs (he has 18). Sure, “scouts” or “numbers” could tell you that he’s hitting the ball with more authority and he’s making more contact with pitches inside andoutside the zone than ever before, but that ignores the real reason of this phenomenon. Alex Rios is tied, in some way, to the cosmic shifts and thrusts that occur between seasons, that like El Nino, he arrives on a gust of a wind and is escorted out again. Science has yet to offer an explanation of why or how this happens, only that it does.
So enjoy, White Sox fans, the Alex Rios of 2012. Because you won’t see him again until 2014.