By Jason Shetler
A couple weeks ago, I did a post regarding the Pirates bench and how it’s become one of the best in baseball. Matt Joyce has been phenomenal as a pinch-hitter, Chris Stewart is a quality backup catcher and David Freese is giving them solid production whether at third base or first base. As good as all three have performed so far in 2016, the most pleasant surprise has got to be Sean Rodriguez.
Prior to the 2015 season, the Pirates obtained Rodriguez from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for minor league pitcher Buddy Borden. During his time with the Rays, he garnered the reputation as being a defensive-oriented super utility player. Rodriguez’s defense was on display, most notably at first base, as a late game replacement for Pedro Alvarez. The offensive side for Rodriguez was a much different story, posting a very poor .281 on base percentage and drawing just five walks all season. He made headlines in the National League Wild Card Game, but for all the wrong reasons, when he decided to go Manny Pacquiao on a defenseless Gatorade cooler in the dugout.
Despite the below average offensive numbers in 2015, Rodriguez was brought back by the Pirates last offseason on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. As expected, the move was widely criticized. That criticism has turned into utter surprise with his offense. Rodriguez currently has a .402 OBP, thanks in part to a stellar walk rate of 14.5%, which is incredible considering he has a career 6.8% walk rate. He’s also done an outstanding job of creating runs with a 167 wRC+. The most encouraging sign for Rodriguez has been his chase rate. Last season, he had a very high 36.8% chase rate. This year, he’s been swinging at pitches outside of the strikezone only 23.0% of the time. Generally, a player will gradually show signs of improving their approach at the plate, but the drastically improved approach for Rodriguez in 2016 is quite amazing.