People are wowed, and rightfully so, by 21-year-old Mariners rookie center fielder Julio Rodríguez.
They love his power (15 home runs) and his speed (21 stolen bases), and his combination of skills is reminiscent of Mariners legend and Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.
They should also take note of his defense.
Rodríguez has 1 Defensive Run Saved this season. Being just above average may not sound like a big deal, but it is. It’s a huge upgrade from last season, when an inexperienced Jarred Kelenic (better suited for right field) and his teammates combined to cost Seattle 16 runs with their defense in center field.
At 6-foot-3, Rodríguez takes advantage of his long stride when closing in on deep fly balls. He ranks in the top-third of outfielders in the Statcast stat “Burst”, which measures effectiveness in breaking toward a fly ball from 1.51 to 3.0 seconds after it makes contact with the bat. He can cover 90 feet in 3.83 seconds, a time that ranks in the Top 20 in the sport.
Rodriguez has saved 4 runs with his defense within the range component of Defensive Runs Saved, the part most connected to turning batted balls into outs.
The key there is that Rodríguez has caught 61 of 69 balls classified by our system as deep, an 88% success rate. Kelenic caught 51 of 86, which is 59%. This is one reason why the Mariners are on pace to allow 245 doubles and triples this season, 69 fewer than last season.
And if you’re into degree of difficulty, check out some of Rodríguez’s best work on deep balls.
This one had a 22% catch probability.
This one was 32%.
And this one in front of his fan base (“The J-Rod Squad”) was 36%.
Rodríguez is not far removed from better numbers. Of the three balls he missed on which he was most penalized, two came at Citi Field in mid-May and were ones he barely missed (one in less-than-ideal weather conditions).
The biggest blemish on his ledger is that he’s lost two runs from his arm. Baserunners have taken an extra base against him at a 58% rate, the ninth-highest rate among 35 qualifying center fielders. He’s also yet to record an assist without the help of a cutoff man.
The Mariners have made a big move in the standings the last couple of weeks, winning 12 of 15 games. Rodríguez’s profile is likely to be raised even more as Seattle makes a push towards making the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and ending baseball’s longest postseason drought.