The Curious Case of Carlos Rincon
Carlos Rincon was an international signee by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 and after a solid 2016 in Rookie ball, he has positioned himself as the number 24 prospect in the Dodgers system, according to MLB Pipeline. Rincon originally drew a lot of attention for his power and eventually everyone began to take notice and make claims that he has the potential to be more of an all around player than just a home run bat. Is that truly the case?
My assignment this season was to provide coverage for the Midwest League. So, being the curious “prospect nerd” that I am, I went through and made notes on the top prospects for each team within the league. One thing I noticed about Rincon is that since he began playing in affiliated baseball he has had this reputation as a free and aggressive swinger. He is sort of following suit with a lot of ball players we see now a days, feast or famine. To cater to the more visual ones out there like myself, Rincon split time between the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona League evenly in 2016, playing in a combined 52 games. For the sake of simplicity, he had a combined total of 180 at bats last season where he struck out 53 times, hit 13 homers, and walked just 18 times all year. 29 of Rincon’s 59 hits last season went for extra bases. He was a high strikeout, high extra base hit player.
Move on to 2017, Rincon has moved up a level and he is still mashing, and in some cases not mashing, pitching the way he did in Rookie ball. He is tied for the lead league in home runs, tied for fourth in RBI, and is sitting in second in slugging percentage. Interestingly enough, Rincon is also tied for third in strikeouts. In fact, of the 27 batters that have struck out at least 20 times this season, he is one of only two with a batting average of at least .300. Among those same 27 batters, there is not another player with a slugging percentage over .550, let alone anyone coming close to his number of .667.
This is not a new concept in today’s game. “Crush the ball or don’t hit it all” guys are becoming more and more frequent in our game, it is just rare that we see it at such an extreme on both ends of the spectrum whether it be Single-A or not. Now the old school train of thought would look down on Rincon’s style of play, but if you step back and take a look at production, his style of play seems to be working quite well, in fact, better than most. Now, the old adage, “put the ball in play and good things will happen” still rings true in some cases, but batting average and contact rates aren’t what win baseball games, runs are what win baseball games.
If I told you that Rincon is producing more runs, and in turn producing more wins, while having a strikeout rate of 38%, than any player in the league other than two, would you believe me? While good things can only happen when you put the ball in play, better things happen when you put the ball in play much harder, even if it is at a lower rate.
The easiest place to start is his slugging percentage. Nine of Rincon’s 19 hits this season (at the time this article was written) have gone for extra bases which has caused his slugging percentage to skyrocket. While we don’t have exit velocity at this level, I think it is fair to assume that balls that go for extra base hits are hit harder than others, in most cases. We do know that his line drive rate is 37.5%, so these aren’t balls sneaking by guys. This leads us to his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Rincon’s BABIP is sitting at .500, meaning that half of the balls he puts into play, he ends up reaching base safely on. Again, I think it is fair to assume you have a better chance of reaching base when you hit balls hard. This leads us to the number one statistic, in my opinion, when it comes to measuring a player’s production at the plate, wRC+. For those of you that aren’t familiar with wRC+, it represents the weighted runs created by an offensive player with several adjustments involved to even the statistical playing field. Rincon’s wRC+ is 219. For some perspective, league average is set at 100.
Carlos Rincon isn’t reinventing the feast or famine batter, he is just taking it to another level. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues as the 19 year old grows and develops. Scouts may criticize him for his free swinging approach, but advanced stats tell us it’s working.
Featured Image Courtesy of: Mike Janes/Four Seam Images