Endy Rodriguez got off to a slow start this year.
The catching prospect, who has also been getting time at second base and left field, hit for a .652 OPS in the month of April.
One of the best contact hitters in the system, it wasn’t just that Rodriguez wasn’t hitting — it’s that he was barely making contact. His strikeout rate was at 31.6% and his walk rate was down to 3.8%. That’s alarming for a guy who has struck out under 20% for most of his young career.
Rodriguez has seen much better results in the month of May. Through Sunday, he has a .313/.450/.646 line in 60 plate appearances this month, which is more the result you’d expect to see.
So, what happened in April?
When I spoke to Rodriguez last week, he mentioned how he has been working on reducing the size of his zone of attack.
“I’m trying to stay short to the ball and keep my sight up in the zone, and focus in the middle of the field,” Rodriguez said through a translator. “That way, I’m able to put a good swing on the ball.”
Greensboro manager Callix Crabbe doubles as the Pirates’ assistant hitting coordinator during Spring Training, and had a more technical breakdown of what was happening with Rodriguez — highlighting two key aspects.
The first thing, Crabbe noted, is that Rodriguez is a hitter.
“He is always ready to swing the bat, no matter what,” said Crabbe. “What ends up happening is he will chase a little bit at the bottom of the strike zone. You can get him at the bottom of the strike zone.”
Rodriguez has done a better job of focusing on pitches in the top two-thirds of the strike zone, which Crabbe said is a tactical change he’s still working through.
The second factor is how Rodriguez squares up to the ball. He has big movements in the lower portion of his body, which can create an issue with his swing.
“Typically guys that have big movements in the lower portion of their body, it introduces some swing and miss,” said Crabbe. “The center of mass is shifting a lot. If you can’t control the center of mass, it’s extremely challenging to control the visual perception that you’re dealing with.”
Rodriguez has been working to stabilize his lower half during the load phase of the swing. He’s a pure hitter who makes some of the best contact in the system. It’s inevitable that he’s going to chase a few pitches that aren’t in his zone of attack. He’s probably going to make contact with a lot of those pitches. That contact will be much stronger as his body is in better alignment.
“What we’ve seen is a change in that portion of the swing, and it’s led to less swing and miss,” said Crabbe. “Endy was missing in the zone. If someone is missing in the zone, you have to start examine or reverse-engineer what could be leading to that.”
Crabbe noted that missing in the zone is often a sign that a swing is inconsistent, or that the lower half is in the swing too much. The latter was the case for Rodriguez.
The overall numbers have improved as Rodriguez has addressed these issues. The walks and strikeouts have normalized in May, with a 21.7% strikeout rate, and a 15% walk rate, which all adds some validity to the 1.096 OPS.
Those are encouraging numbers, and more in line with what we expected to see from Rodriguez coming into the season.