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Adley Rutschman is Just Fine

Adley Rutschman swings in the batter's box
Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports
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Reading Time: 3 minutes

“you’re doing amazing, sweetie” – Kris Jenner

The Orioles have had no shortage of hitting prospects that haven’t developed into the anticipated finished product over the past two decades and change. Injuries have claimed some (Val Majewski, Nolan Reimold) and others (Bill Rowell, Brandon Snyder, DJ Stewart) simply never matched the expectations that came with their respective draft positions. At this point, cynicism runs rife amongst the Orioles fanbase when it comes to prospects and player development at large. It’s no surprise that Adley Rutschman’s slow start with the bat has caused concern, especially given the obvious parallels to Matt Wieters who, while arguably the best catcher in franchise history, never became the offensive juggernaut that the prophecy said he would. He has already shown himself to be a proficient defensive catcher, but is it time to worry whether or not Rutschman will develop into the elite offensive catcher archetype we expect? Absolutely not.

The most important caveat that cannot be stressed enough is that Rutschman’s sample size is microscopic; you simply cannot make a comprehensive evaluation based upon his 55 at-bats at the time of writing. Even the top percentile of major league hitters can produce a mediocre 55 at-bat sample during a normal season. In addition, being a consensus top prospect doesn’t guarantee immediate major league success. Wander Franco had a .585 OPS through his first 15 games. Vlad Jr. after 15 games? .693. This game is hard!

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It would be concerning if Rutschman was looking overmatched at the plate, but he is not.  Adley’s 4.48 pitcher per plate appearance is 15% higher than the MLB average of 3.90. His strikeout percentage is above MLB average and not typical of the player he’s been since he was at Oregon State, but allow me to use this to put his sample size into context; this very clear check swing on a 3-2 count turned what should have been a walk into a strikeout.  Had the umpire not blown the call, his strikeout rate would be nearly 2% lower and his walk rate would be 2% higher, just from that one plate appearance. Also important is that he’s not swinging and missing much, as this zone map shows:

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Blue is beautiful. Eiffel 65 would be proud. (Baseball Savant)

Delving further into Rutschman’s batted ball data only reinforces the hypothesis that he’s doing just fine.

E5-D13-DE8-7-E0-F-4249-9-BD0-C3-AED14-E26-AD

The largest cluster of batted balls in his spray chart fall in the 18-25 degree range of launch angle, which covers the ideal resting place for hitters, and he has the exit velocity to accompany it. If you hit the ball hard within that range of trajectory, odds are something productive is going to happen. That is, unless you’re Rutschman and have a .200 BABIP.  Then you’re just unlucky.

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Not pictured: the zone map of a struggling hitter (Baseball Savant)

Rutschman doesn’t appear on Baseball Savant’s StatCast percentile leaderboards because he doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify, but even the expected batting stats show that everything is operating under the hood without much issue:

0-C3-FD6-DB-673-F-4-C8-D-B44-F-4755-CDDAD553
E443-B104-BAA0-40-C8-A542-AB9-C0-A527-F6-F

(Baseball Savant)

 Rutschman arrived in nearly the exact same fashion as Wieters did in 2009.  Considered an offensive prodigy and face of the new era of Orioles, a tractor trailer of expectations was placed upon his shoulders. Surely he’d hit the ground running and assume control of the middle of the lineup within a few games, right? It’s no surprise that a fanbase whose angst has slowly been chiseled into us over decades become impatient, but any concern over Adley Rutschman as an offensive player this early in his career (especially given the data) is unwarranted.  He’s doing just fine.

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