Are Blue Jays Fans Underrating Alex Rios?

GeneContributor IAugust 10, 2009

NEW YORK - JUNE 03: Alex Rios #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays runs the bases against the New York Yankees on June 3, 2008 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

I believe that many of the Toronto Blue Jays fans that are constantly criticizing Alex Rios, are focusing too much on what he isn’t, rather than being appreciative for what he currently is.


The Need for Speed

To begin, in my opinion, Alex Rios is the fastest member of the Blue Jays.  How does that benefit the team as a whole?

Just look at the current Tampa Bay Rays as an example of how effectively speed can be used as an offensive weapon.  Speed is an often overlooked, yet very effective, way to score runs.

Also, from a defensive standpoint, speed can directly help in saving runs from being scored; for example, a run can be saved by making an outstanding catch.

Moreover, speed can also indirectly help in saving runs from being scored.

If more outs are recorded due to faster fielders, then the pitchers wouldn’t have to throw as many pitches, which should further increase their effectiveness; a more effective pitching staff usually means fewer runs scored.

Generally speaking, increasing speed increases defensive effectiveness.  And, having a good defence can increase the confidence, and thereby the effectiveness, of the entire pitching staff.  Once again, increased pitching effectiveness should result in less being runs scored against.

Respect the Cannon

Furthermore, Alex Rios helps his team’s defence with more than just his speed in the outfield.  Rios has saved many runs with his arm, and he has done that with more than just outfield assists.

With several years of scouting reports and box scores serving as the evidence, most major league players have learned to respect the arm of Alex Rios.  Thus, it has now become a rarity to see a base runner attempting to take an extra base, after the ball lands in Rios’ glove.

In such a way, the arm of Alex Rios has saved runs even when an outfield assist was not recorded.

On a bit of a side note, I believe that Rios’s already impressive arm can be even further improved.  I’ve often wondered why Rios did not employ more of a 12-6 (over-the-top) arm slot, instead of his current 3/4 delivery, which creates more sidespin.

I understand why a pitcher would choose a 3/4 arm slot; the sacrifice of some velocity for more movement may be a good trade-off for a pitcher.

But, a fielder should want his throws to be as fast and as straight (read: catchable) as possible.  An over-the-top arm slot normally does just that.  Imagine how much more imposing Rios’s already highly respected arm would appear to the opposition if his throws became even faster and truer, too.

Anyway, if Rios is traded for someone other than an outfielder with a stronger arm, who’s going to replace that arm in the outfield?

Keep Throwing Strikes

The Blue Jays are currently relying heavily upon young and/or inexperienced pitchers.  Fielding the best defence possible can help such pitchers to reach their full potential faster than normally possible.

One of the ways that the young and inexperienced pitchers can be persuaded to pitch the right way (throw strikes, don’t try to be too fine, etc.) is by pointing to the rock solid defence behind them.  Then, by succeeding in pitching the right way, they would be even more convinced to pitch the right way, which should lead to even more successes.  And the positive cycle repeats itself.

Thus, by having the best defence possible, the maturation process can be expedited for all, the young and/or inexperienced pitchers, and they could all thereby reach their full potential sooner than normally possible.

If the defence behind the pitchers is poor, however, then the chances of them getting scared out of the strike zone increases.  Such a situation could delay the maturation process of the young and/or inexperienced pitchers.

Going Deep Into Ballgames

Furthermore, in addition to the positive effects that a good defence can have on young pitchers, veteran pitchers can greatly benefit as well.

As an example, Roy Halladay prefers to pitch to contact, rather than trying to strike everybody out.  With such an approach, don’t you think that Halladay is very appreciative of having an outstanding defence playing behind him?

The Jays defence recently suffered the loss of a seven-time Gold Glove Award winning third baseman, namely, Scott Rolen.  How do you think that Halladay would feel if his defence was further downgraded by the loss of Rios?

Thus, if Ricciardi further downgraded the Blue Jays’ overall team speed/arm strength/defence by trading Alex Rios, he could cause a negative ripple effect across the entire pitching staff, which could thereby significantly reduce the chances of the team winning.

Who’s Left?

From what I’ve seen, Joe Inglett, Jose Bautista and Travis Snider are all above average major league left fielders, but I’d rather not have them play too much in right field.  I believe that for those three, spending too much time in right field would be unfair to them.

That would likely be asking them to do a little bit more than they’re currently capable of doing, which would likely take them out of their comfort zones.  Then, if any of those three are forced to play uncomfortably for too long, their overall production would likely suffer as a result.

If Rios is gone, then who’s going to be the everyday right fielder?

Furthermore, Rios is currently the only plus defender that the Jays have to back up Vernon Wells in center field.  If Rios is gone, then who would play center field when Wells needs a day off, or if he gets injured?

Let’s not forget that Ricciardi released Reed Johnson last year, so the Blue Jays outfield is nowhere near as versatile as it once was.

If Alex Rios is traded for anybody other than someone who is a plus defender in right and center field, then his loss would most likely negatively affect the team’s remaining outfielders.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Now, I’ve heard some complaints out of some corners saying that Alex Rios doesn’t play hard, but I disagree with such a notion.  Here’s why:

Rios is tall, standing at 6’5”.  So, every step that he takes covers more ground than a step taken by someone with shorter legs

Thus, even if it may not appear as if he’s running full out, he’s very likely running even faster than a shorter player, even if the shorter player’s legs are moving faster.  This may be one of the things that lead some people to believe that Rios isn’t trying his hardest.

Also, I believe that Rios has been influenced by Vernon Wells.  Wells has three Gold Glove Awards to his credit, and one of the compliments that he has received was how easy he makes his catches look.  So, either consciously or unconsciously, I believe that Rios imitated Wells’ defensive style, perhaps hoping that he could add some gold to his mantle.

Thus, even though it may not always appear that way to everyone, I believe that Rios is almost always running as fast as he’s able to, which just so happens to be the fastest of anyone on the team.

Offence Not Offensive

Alex Rios is currently batting .264 with 14 home runs and 62 RBI in 108 games.  Even though those numbers may be low by his standards, I still believe that replacing that kind of production would be difficult to do.

Considering all the other positives that Rios brings with him on the base paths and in the outfield, I’m more than satisfied with his offensive output thus far.

Furthermore, I can also see great potential for further improvement offensively.

First, I’ve often wondered why Rios doesn’t take more advantage of his speed by trying to get bunt singles.  If he succeeds just three out of 10 times, then that should help his batting average.

But, even if he doesn’t succeed, trying to bunt for a single can draw in the corner infielders and raise his chances of getting hits over their heads when he’s swinging away.  That could also be accomplished by faking a bunt and then hacking away after the infielders are drawn in.

So, I believe that something as simple as attempting to bunt for singles and/or faking bunts can improve Rios’s fortunes at the plate.

But, there is something that I’ve seen that should far more profoundly improve Rios’s overall production.  From my perspective, much of Rios’ struggles this season can be attributed to mental roadblocks.

What Will Tomorrow Bring?

First, it has been no secret that Ricciardi has been actively shopping Alex Rios for almost two years now.

The possibility of getting traded is a part of the reality of being a major leaguer, but the talks of Ricciardi trading Alex Rios have been excessive.

Imagine how it would feel to be constantly wondering what city you might be working in tomorrow. 

What about all the friends that you made at your current job?  Will your new co-workers be easy to get around with?  Will you like your new boss?  Will you like the new city that you’ll be working in?  What would it be like to work in a city, other than the one that you spent your entire career at?

Now imagine if the possibility of you getting transferred to another city was constantly being talked about, all around you, for almost two years.  After some time, such talk would make it more likely that your job performance would be negatively affected.

At the very least, all the constant trade talk is not helping Alex Rios to fully concentrate on the field.

We Are What We Think

More importantly, from what I’ve seen, Alex Rios has had fear in his eyes for much of this season whenever he has entered the batter’s box.  Why is that a problem?  It’s a problem because that indicates that his thought process is not conducive to the greatest success possible.  Let me explain.

Everything ever created by human beings, all the skyscrapers, cars, planes, space shuttles, etc., originally started out as just thoughts.

Moreover, every word ever spoken and every action ever committed originally started off as either a conscious or an unconscious thought.  Thoughts are the root cause of everything that we say and do.

Thus, one way to increase the chances of acting positively is by consistently thinking positively.  Conversely, the way to increase the chances of acting negatively is by consistently thinking negatively.  Fear and its brethren (anxiety, worry, etc.) are examples of negative thoughts.

So, Rios thinking thoughts that cause fear increases his likelihood of failure.  Let’s look at history for examples of this playing out.


Last season, J.P. Ricciardi and John Gibbons would repeatedly say how poorly the team hit in general, and especially how poorly they hit with runners in scoring position (RISP), without giving any suggestions as to how they could improve.

In addition to that, I remember them laying it on pretty thick at times, saying things to the effect of the batters better hit or else.

What happened?  Most of the players started to hit even worse, especially with RISP.  Since they were constantly thinking about how badly they were hitting, that then led them to start fearing failing when hitting.  Those types of thoughts greatly increased the chances of failure, and they thus ended up failing even more.


...And Day

When Cito Gaston returned to the Blue Jays, however, the team displayed almost immediate improvements in all the major offensive categories, including hitting with RISP.  The Blue Jays finished the 2008 season under Gaston with a 51-37 record, compared to starting it 35-39 under Gibbons.

Gaston’s calming influence was well documented as the primary reason for the Blue Jays improvements in both hitting and overall team winning percentage.

Moreover, in 1989, after Gaston first took over as manager of the Blue Jays part way through the season, the team also made a remarkable turnaround.  Gaston posted a 77–49 record that year, compared to 12–24 under Jimy Williams.  The Blue Jays won the division that year, in spite of Gaston having to start his managerial career with his team 12 games under .500.

Once again, many sources attributed much of the team’s success in 1989 primarily to Gaston’s calming influence.

The largest reason for the improved fortunes of the Blue Jays was that Cito Gaston brought a new approach and philosophy to the team; Gaston positively influenced the team’s thought process.

Largely gone were the negative fearful thoughts of “I have to get a hit or else I’ll let everyone down,” “I’m going to embarrass myself if I don’t get a hit,” “My bosses will be very angry if I don’t get a hit,” etc.  And, in their place, were more positive thoughts of “See ball, hit ball,” “Stay calm and relaxed at the plate,” etc.

Easier Thought than Done

Somewhat ironically, the solution to getting rid of negative thoughts is not trying really hard to get rid of them.  In fact, that would likely make the situation even worse.

Now, I realize that the following statement may sound a little confusing at first, but please bear with me, as I’ll try my best to explain it clearly afterward.  If a man is constantly thinking about not thinking about something, then he is actually constantly thinking about what he’s trying not to think about.

That statement is probably best explained by an example.

Say that a man has decided that he doesn’t want to eat potato chips anymore, so he starts making a concerted effort to not think about chips.  So, he starts thinking “I’m not going to think about chips”, constantly, all day long.  In the end, what was he thinking about all day long?  That’s right, chips.

Then, because he was constantly thinking about chips, he increased his craving for chips and he became worse off than he first was.

Eating Good Fruit

So, if trying really hard not to think about something negative is not the answer, then what is?  The answer is simply to think about other positive things instead, so that there is no room left for negative thoughts.

Thus, in the previous example, every time that a thought about a chips starts to enter the man’s mind, he should start thinking about apples and oranges and other good fruits.  Then, by the end of the day, he would have been constantly thinking about good fruits.  So, his craving for good fruits would be increased by the end of the day and his desire for chips decreased.

What are some examples of positive thoughts that would be most beneficial for baseball players?  Thoughts of success, like expecting to get hits, instead of fearful thoughts, like fearing failure.  Thoughts of concentration like the “see ball, hit ball” approach, so long as no fear accompanies that thought. 

Whatever the thought, if it is accompanied with fear, worry or anxiety, it is negative thought, which greatly reduces the chances of success.

Positive thoughts are those that are accompanied with peace, calm and tranquility.  Such thoughts greatly increase the chances of success.


Speed is the Key to Power

On a related note, trying to hit home runs often times reduces the chances of hitting home runs.  Why?  Trying to hit a home run can cause a player to overswing, which reduces the chances of making solid contact with the ball and reduces bat speed.

Why is bat speed important?

Momentum = mass*velocity (P=mv) and Force = mass*acceleration (F=ma).  Velocity is represented in both those equations (directly in momentum, and in the acceleration term in force, since acceleration is the rate of change of velocity).  Sparing you from any further physics lessons, suffice it to say that bat is speed is critical in hitting the ball hard.

That’s how a smaller guy like Aaron Hill can hit so many home runs (26 homers in 109 games so far this season).  Since he’s not trying to hit home runs, he’s not over-swinging.  Then, his bat speed increases as does the likelihood of making solid contact with the good part of the bat.

Thus, to hit more home runs, a batter should be thinking about making solid contact with a smooth and quick swing, instead of trying to swing as hard as he can, in an attempt to hit a home run.

Be Careful What You Wish For, It Just Might Come True

In summary, I believe that the loss of Alex Rios in the outfield could negatively impact the entire pitching staff and the remaining outfielders as well.  Also, I believe that a small tweak to Rios’ arm slot can further improve his already impressive throwing arm.

Furthermore, I believe that Rios’s current production on offence (.264 AVG/ 14 HR /62 RBI) would also be hard to replace in a trade.

Moreover, I believe that there is great reason to hope that his offensive production should improve, perhaps even drastically.  Even a small tweak to his approach at the plate (bunting/fake bunting) should increase his offensive production a bit.

Most importantly, I believe that if Rios adopted a positive thought process on the field, then he could profoundly increase his overall production.

Thus, I strongly disagree with people who make it sound as if trading Alex Rios would fix all that ails the Toronto Blue Jays. 

The Way Forward

The one single move that I believe would most profoundly impact the entire team for the better would be replacing J.P. Ricciardi with someone good.

If Ricciardi’s negative influence on team morale was replaced with someone who is more like Cito Gaston, a positive and calming influence, then there would be much reason to hope for a better future.

Some more reasons for my belief that replacing Ricciardi with someone good would greatly benefit the Blue Jays, can be found in my previous article.

In addition, I believe that getting a good general manager (who cares about his players as people first) would especially help Alex Rios to improve his play on the field.  On top of the more positive clubhouse atmosphere likely improving Rios’s play, the constant trade rumours would likely stop, since a good G.M. would either stop shopping Rios, or would be far more discreet about it than Ricciardi has been.

But, we don’t have to be part of the Blue Jays management to play our part.  If Alex Rios reads news articles and fan Web sites, then members of the media and fans can become part of the solution, instead of further fanning the flames of failure.

Instead of some media members and fans constantly focusing on the few things that Alex Rios isn’t, more of them should instead start concentrating on being grateful for everything that Alex Rios is.  That should help Rios to think more positively on the field and thereby greatly increase the chances of him reaching his seemingly limitless potential.


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