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2021 Diamondbacks Reviews # 3 : Josh Rojas

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He often got on base and played 5 positions. This season’s unsung hero will be in peak condition next season.

Josh Rojas nearly floats toward first base.
Josh Rojas nearly floats toward first base.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images
  • Rating: 7.11
  • Age: 27
  • 2021 Offense Stats: 550 PA, .264/.341/.411 = .752 OPS, 11 HR, 44 RBI.
  • 2021 More Stats: 139 games, 103 OPS+, 102 wRC+, 0.8 bWAR, 2.0 fWAR.
  • 2021 Defense Stats: RF +2 DRS in 247.2 Inn, LF +0 DRS in 91.2 Inn, 3B -2 DRS in 66 Inn, 2B -4 DRS in 356 Inn, SS -13 DRS in 66 Inn.
  • 2021 Earnings: $582,400 (via Spotrac).
  • 2022 Status: Pre-Arb, 2 options remain.

Introduction:

Scouting Report, August 2019. ”Rojas is just an average defensive player but can play every position on the field. He is a contact hitter who is very hard to strikeout. He projects as a very versatile utilityman.” — Jared Cantatore

In the offseason, Josh Rojas improved his exercise and sleeping. Technology enhanced his efforts when he started wearing a WHOOP strap. The strap has sensors that measure heart rate, breathing rate, skin conductance & temperature, and blood oxygenation. Its’ accelerometer & gyro differentiate between types of movements/exercises. The user links it to their phone, and the phone app provides information about exercise strain/recovery and quality of sleep.

His spring training was awesome. This was welcome after his disappointing 2020 spring training and summer camp.

“Among all qualified major leaguers this spring, Rojas ranks first in hits (16), fourth in total bases reached (27), fourth in batting average (.381), sixth in OPS (1.078), and eighth in slugging percentage and OBP (.643 and .435).” — Henry Schleizer

He plays mind games with opposing pitchers. One weapon is body language deception about his comfort at the plate and his ability to see every pitch. Another weapon is faux rage, when underneath he is manipulating the pitcher into the pitch he wants to hit.

“You can talk guys into fear, talk guys into overthinking things.” — Josh Rojas

OBwooge is a new statistic.

People who look deeper into baseball sometimes create new statistics. I created a stat for a good reason. It shows Rojas ranked as one of the best batters in the Majors. More on that later. First, let’s look at a definition of OBwooge.

OBwooge is an acronym standing for On Base when often with an ops+ good enough. ‘When often’ means the player had at least 500 PAs for the season. ‘OPS+ good enough’ means OPS+ is at least 100. OBwooge was simple to calculate:

OBwooge = (hits plus walks minus homers) multiplied by (600/PAs).

2021 Review:

He got on base. Getting on base was Rojas’ greatest strength. In 2021, Josh Rojas ranked 19nd best in the Majors in OBwooge. In 2021, Josh Rojas’s OBwooge of 190.9 was better than Paul Goldschmidt’s OBwooge of 188.2.

He had a great July. His OBwooge of 260.9 ranked the second best in the Majors behind Brandon Crawford’s 285.2.

From August through September/October, his OBwooge was 180.3. Likely it would have been higher except for injury.

He played through injury. “While it was a dislocated finger which led to Josh spending time on the Injured List from July 24 until August 10, it was the player’s left shoulder which proved to be more of a nagging concern. He had been “bothered” by it through much of the season, and in early November, underwent surgery to clean up the AC joint, a similar procedure to the one David Peralta had in 2019.” — Jim McLennan

In 2021 he led the Diamondbacks with his 27.6 line drive percentage per Baseball Reference (minimum 60 PAs). From 17 July to 3 October, his line drives per AB ranked 68th highest in the Majors. His hit percent for line drives was consistent to all fields (64% pulled, 63% center, and 67% opposite).

Although his greatest strength was getting on base, this season he hit more homers per PA than 2019 (.020 vs .013). His rate of homers approached the Diamondback average of .023 homers per PA.

He played 5 defensive positions. His defensive flexibility was valuable because the Diamondbacks experienced significant injuries. However, his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) was positive only for left field and right field. Next season, despite being a left handed batter, his best fit is in the outfield corners. Jack Sommers summarized the situation well in the following AZ Snake Pit comment:

“Bottom line: Much like with Pavin Smith, and of course Ketel Marte, playing Rojas out of position much of the year detracted from his personal overall value and ultimately I believe the performance of the team as a whole.

If Smith plays every day at first base, and Rojas plays every day in right field, not only will their personal value stat lines look better, but the team will get better results overall. It’s great to have a swiss army knife, but if that knife is too dull you’ll just make a mess of things. The Dbacks can sharpen their knives in 2022 by playing guys in the correct position. I think we can all agree on this.” — Jack Sommers

Playing multiple positions added pregame preparation work for Josh Rojas. In the context of his injuries, that extra work may have been significant, as Jim McLennan pointed out in December.

The AZ Snake Pit voted Josh Rojas the Unsung Hero of the season.

Even without considering that his OBwooge ranked very high in the Majors, beyond playing with a bothersome shoulder, there were many reasons that Josh Rojas was the Unsung Hero of the season. Chuck Johnson summarized it very well with his nomination of Josh Rojas.

“I’m going with Josh Rojas. He said in spring training that he knew he belonged in the majors and given the chance to play he would prove it and he did. 139 games, starts at five different positions, had at least one appearance at every spot in the batting order except 9th, led the team in PA’s, runs, doubles, stolen bases, walks (and to be fair, strikeouts) and had the highest OPS of anyone with more than 100 games played.” — Chuck Johnson

Jim McLennan announced the winner and included the following commentary:

“The award therefore goes to Rojas, who went from occasional utility guy to lead the team in plate appearances at the age of 27. That included starting games at five different positions: second base, third base, shortstop and both corner outfield positions, showing a degree of versatility that was very helpful. His 103 OPS+ represented a breakthrough at the plate (his career MLB figure prior to that was just 51, albeit over only 227 PA), and was the best by any Diamondback hitter in 2021 with enough PA to qualify.” — Jim McLennan

For details see this AZ Snake Pit article.

2022 Outlook:

The ZiPS projection (published November 23rd) for 2022 was an OPS 721, OPS+ of 91, and fWAR of 1.5. Those stats are much lower than 2021. My view is that instead of getting worse, Josh Rojas’ stats will improve for two reasons. Next season his shoulder will no longer bother him. He uses technology to keep himself in peak condition.

Summary. Three takeaway points:

  • His biggest strength is getting on base. His line drives per AB and his OBwooge ranked very high in the Majors.
  • Another strength is his versatility to play multiple positions. Nevertheless, the team’s defense would be better served by playing him in the corner outfield positions.
  • This season he was the unsung hero. Next season I’m confident he will be in peak condition. For those two reasons he will likely exceed the early ZiPS projection.