SEATTLE MARINERS

Why Julio Rodríguez’s HR off closer’s elite fastball is a great sign

Jun 6, 2024, 1:02 PM | Updated: 1:16 pm

Julio Rodríguez has still yet to hit his stride at the plate for the Seattle Mariners this season, but he did something Wednesday night that seems like a great sign that it’s about to happen.

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The two-time All-Star center fielder became just the second player to hit a home run off of breakout Oakland Athletics closer Mason Miller this year, and that’s not the only thing that was impressive about the homer.

Rodríguez deposited a 3-2 fastball from Miller over the center field wall in Oakland for a 402-foot shot with a 103.3 mph exit velocity to lead off the ninth inning. The pitch came in at 102.5 mph, which ranks not only as the fastest pitch to be hit for a homer this season in baseball, per Statcast, but also the third-fastest pitch to be taken deep ever since pitch tracking began back in 2008. The only pitches faster to be hit for homers both came off of Aroldis Chapman – Kurt Suzuki in 2016 (102.6 mph) and Rafael Devers in 2017 (102.7 mph).

Watch the incredible swing by Rodríguez here or in the video at the top of this post.

This could mean something

So why was the Rodríguez homer such a good sign? Well, first off, it’s always a good sign when any hitter gets to the 25-year-old Miller, who looks primed to be an All-Star with a 2.28 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and a ridiculous 52 strikeouts in just 27 2/3 innings this year.

But focusing a little more specifically on Rodríguez, his power has been lacking this season compared to his first two years in the big leagues. Wednesday’s blast was just his fifth, and at this point last year he already had 11 on his way to a 32-homer campaign, whereas in his 2022 rookie season he was up to seven on June 6 (he didn’t hit his first until May 1 and finished with 28 that year).

One likely factor in Rodríguez not hitting for as much power this season is how infrequent he’s pulling the ball to left field. His pull rate is down considerably, per Fangraphs – in 2024, it sits at 33%, down from 42% last year and 41.7% the season before. At the same time, his barrel rate is also down to 7.4% compared to 11.9% in 2023 and 13.1% in 2022.

Related: What could be the issue behind Julio Rodríguez’s slow start

While Rodríguez didn’t pull the ball on his homer Wednesday night, he did at least “get behind” a fastball coming in with absolute elite velocity enough to hit it with authority. And if you can catch up to a pitch nearing 103 mph that well, chances are you’re in a good spot to start pulling fastballs coming in with less velocity.

Entering Thursday, the 23-year-old Rodríguez owned a .270/.317/.351 slash line for a .668 OPS with just 10 hits for extra bases – five doubles and five homers. If he can start showing more of his power, it will only mean good things for the first-place M’s.

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Why Julio Rodríguez’s HR off closer’s elite fastball is a great sign