Where’s Julio’s power? Insiders weigh in on Mariners star’s ‘mystifying’ first half

Jun 24, 2024, 10:29 AM | Updated: 8:59 pm

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodriguez Astros 2024...

Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners on deck during the game against the Astros at T-Mobile Park on May 30. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

After a sensational first two years in the majors, Seattle Mariners star outfielder Julio Rodríguez entered this season as one of the favorites to contend for the American League’s MVP award.

Instead, he’s sputtered to a perplexing first three months of the year.

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Through 79 games this season, Rodríguez is batting .260/.308/.346 with just seven home runs, six doubles, a .655 OPS and a below-average 93 OPS+. It’s a stark contrast from his first two seasons, when he combined to hit .279/.338/.495 with 60 homers, a .834 OPS and a 136 OPS+.

Rodríguez’s batting average this season is still 18 points above the MLB average, but his power numbers are shockingly low for a player who blasted 28 homers as a rookie in 2022 and 32 homers in 2023. His OPS ranks just 56th out of 71 qualified hitters in the AL.

“It is a strange year,” MLB insider Jon Morosi said last Thursday during his weekly conversation with Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob. “It’s a strange year, a confusing year. A player of his talent and age, you would not typically expect to have a power shortage this long. Now, he has shown in the past, he can be a streaky player. This is longer than a streak, though.

“When a player this good is going through a prolonged lack of power like this, you ask a lot of questions,” he added. “And I don’t have a great answer about what it is, and you wonder was he a little behind when the season started, for one reason or another? It’s just a mystifying time for him and the organization because of how important he is to everything they do.”

What’s gone wrong?

In his brief MLB career, the 23-year-old Rodríguez has a history of starting slow before heating up as the summer progresses. However, his first half this year is still significantly worse than his first halves in 2022 and 2023.

At this point of the season in 2022, Rodríguez had an .802 OPS and 13 homers. And at this point in 2023, he had a .717 OPS and 13 homers before exploding for a torrid second half.

How stunning is Rodríguez’s lack of power this season?

“Shocked,” ESPN’s Buster Olney said last Friday on Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy. “I thought for sure once he worked through the sophomore slump last year at the beginning of the year that this would be something that, OK, he’s been through that stretch as a player, he’s figured it out, and now he’s gonna be able to learn from that going forward.”

Olney pointed to some “concerning trends” from Rodríguez this season.

In each of his first two seasons, he slugged above .400 on both breaking balls and offspeed pitches, according to Baseball Savant. This year, he’s slugging just .260 on breaking pitches and .171 on offspeed pitches.

Furthermore, Rodríguez’s barrel rate has declined from the 90th percentile among all MLB hitters in 2022, to the 77th percentile in 2023, and now the 58th percentile this season.

He’s also not getting to his pull-side power. After having a pull rate above 39% each of his first two seasons, his pull rate this year is just 31.2%.

“Sliders and changeups are just killing him,” Olney said. “He’s doing a ton of damage against fastballs, but opposing pitchers, opposing catchers have clearly figured out: Look, if you spin something, if you change speeds, he’s gonna have a problem with that.”

Julio’s value to Seattle Mariners

The good news for the Mariners is that, despite Rodríguez’s struggles, they are still 45-35 and holding a six-game lead atop the AL West. However, Seattle’s offense continues to rank near the bottom of the majors in most statistical categories. In order to maximize their potential, the M’s need more production from their ultra-talented center fielder.

“If he’s having a normal Julio season, if he’s having a year like he had last year, … it’s a much different conversation about how great and how elite this team can be,” Morosi said. “He is, I believe, the difference between the Mariners having a good season and a potentially great season. … A special year from Julio, a special playoff run from Julio, is the separator for me because we’ve seen it before.

“When runs are at a premium, one superstar talent who’s playing at that level – (Houston Astros slugger) Yordan Álvarez is one example at different times in his career in the playoffs, (Hall of Famer) David Ortiz before him – can win a series. And Julio, even though he’s had by his standards a subpar first half, I’m still a believer in him. But I’m looking and waiting to see the adjustments that so far, admittedly, simply haven’t happened.”

Listen to full conversation with MLB insider Jon Morosi at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. You can hear the full conversation with ESPN’s Buster Olney at this link or in the player near the middle of this story.

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Where’s Julio’s power? Insiders weigh in on Mariners star’s ‘mystifying’ first half