Could Julio achieve a 40/40 season in 2023?
Questioning whether Julio Rodríguez can accomplish something on a baseball field isn't a wise move. But is becoming a member of the 40/40 club out of the reach of Seattle's budding superstar?
In his first big-league campaign, Julio Rodríguez set the bar high for future expectations. As a 21-year-old, he was an All-Star, earned Rookie of the Year and Silver Slugger honors, and appeared on 28 of 30 AL MVP ballots. What could Julio possibly do for an encore in his second season?
A popular response to this question during the offseason was become the fifth player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season. In the history of baseball, there are just four members in the 40/40 club. All achieved this lofty milestone within the last four decades.
It’s an interesting proposition. But is it realistic to believe Rodríguez could join the 40/40 club in 2023 or another season in the future? To me, it comes down to several factors.
Possess the talent
This isn’t an issue for Julio. This should be evident to even the casual observer after he hit 28 home runs and swiped 25 bags in 132 games last year.
More accurately, Rodríguez didn’t record his first home run until May 1, which means he hit 28 bombs in just 112 contests. From a nerd perspective, the right-handed hitter’s 50.7 hard-hit rate was 14th-highest in the majors. The power is undoubtedly there to slug more than 40 dingers in a season.
Rodríguez also possesses the quickness to steal bags and take an extra base on a batted ball. Only 12 players had a faster sprint speed than the native of the Dominican Republic boasted (29.8 ft/sec).
Taking it a step further, just three runners had more “bolts” than Julio. A bolt is a run of 30 ft/sec or greater, which is considered the threshold for elite-level speed.
Every member of the 40/40 club played in at least 158 games during their big year. As we’ve already noted, Rodríguez appeared in 132 contests.
I suspect Julio wouldn’t necessarily need to appear in 150-plus games to clobber 40 homers. But playing more often would undoubtedly better position him to reach 40 stolen bases. A look to the past makes this clear.
Barry Bonds didn’t steal base number-40 until his final game of the 1996 season. Alfonso Soriano reached the 40-steal mark in his 152nd game. José Canseco stole his final two bases of the 1988 campaign in game-151. The only player to reach 40 steals before his 150th contest was Álex Rodríguez (144 games) with Seattle in 1998.
Reach base…a lot
Intuitively, we know reaching base translates into more steal opportunities. In Julio’s case, he had a respectable .345 OBP. However, the lowest OBP during any 40/40 season was .351 by Alfonso Soriano.
OBP During 40/40 Season
José Canseco - .391
Barry Bonds - .461
Álex Rodríguez - .360
Alfonso Soriano - .351
Two aspects of Julio’s game that negatively affected his on-base opportunities were strikeouts and walks. The All-Star’s 25.9% strikeout rate was over three points higher than the MLB average. His 7.1% walk rate was a percentage point lower than league-average.
To me, improved plate discipline is crucial to elevating Rodríguez’s production numbers and status in 2023 and beyond. We recently discussed how his chase rate was in the bottom-15 of MLB last year. Fewer swings outside the strike zone will not only lead to Julio reaching base more often, it’ll thrust him into the “best hitter in baseball” conversation.
Getting up to the plate a lot
Rodríguez came to the plate 560 times during his rookie campaign. The only 40/40 club member with fewer than 700 plate appearances is Bonds. And let’s face it, his stat line was an aberration not likely to be seen again.
PA’s During 40/40 Season
Álex Rodríguez - 748
Alfonso Soriano - 728
José Canseco - 705
Barry Bonds - 675
Obviously, Julio playing in more games will help boost his plate appearance tally. But what else could be done to up his total well over the 600 mark?
Leading off is one method. It’s something Rodríguez did in 58 games (254 plate appearances) as a rookie. Soriano led off for the Washington Nationals in 131 games during his 40/40 campaign. He hit third in 18 other contests.
Another factor that could lead to a higher number of plate appearances would be Julio’s teammates creating more offense. During Canseco’s 40/40 season in 1988, the Oakland A’s led the majors in runs scored and, more importantly, plate appearances. Similarly, the 1998 Mariners were eighth in plate confrontations during A-Rod’s historic year.
Last year, the Mariners had the twelfth-most plate appearances. Considering the effort made by the front office this offseason to lengthen the lineup, moving up in the rankings is a realistic expectation for 2023.
Being available and being healthy are two different things. Players don’t like to discuss injuries publicly. But we know they play banged up all the time. Being there for teammates is one of many traits that make professional athletes so special. We should expect the same dedication from Rodríguez. It was already on display in 2022.
Julio had a pair of stays on the IL due to wrist and back injuries. But he undoubtedly played while those maladies lingered. This ultimately had to affect the 22-year-old’s productivity.
It’s important to note Rodríguez’s monthly stolen base totals dropped significantly as the season progressed. In fact, the face of the Mariners franchise stole just six bases and was caught stealing four times after June 22.
Julio’s Monthly Steal Totals
Apr - 9
May - 5
Jun - 5
Jul - 2
Aug - 2
Sept/Oct - 2
Perhaps the Mariners suggested to Rodríguez he slow his roll on the bases. It’s also plausible his body told him to pull back on the reins. Either way, I suspect the second-half swoon in stolen bases signals that entering the 40/40 club may be a bridge too far for Seattle’s superstar.
Then again, Julio has proven time and time again that casting doubt on what he can accomplish on a baseball field is a fool’s errand.
Perhaps I’ll be the fool in the end.
I’d be okay with that.
My Oh My…
Thanks for reading Mariners Consigliere! Please subscribe for free to receive new posts and pump up my fragile ego.