'Julioooo!' Why J-Rod is must-see TV

July 27th, 2022

The J-Rod Show has fully arrived. Rookie Julio Rodríguez took the national stage during All-Star Week in Los Angeles, finishing runner-up in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby and providing fun mic’d up moments from the outfield, and to say he succeeded would be an understatement.

If fans didn’t know before, they are aware now: Every Julio game, each moment he impacts, is worth watching.

We could write a whole story explaining why without a single stat, but the electricity he brings every day is also directly correlated to his unusual combination of tools and rare early-career production. Thus, statistical context certainly doesn’t hurt.

Here’s why J-Rod is must-see TV.

He crushes the ball

Rodríguez missed the first four games after the All-Star break with an injury. And in game five? He was back hitting leadoff -- and hit his second leadoff homer of the season.

“I was not built to watch baseball, man. I was built to play it. That’s all I can say,” he said after the game of his return.

He’s the first rookie in Mariners history with multiple leadoff home runs. And it’s only July.

The homer flew off his bat at 106.0 mph and was his 36th barrel of the season -- a batted ball with the ideal combination of launch angle and exit velocity. That’s 12 more than any other rookie has this season.

His power is undeniable. He has 126 hard-hit batted balls, 16 more than any other rookie. And it isn’t just the rookie ranks where his power is notable. His 51% hard-hit rate is in the 95th percentile and his 14.3% barrel rate is in the 91st percentile -- in all of MLB.

And, of course, Home Run Derby accolades aren’t part of game action, but they showcased Rodríguez’s power so well that they’re worth recounting. He hit 81 homers, the second most by anyone in a single Derby. With 32 homers in the first round and 31 in the second round, he became the first player with two 30-plus homer rounds.

Whether in a regular-season game or a Derby, Rodríguez’s bat is undeniable.

And speeds around the basepaths

But not everything can go over the fence. In the event of other modes of reaching base, Rodríguez has his speed. His 29.5 ft/sec average sprint speed ranks fourth in MLB among batters with at least 100 competitive runs. For context, the MLB average is 27 ft/sec and anything in the 30-plus range is elite. Rodríguez’s average is just shy of the elite threshold. That's fast.

A more traditional way to attest to his speed? His 21 stolen bases, tied for third in the Majors.

The speed has been one of the less-expected parts of Rodríguez’s impressive start to his career. He initially projected as more of a corner outfielder with power -- less of an eye toward speed or defense, which we’ll get to later. MLB.com Mariners reporter Daniel Kramer uncovered how that change occurred recently.

“I didn't see it coming,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Until I got to Spring Training. It was one of the first days we ran the bases as a team, early camp, and the way he's flying around the base like, ‘Oh, my God, this is different.’ And you start seeing him move in the outfield, and his ability to close on balls.”

The power-speed combination puts him in unique territory. Rodríguez is one of three players in the 90th percentile or higher in both hard-hit rate and sprint speed this season, along with Mike Trout and Byron Buxton.

It’s notable historically, too. He reached 15 homers and 20 stolen bases in 81 games, the fewest career games for any player to reach those marks. He’s three home runs from the 12th 20 homer-20 stolen base season by a rookie. If he can get to 25-25, that list narrows to just 2012 Mike Trout and 2007 Chris Young among rookies.

By the way, if he can reach 20 homers in his next 23 games -- he’s at 92 right now -- he can be among the fastest to 20 career homers and stolen bases.

Fewest games to 20 career home runs and stolen bases:

Fernando Tatis Jr.: 97
Mike Trout: 112
Eric Davis: 115
Dave Kingman: 115

While patrolling the outfield

Rodríguez’s defense -- in front of his fan section when at home, JRod’s Squad at T-Mobile Park -- has distinguished his season even further. His five Outs Above Average are 91st percentile and his arm has impressed, too.

On July 8, Rodríguez recorded a 99.6 mph throw for the Mariners' fastest-tracked outfield assist tracked by Statcast (since 2015). He has 11 throws this season at 96-plus mph, second most in the Majors behind Ronald Acuña Jr.

Power, speed and defense. If we add 90th-percentile Outs Above Average to the earlier hard-hit rate and sprint speed list, it’s just Rodríguez and Buxton. These are players who impact the game from all facets, and in an electrifying way.

And we can’t forget the fun factor

The numbers tell the story of why Rodríguez is must-see TV every night. But there are non-stats reasons, too.

There was his mic’d up moment in the All-Star Game, where Liam Hendriks yelled at Rodríguez to save the baseball from an inning-ending flyout, while both were on the mic, and the outfielder pretended not to hear.

“I could hear him say that he wanted to keep the ball and I was messing with him because he didn’t know I had a mic that I could hear him,” Rodríguez said. “It was fun. It was fun getting to talk to those guys during the All-Star Game.”

MLB’s Cut4 superimposed that audio, of Hendriks’ “Julioooo!” yell, onto Rodríguez’s homer Tuesday.

That’s just one of numerous times Rodríguez has shown his personality and pure joy for the game. It’s part of what makes baseball the best -- having players with unique skill sets who add onto that with an effusive love of the game.