Snooker is an interesting game. Sometimes the shot is clear as day, unobstructed with only green felt laying between man, stick, ball, and pocket. More often than not, though, there are other balls in the way and an opponent can block access. Each shot changes the dynamic of the table and players can expertly manipulate the ball by spinning it a certain way to set up future moves. So, not only is there skill in hitting the ball with the cue, but knowledge of geometry and physics is paramount. There are many similarities between snooker and baseball. Players from each sport use a stick to hit a ball. The opponent can affect your shot by putting you in difficult situations. While snooker is about angles, spin, and location, baseball has spin rate and location of pitches with launch angle from batters. Both are cat-and-mouse contests with adjustments constantly being made to get an edge. This leads me to Brent Rooker of the Oakland Athletics. He was the darling of the early season, slashing .353/.465/.779 with nine home runs in the first 86 plate appearances of the season. Over the last month, though, he’s slashing .196/.291/.320 with two home runs in 110 plate appearances. As a result, he was the most dropped player in ESPN leagues over the past week. What adjustments have pitchers made and is there hope going forward?
Rooker is 28 years old, 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, and bats from the right side. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins with the 35th overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft. He made his MLB debut in 2020 but only played seven games. The following season, he played 58 games and received 213 plate appearances. He was traded to the San Diego Padres the following season, sent to the Kansas City Royals later that year, then was claimed off waivers by the Oakland Athletics a few months after that.
Throughout his career, Rooker has shown a penchant for walking, as the BB% has been in the 10% range. He has also had a high strikeout rate, in the high-20s to 30% range. The power has always been there, as the ISO was over .200 from the outset of rookie ball.
In 196 plate appearances this season, the slash is .261/.367/.509 with a 13.3% walk rate, 27% strikeout rate, .248 ISO, and .311 BABIP. As mentioned in the intro, though, it’s been a tale of two halves so far.
In the first month, the walk rate was 16.3% while the strikeout rate was only 18.6%. The ISO was an insane .426. Since May 1, the walk rate has dipped to 10.9% while the strikeout rate has spiked to 33.6%. The ISO has plummeted to .124.
Looking at the Statcast numbers, it’s a mixed bag. The average exit velocity has been higher in May compared to April, but the maxEV is down. The launch angle is down four degrees and the barrel rate is 10% compared to 24.1%, but the hard hit rate is higher.
The batted ball data shows that he’s hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls. The HR/FB has normalized from 36% to 8.7%. Interestingly, he’s pulling the ball much less over the last month. In April, the pull rate was 42.6%. Now it’s at 33.3%.
The plate discipline numbers show that he’s chasing more pitches outside the zone but swinging at fewer pitches. The contact rates are actually a smidge higher while the swinging strike rate has remained at 16%.
Digging through the numbers, it looks like the main culprit for the dip in production is that pitchers have attacked him differently. In the first month of the season, pitchers were throwing the fastball 44% of the time while utilizing the slider 31.3%. Over the last month, Rooker has seen 60.8% fastballs and only 12.7% sliders. That could explain the decrease in the pull rate.
This change is interesting because Baseball Savant shows that Rooker has been very successful against fastballs this season, with a .300 BA, .315 xBA and .544 SLG. It makes sense, though, because pitchers and teams will not always keep banging their heads into a brick wall. They will constantly poke and prod the defenses by employing different tactics until they find a weakness.
Pitchers have adjusted to Rooker. Now it is time for Rooker to adjust to the adjustments. Can he? Of course he can. Will he? That’s the million dollar question. I do have some optimism about Rooker being able to adjust because he does have MLB experience in the past, so he’s been through the mini-game before.
While Oakland is an inept offense, and they play in a pitcher’s park, Rooker does bat in the heart of the order and Steamer has him projected for 18 home runs the rest of the way.
I don’t think Rooker is a must-add, especially now, but I would keep an eye on him to see if he adjusts to the adjustments and employ him in streaming situations. He’s been destroying left-handed pitching, slashing .306/.435/.633 with a .327 ISO. Predictably, he’s been much better on the road, slashing .282/.386/.576 with a .294 ISO compared to .238/.347/.438 with a .200 ISO at home.