Why Julio Rodríguez Is Going Through a Serious Power Outage

The Mariners star is struggling at the plate right now, having hit only two home runs this season.
Rodríguez is off to a slow start at the plate in 2024.
Rodríguez is off to a slow start at the plate in 2024. / Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports
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One of the more confounding developments of this early season is that Seattle Mariners centerfielder Julio Rodríguez has hit just two home runs, none off secondary pitches. His slugging percentage has cratered from .485 last year to .333 this year.

This is one of the most dynamic hitters in the game, a phenom who last year became only the third active player with 60 homers and 60 doubles in his first two seasons. (Kris Bryant and José Abreu are the others.) He is 23 years old and healthy.

Here’s where it gets more confounding: There are few hints in his overall hitting metrics that something is wrong. Compared to his 32-homer season last year, Rodríguez is hitting the ball just as hard, is hitting fewer groundballs and more line drives and is chasing less. His expected batting average is exactly what it was last year:

Rodríguez hitting metrics

Year

Exit Velocity

Hard Hit %

Groundball %

Line Drive %

Chase %

Swing %

Expected Batting Average

2023

92.7

52%

47.6%

23.3%

37.4%

53.9%

.274

2024

92.6

50%

41.9%

31%

35.5%

54%

.274

Those numbers don’t scream, “power outage.” But that is the reality for Seattle.

The Mariners have terrific pitching. Their staff is filled with guys who throw strikes and miss bats. It’s the major reason why Seattle is in first place in the AL West, albeit just three games over .500. But is the pitching good enough to survive a lack of power from Rodríguez and an offense that is hitting .228 and strikes out more than any team in baseball?

To figure out where Rodríguez’s lost power has gone, we need to dive a little deeper. Hidden inside the overall metrics is one element of his game that has gone missing: his pull-side power.

Rodríguez hitting to pull side

Year

Hits

Home Runs

Slugging %

2022

64

21

.958

2023

76

14

.720

2024

15

1

.514

He is on pace for just 51 hits and three home runs to the pull side. What’s going on? Rodríguez has not been able to stay behind pitches and pull them in the air as he did the past two years. So, while he is still hitting the ball hard, he’s not catching the ball out front and with his head behind the ball enough to drive it out of the park to the pull side.

The good news for Seattle is that this is not so much a swing issue as it is a timing issue, like what bedeviled Aaron Judge early in the season—and look how Judge is obliterating baseballs again now that his timing has improved.

To improve his timing, Rodríguez has incorporated new pregame hitting drills to his routine to stay behind the ball. The results are—slowly—starting to show. Rodríguez’s expected slugging increased from .368 in April to .477 in May, which is about what it was last season (.475). He appears very close to going on a tear.

“The biggest thing with Julio has just been timing,” Seattle manager Scott Servais says. “And we talk about that and that means different things for different players, but when he starts crashing or rushing forward, he's still hitting the ball hard but he's not really staying behind the ball.

“And that's where the home runs come from: when you stay behind it and can really leverage your power. It’s been better the last eight to 10 games. I think he's in a better mindset right now than maybe he was early in the year.”

What does it mean to be “rushing forward” instead of “staying behind the baseball?” Look at two swings from Rodríguez on changeups down—pitches in the strike zone he should pull. The one from 2023 is a home run. The one from 2024 is a groundball out.

In the photo on the left you see in 2023 his head is in a better position (behind the ball more), his back arm is tighter to his body (as opposed to reaching for the ball in the photo on the left for 2024) and his front leg is firmer.

In the right frames you see the results of good and poor timing. Without staying behind the ball in 2024, his top hand comes off the bat and he loses the firmness in his front side.

2023

Julio Rodríguez’s succesfull swing in 2023.

2024

Julio Rodríguez’s unsuccesfull swing in 2023.

When you’re rushing forward, you’re particularly susceptible to secondary pitches. Rodríguez is no exception. The difference from last year on damage vs. secondary stuff is dramatic.

Rodríguez vs. Secondary Pitches

Year

Percentage

Home Runs

Slugging %

2023

46%

18

.492

2024

46.4%

0

.275

Like most Mariners, Rodríguez also strikes out above the major league rate. He whiffed 175 times last year and is on pace for 196 this year. After Seattle last year struck out more than any team but the Minnesota Twins, it was supposed to be a better contact team this year after jettisoning three players who accounted for 35% of their whiffs: Eugenio Suárez, Teoscar Hernández and Jarred Kelenic.

Instead, the Mariners are striking out even more this year, leading the majors and on pace for 1,651—within range of the record 1,654 set by the Twins last year.

Those 2023 Twins still made the playoffs. But if you want to get through rounds of the postseason to the World Series, you need to put the ball in play. None of the past 28 teams to reach the World Series ranked among the seven teams with the most strikeouts.

“I do think in the month of May, we are trending in the right direction,” Servais says.

The Mariners are hitting .228. How hard is it to make the playoffs hitting .228? Nobody has ever done it. The record low for a playoff team in a full season is .230 by the 2022 Mariners and 1906 White Sox.

Barring a trade, it might be difficult for Seattle to substantially change its hitting profile this deep into a season. But when it comes to their best hitter, the Mariners can expect Rodríguez to return to his power-hitting ways soon.

Servais even half-joked that the Home Run Derby is good for Rodríguez’s stroke. To try to hit nothing but home runs in the derby, a hitter must stay behind the ball. Rodríguez is a career .443 slugger before his two Home Run Derby appearances and .577 after. Maybe the Mariners should stage their own Home Run Derby to get him right.


Published
Tom Verducci

TOM VERDUCCI

Tom Verducci is a senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated. He’s covered Major League Baseball since 1981. Tom also has been an analyst for Fox and the MLB Network; a New York Times No. 1 bestselling author; and co-host of The Book of Joe podcast with Joe Maddon. A five-time Emmy Award winner across three categories (studio analyst, reporter, short form writing) and nominated in a fourth (game analyst), he’s garnered many honorifics over the years, including three-time National Sportswriter of the Year; two-time National Magazine Award finalist; and Penn State Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient. Tom is a member of the National Sports Media Hall of Fame, Baseball Writers Association of America (including past New York chapter chairman) and a Baseball Hall of Fame voter since 1993. He also is the only writer to be a game analyst for World Series telecasts.