Brent Rooker of the Oakland A’s quickly fell behind 0-2 against Cincinnati’s Nick Lodolo with two outs in the bottom of the first inning. However, Rooker worked the count full, and he hit an opposite-field single on Lodolo’s sixth delivery. The ensuing batter, Jesus Aguilar, hit a two-run homer giving the A’s a 2-0 lead.
In Rooker’s second at-bat, he wasted no time causing damage. Curt Cassali, the Reds catcher, called for Lodolo to throw a cutter and stuck his glove out to the inside corner of the plate. Despite Lodolo hitting his spot, Rooker ambushed, sending a 112 mph sky-scraping fly ball just inside the left field foul pole for his ninth home run of the season.
Rooker has been a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy Oakland A’s team. Through the season’s first month, the A’s have the lowest winning percentage in Major League Baseball. With the news that the team is likely heading to Las Vegas in the near future, it’s challenging for Oakland A’s fans to get excited about anything related to the team.
However, Brent Rooker’s emergence for the Oakland A’s has been one of the best storylines of the 2023 MLB season
Originally, Rooker was a first round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins in 2017, but he never received an extended opportunity in the major leagues.
After appearing in 65 games with the Twins between 2020 and 2021, Minnesota shipped Rooker to San Diego alongside Taylor Rodgers in exchange for Emilio Pagan and Chris Paddack prior to Opening Day in 2022.
The Padres only played Rooker in two games, and they traded him to the Kansas City Royals at the trade deadline. In Kansas City, Rooker only appeared in 14 games and he was designated for assignment after the season.
Two days after he was put on waivers, the A’s claimed Rooker in what seemed like nothing more than a depth move. However, after Cristian Pache was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and Seth Brown was placed on the injured list a week into the season, regular playing time opened up for Rooker.
For the first time in his career, Rooker is getting everyday at-bats, and he’s been one of the most productive hitters in the league. Among players with at least 80 plate appearances this season, Rooker ranks in the top two in wRC+ (238, first), wOBA (.505, first), SLG (.779, first) and OBP (.465, second).
While it’s a small sample size, Rooker has flashed the adequate tools to sustain his success at the plate.
Although Rooker struggled with the Twins in his short stint with the team, the one thing he showcased what his ability to hit the ball well. In his two seasons with the team, Rooker had a 90.8 mph average exit velocity, 112.2 mph max exit velocity and a 12.8 barrel percentage.
Despite impressive barrel rates and encouraging exit velocities, Rooker was below average at the plate, garnering a 97 wRC+ in 234 plate appearances. In 2022, Rooker struggled in his limited action.
However, upon arriving in Oakland, Rooker has mashed. As he did in Minnesota, Rooker has hit the ball well, but he’s taken his game to new heights. Rooker’s average exit velocity has increased to 91.5 mph while his barrel% has nearly doubled to 24.1%, ranking in the 98th percentile.
As a result of Rooker consistently hitting the ball hard and barreling it, his xBA (96th percentile), xSLG (99th percentile) and xwOBA (100th percentile) all rank near the top in Major League Baseball, and his expected results have translated to his actual results.
The one area where Rooker has greatly improved, though, is his plate discipline. From 2020-2022, Rooker had a 31.9 K% and 6.7 BB%. In 2023, Rooker’s K% is down to 18.6 (71st percentile) while his BB% has ballooned up to 16.3 (98th percentile).
Rooker’s elite combination of power and plate discipline has made him one of the most feared hitters in Major League Baseball. Before the season, Steamer projected Rooker to have a 101 wRC+. Now, Steamer projects that Rooker will hit for a 125 wRC+ the rest of the season.
From depth piece to middle of the lineup threat, Rooker is having a memorable start to the 2023 MLB season.