Rios has success where he usually doesn't

AP Photo/Rex Arbogast

Alex Rios came through against the Tigers approach on Monday.

Chicago White Sox rightfielder Alex Rios made up for a season’s worth of struggles against the Detroit Tigers with one swing of the bat on Monday night.

Rios’ home run was the key blow in a win that pushed the White Sox lead in the AL Central to three games. It was another step in what has been a remarkable turnaround season for Rios.

How Rios won Monday’s matchup

Rios entered the day 7-for-48 with one home run, three RBI, and 12 strikeouts in 13 games against the Tigers this season.

Detroit’s means of getting him out was to attack him in the lower part of the strike zone. He was 0-for-13 in at-bats against Tigers pitching that ended with a pitch to the lower-third of the zone, or below the knees prior to Monday.

Yesterday, both of his hits were in that lower-thirdarea. He had a double on a pitch that was down and out of the strike zone early in the game, then homered on a pitch a little above the knees on the inner-third of the plate.

Inside Man

The fact that the pitch that Rios homered against was on the inner-third is key.

Rios has covered both the inner-third and middle-third of the plate particularly well this season. All but one of his 23 home runs have come against pitches to those areas.

Rios was ready for what was coming

The one thing that played right into Rios’ hands was how Tigers starter Rick Porcello pitched him.

Rios hit both his double and his home run on fastballs in situations in which Porcello doubled up on his fastball/sinker.

Alex Rios vs Fastballs
When Previous Pitch is Fastball

When we say "doubled up," we're referring to the idea of a pitcher throwing two pitches in a row of the same type. In this case, Porcello threw a fastball immediately after throwing a fastball, rather than following it with a breaking ball or changeup.

Rios hit only .235 last season against fastballs that came immediately a pitcher had already thrown a fastball/sinker.

This season he’s hitting .371, the fourth-highest batting average of any of the batting title qualifiers. The chart on the right shows how Rios has dominated any time a pitcher has attempted to "double up" this season.

The turnaround

Rios bounced back from a rough 2011 to post his second 20 homer/20 steal season in the last three years. He’s the first player in White Sox history to have multiple 20-20 seasons.

20 HR/20 SB in 2012

The only others to have one such season are Tommie Agee (1966), Maggio Ordonez (2001) and Ray Durham (2001).

Rios’ batting average has jumped from .227 to .294. He’s been much more of a spray hitter this season than the pull hitter he had been.

In 2011, 54 percent of the balls he hit were hit to left field or left center. That’s dipped to 47 percent this season.

With becoming less of a pull hitter, he’s also become a better pull hitter. His batting average when he pulls the ball to those areas is .377, a 74-point jump from 2011. And his rate of pulled fly balls that have become home runs has soared from 19 percent to 35 percent in a year's time.