clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Did a Rays Rookie Start Hitting Like Ted Williams?

Randy Arozarena was relatively anonymous heading into the postseason, but is suddenly one of the hottest players in baseball. Looking at his season, maybe that shouldn’t be so shocking.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Turn off your P90X videos. Stop blending protein shakes. Throw away that Bowflex machine you bought on sale last Black Friday. All you need to become a superstar athlete is basic meals of chicken and rice, and 300 push-ups each day.

That’s the lesson of Randy Arozarena, a rookie outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays who has transformed into a right-handed Ted Williams over the course of mere weeks. Before late August, he wasn’t even on Tampa Bay’s depth chart; now, he’s the no. 3 hitter most responsible for tormenting the Yankees as the Rays have taken a 2-1 lead in this intradivisional division series.

Arozarena wasn’t a particularly popular player before this series. When I included him on a list of key players who had missed most of the regular-season games between the Rays and Yankees, my editor initially asked whether readers would know his importance—a fair question, given that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were the others on that list. Those two Yankees rank among the most prominent sluggers in the sport; Arozarena, by contrast, collected 20 at-bats for the Cardinals last season before transferring to Tampa Bay in an offseason trade.

The now-25-year-old Cuban outfielder wasn’t even the centerpiece of that deal, which sent José Martínez to Tampa and 2018 first-round pick Matthew Liberatore—a top-50 prospect—to St. Louis. And then the pandemic struck and Arozarena caught a case of COVID-19, removing him further from the Rays’ immediate radar. He didn’t debut until August 30 this season, and initially spent time as a platoon hitter who rarely played a full game.

But Arozarena had spent his time off growing strong, thanks to the aforementioned protein-and-carbs diet and simple exercise regimen. He says he added about 15 pounds worth of muscle. And, apparently, several hundred points of OPS.

It wasn’t long before Arozarena, who hit .281/.382/.641 in the regular season, forced his way into the starting lineup. (An injury to 2019 All-Star Austin Meadows helped clear space in the outfield.) Among 360 players this season with at least 75 plate appearances, Arozarena ranked sixth in park-adjusted performance at the plate. And despite the small sample, his underlying numbers supported that sort of slash line: He hit 44 percent of his batted balls at least 95 miles per hour, and he whacked seven home runs in a month after never hitting more than 15 in any minor league season.

Then the playoffs arrived, and a subtle September standout raised his game yet another level with a national audience watching. In Game 1 of the wild-card series against Toronto, he scored the Rays’ first run after smashing a triple. He didn’t do much else, going 1-for-4, but he was just getting started.

In Game 2 against Toronto, he hit a first-inning single and came around to score, hit a second-inning double and scored, hit a third-inning double—yes, that’s three hits in three innings—to drive in a run, and walked his next time up.

In Game 1 against New York, even in a Rays loss, he homered and singled twice off Gerrit Cole. His only out was a scorched line drive, 111.4 miles per hour off the bat, that found Gleyber Torres’s glove at short.

In Game 2 against New York, he hit his second first-inning homer in two nights, then added a single later on.

And in Game 3 against New York, an 8-4 win on Wednesday, he singled in the first, singled in the third, and cranked yet another homer in the fifth inning, chasing Masahiro Tanaka; he added a walk and scored another run later on, for good measure.

Overall, Arozarena’s statistics in this small sliver of games boggles the mind: a .600/.636/1.250 slash line, eight runs, six extra-base hits, and four RBIs. Despite some swing-and-miss issues in the regular season, he’s walked as often as he’s struck out in the playoffs. And he’s crushing righties just as capably as when he has the strong side of a platoon—his three homers so far have come against Cole, Tanaka, and Deivi García, all same-handed pitchers with superb stuff.

Is Arozarena actually the second coming of Ted Williams, or something even greater given the timeliness of his hits? (Playing in an era in which the World Series was the only playoff round, Williams hit .200 in his postseason career, with no extra-base hits.) Certainly not. Any MLB hitter can get hot over five games; even in this shortened regular season, there were 30 instances of a player recording at least one extra-base hit five games in a row, including from Andrew Stevenson, Tyler Naquin, and Darin Ruf.

But barely any of Arozarena’s hits are cheap; he’s earned his four-figure slugging percentage with scores of push-ups and scalded line drives. His hits’ exit velocities, presented here in descending order, highlight his burgeoning power: 107.8 miles per hour, 107.3, 104.5, 103.3, 102.7, 102.6, 100.5, 100.1, 99.8, 93.8, 81.4, and 77.1.

And this small sliver of games matters a great deal; the Yankees and Rays are a near-even match in talent, so the addition of Ted Williams to the latter’s lineup tilts the odds in Tampa Bay’s favor. The Rays now lead the division series 2-1, needing one win in two games to advance to their first league championship series since 2008. With the likes of Judge and Stanton—on a home run tear of his own—the Yankees have the power to mount a comeback, but the Rays have the hottest hitter on the planet in their lineup right now.