Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2016-17 BBM Winter Awards: Manny Rodriguez, Batter of the Year

For more than a decade, Jalisco Charros second baseman Jose Manuel "Manny" Rodriguez has quietly gone about his job as one of the best (and most consistent) players in Mexican baseball.  Although he's never been one to land with any frequency in sports section headlines and likely is not one of the first players named when fans conjure up who they think is the best ballplayer in Mexico, the 34-year-old Guasave native has proven that he's usually good for a batting average of over .300 with extra-base power and an occasional stolen base along with steady defense at second base.  And he does it year in and year out.  In short, Manny Rodriguez is a workingman's baseball star.

Perhaps surprisingly, Rodriguez didn't begin his professional career south of the border, but rather in the U.S. independent Frontier League with the Chillicothe, Ohio Paints in 2004.  After a so-so .258 batting average that year, he led the league with a .380 mark, beating fellow Mexican baseball mainstay Olmo Rosario of Rockford by seven points.  Following the 2005 season, Rodriguez made his Mexican League debut with Saltillo and hit .344 in 55 games for the 2006 season.  That led to a ten-year stretch with the Saraperos that included two Liga pennants, four All-Star Game appearances, a Comeback Player of the Year award in 2014 and seven years batting .300 or above.  His best campaign came in that 2014 comeback season (after an injury ended his previous year after just 27 games), in which he hit .344 with 28 homers and 96 RBIs in 107 games.  Rodriguez moved to Puebla last summer, and hit .303 with 12 roundtrippers as the Pericos won the LMB pennant.  Over 11 Mexican League seasons, Rodriguez has a .317 career average with 113 homers.

But that's in the traditionally hitter-friendly confines of the Liga.  How has the 5'10" Rodriguez fared in the traditionally pitcher-friendly MexPac?  How about a .296 average with 83 homers over eleven winters in the LMP, eight with his hometown Guasave Algodoneros (with whom he moved to Guadalajara in 2014 when they became the Jalisco Charros)?  For this circuit, where eleven batters hit over .300 this winter, those are pretty impressive numbers, but Rodriguez outdid himself in 2016-17.

Playing for a non-playoff team, Rodriguez finished third in the MexPac batting tables with a .335 average, trailing only Mexicali's Luis Juarez (.364) and Los Mochis' Leandro Castro (.347).  His 8 homers tied him for fifth in the league, he finished in the top ten in both runs scored and RBIs, his 25 doubles were good for third in the loop and his .382 on-base percentage, .521 slugging average and .903 OPS were all near the top of their respective lists.  While he did not lead the LMP in any one category, Rodriguez put together an all-around season at the plate that nobody could really match either.  Plus he contributed his usual rock-steady work at second base as well.

That's Manny Rodriguez for you:  No one thing about him might stand out but when you look at all the numbers, there's a reason he's BBM's 2016-17 Batter of the Year.  The only surprise is that next month will mark his first appearance in the World Baseball Classic, proving that even the experts can miss one now and then.

2015-16   Jose Amador, Hermosillo
2016        Diory Hernandez, Aguascalientes
2016-17   Jose "Manny" Rodriguez, Culiacan