Brent Rooker, a 29-year-old somewhat journeyman who spent three previous seasons on three different MLB ball clubs, embodied what it meant to be an Athletic in 2023. Without much expectations heading into the season even after a solid Spring Training, Rooker quickly proved to be the team's everyday Designated Hitter and the most dangerous bat in the entire line-up with tons of career highs and accolades to prove it.
Rooker was claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals on November 17, 2022.
What were the expectations?
A career bench bat and fringe minor league player who’d never surpassed 200 at-bats before 2023, the expectations for Rooker were to be that same potentially dangerous platoon bat who’d also fill in at the corner outfield spots after an impressive Spring Training.
Rooker outdid himself and then some in 2023. In 463 at-bats, Rooker posted career highs in every single offensive category including average (.246), home runs (30), RBIs (69), hits (114), and runs (61). He was also the team leader in home runs, RBIs, walks, and tied for hits with Esteury Ruiz. Rooker was also among American League leaders in various categories including 11th in home runs, 12th in slugging, 24th in OBP, 13th in OPS, and even 22nd in HBP. All of this yielded an all-star game appearance for Rooker in July as the team’s lone representative.
Although Rooker slowed down in the second half of the season after coming out of the gate on fire in April batting .358, he fulfilled many roles for the A’s in 2023. Rooker became the team's consistent DH while also starting 25 games in right and 27 in left as he was everything guys like Jesus Aguilar were supposed to be at the dish. Rooker ranked within the top 20 hitters in baseball in wRC+ at 127, second to only Zack Gelof on the A’s with 133 in a significantly shorter sample size. Rooker aimed for 25 home runs on the season but was able to eclipse that total in mid-September while hitting his 30th and final big fly of the year in his last at-bat of 2023.
What went right? What went wrong?
Considering Rooker’s season compared to years past, 2023 was revolutionary and a large success. He went from a waiver wire acquisition in November to an all-star just under a year later in July while posting some monster numbers in his first full MLB consistent playing time. Aside from just pure hitting, Rooker got on base frequently through HBP’s and a walk rate of 9.3% which is nearly a full tick above MLB average. While looking at the full 162-game season, Rooker was objectively the sure offensive MVP for the A’s in 2023.
The biggest knock on Rooker’s 2023, however, has to be his strikeouts. Rooker struck out 172 times which placed him 5th amongst AL hitters. He struck out in 32.7% of his at-bats which is 10% over the league average of 22.9%. While he grooved fastballs all season long, Rooker struggled with the breaking pitches and off-speed posting a 53.1 and 53.2 Whiff% in both respectively. This could also be an explanation as to why his numbers slowed down a bit in the second half as AL pitchers grew more aware of his weaknesses.
If it wasn’t for Rooker’s breakout 2023 season we could’ve been talking about 2024 as a make-or-break season potentially. Instead, Rooker all but guaranteed himself another prominent MLB role in 2024 where he’ll be the team's starting DH again and a consistent middle-of-the-order bat. Fangraphs projects another solid season from Rooker but also believes numbers like his average, home runs, and OBP will drop a little, so it’ll be up to Rooker to prove that 2023 wasn’t a fluke by backing it up this season. He’ll have every chance to do so in an A’s lineup that for the moment, looks pretty identical to last seasons. Seeing his strikeouts drop would be a nice icing on the cake as well, but still, if 2024 is similar enough to 2023 for Rooker, the A’s will definitely take it.