In 2008, Alex Rodriguez’s defense at third base had declined significantly.
Though his UZR was a respectable -2.6 — basically an average mark — a significant portion of that figure was masked by Alex’s ability to refrain from making errors, as he was worth 3.1 error runs (ErrR) above average. A player’s UZR is a three-pronged statistic calculated by adding error runs, double play runs, and range runs together. While A-Rod was fairly effective in the way of avoiding errors and average in double play runs (-1.0 DPR), ultimately, it was his range that had betrayed him. Alex was 5.6 runs below average with regards to range runs, which was the second worst mark in the American League and the second worst in all of baseball. Further, the number was actually the worst of A-Rod’s four-year career at third base. Thus, his final UZR figure of -2.6, while generally “average” on the surface, was troubling when viewed at season’s end.
For those who wondered about the off-year, range-wise, questions regarding the 33-year old’s age seemed salient. The Yankees’ third baseman did, however, suffer from a quad injury in late April, which he basically tried to play through until he re-aggravated the injury in May, so perhaps that quad strain was the cause for Alex’s troubles. It was certainly a circumstance that was capable of influencing his range, although it would not necessarily account for his range struggles for the remainder of the season (unless he was continuing to play hurt all year).
Then, of course, earlier this year, we learned of Alex’s hip problems including a cyst and a more serious labral tear brought on by a misshapen femur head, an injury which reportedly hindered him, at times, in 2008. The discovery, along with the quad injury, certainly seemed to explain, at least in part, the lack of range witnessed throughout much of the previous season. Rather than worry about age in relation to defense, injury appeared to be the main culprit as it must have influenced A-Rod’s overall mobility. Of course, age is still an issue with regards to defensive decline, but for 2008, it did not appear to be the overriding issue. Alex later had surgery in March to resolve the tear and partially correct the bone impingement that had caused it. While many worried about his offensive production upon his return, his defense was also a concern.
After a successful rehabilitation program, Alex returned to the team in May and, even from a subjective point of view, it was fairly easy to see that his range at third was extremely diminished. Whether this was brought on from the recovery period after his surgery, the lack of a spring training, the change in his offseason routine, understandable injury apprehension, or a combination of the four factors, his defense was definitely taxing (especially without an adequate defensive backup earlier in the season), though it did seem to improve — maybe with his hip — as the season wore on (from what I can tell, there is no UZR per month measure, so the noted improvement is based on my individual perceptions). At the end of the 2009 season, Alex’s final UZR stood at -8.6, which was a career low at third base, and a negative number generated mainly by being 9.8 range runs below average. At his position, Alex’s UZR was the worst in the American League, while his lack of range and relative immobility was second only to Texas’ Michael Young (-13.1), who was playing third base regularly for the first time in his career.
So, what’s to make of this, really? Well, over the past two seasons, Alex Rodriguez, at least in terms of actual range, has been one of the worst defenders at his position. The defensive downturn is, however, understandable in that lower half injuries, and, specifically, a balky right hip, have had a significant negative impact on Alex’s ability to man the hot corner. Though he does not need to undergo a second surgical procedure in order to further the health of his hip, one still wonders how the injury, as well as the “hybrid surgery” employed to correct the injury, might have affected A-Rod’s mobility in 2010 and beyond. He could, of course, rebound with a clean bill of health in tow, but, what if his range is similar to that of 2008 or 2009 (I doubt he could be as bad as he was in ’09)? That would be an issue, although, with his bat, the Yankees could easily live with his 2008 range.
In the end, it will be interesting to see how A-Rod’s defense plays out for the Yankees this season, post-hip problems and at the age of 34 (going on 35). Alex is signed through 2017, so if his defense continues to slide as a result of his recent lower half injuries, it could become a long-term question that the team may have to address via a position shift (it won’t happen anytime soon, if at all, as his offensive value is intimately tied to his play at third). However, to prepare for the defensive worst in the immediate future, the Yankees’ 2010 bench should probably consist of a good glove that can play third base, just in case Alex’s mobility at the hot corner is overly limited.
Photo by Greg Flume/Getty Images
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