Following the great heist that was Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later for Alex Rodriguez in February of 2004, there was speculation about who should play shortstop. Alex had won two Gold Gloves playing shortstop the previous two seasons while in Texas, and was regarded by many to be the best player in baseball; both for his contributions with his glove and with his bat. On the flipside, Derek Jeter had never won a Gold Glove and many had griped about his declining range at short and the unnecessary jump throw that he made famous.
Derek was, and still is the face of the Yankee franchise so there was little chance of him relinquishing shortstop. There was much ado about the relationship between Alex and Derek and how it would affect the chemistry in the clubhouse with the strained relationship after Alex’s infamous Esquire interview in 2001. Needless to say, Derek handled the acquisition with open arms like the captain and class act that he is. Who wouldn’t want one of the best players in the past 50 years — potentially of all time — on their team?
Alex handled the move to third base gracefully and he did quite well manning the hot corner for his first full season. That season was his best season defensively according to defensive sabermetrics, as he posted an UZR/150 of 11.6. The combination of his range and the strong arm that made him such a great shortstop was a major reason why he was able to command the position with great ease. His offensive numbers clearly showed he belonged as a power-hitting third baseman, while defensively he was proving the critics that he could indeed handle the hot corner. Meanwhile, Jeter went ahead and won three consecutive gold gloves, bewildering many a statistically-inclined baseball fan.
Most pundits thought Alex would be able to switch positions with no problem, as many professional players that began their minor league careers as shortstops eventually had to relinquish that position in order to realistically make the cut and stay in the big leagues (See Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera). Unfortunately, it seems as though 2004 was a defensive fluke. Sabermetricians rank third base as an easier position to play versus shortstop on the defensive position scale, so it seemed as though the transition should be easy.
In 2005, Alex’s range dropped significantly. In 2004 his range had a rating of 7.0 runs saved compared to 2005 with a rating of -2.6. That loss of range alone cost the Yankees a game in the win loss column. However, what he lost in defensive prowess he clearly made up for with his bat. His WAR in 2005 was 9.4, the second-highest total of his six-year Yankee career, garnering Alex his second career MVP award, barely edging out David Ortiz in in a highly contested battle.
2006 was by far his worst season as he continued to add more weight to his frame and became a liability at third. He led all AL third basemen with 24 errors and had the lowest fielding percentage in the majors (.924). His range diminished as he now cost the Yankees 5.3 runs over the course of the season. His UZR/150 was a career low -12.4. Offensively it was a down year for Alex’s standards, but above average for most players. He had a wRC+ of 140 in 2006, one of the lowest of his career, which obviously speaks volumes to how much of a dominant player he truly is.
Alex turned it around in 2007 after losing a significant amount of weight in the offseason, trimming his body fat from 16% down to 9%. This was the year Alex declared that he and Derek were no longer as close as they once were. 2007 was also the year that he absolutely tore up the month of April. Alex made some swing adjustments by shortening his swing and reducing his leg kick and the results were phenomenal. In the month of April he hit 14 home runs and drove in 34 runs. That, my friends, is more than some players put up in an entire season. (See Jose Molina, Tony Womack, Enrique Wilson).
Whatever Alex did wrong in 2006 he undoubtedly made up for it in 2007. He took home his second MVP award in three years and had an absolutely ridiculous wRC+ of 179. His defense didn’t much matter that season — when you’re that much of an offensive powerhouse you could wear cement shoes in the field and still help the team. Alex actually had a good season at third, posting an above-average fielding percentage and an UZR/150 of 2.3.
According to Gary Palmer’s btWins statistic, Alex provided 6.3 wins with his bat that season. In case you don’t remember his 2007 statistics, I’m happy to remind you:
.314/.422/.645 (for the highest OPS of his career), and 54/143/156 with 24 SBs.
He had a career-high ISO of .331 that season. Coincidentally, this was also the season where Alex opted out of his record-setting $252 million dollar contract. After some deliberation and a falling out with Scott Boras, Alex ended up signing another record-setting 10-year deal for $275 million.
2008 seemed to be a non-factor season for Alex. The most attention he received was due to his extramarital affairs. Alex’s wife left him and these off the field distractions really seemed to get the best of him. Many people were shaking their heads as to why the Yankees gave him such a monster contract when he never performed when it counted and seemed to be the second coming of Mr. May. He was the goat of New York for his continued failure in the postseason and he would never become enshrined by Yankees fans until he could prove it in October.
Of course, despite any perceived shortcomings, Alex still had a great season in 2008, with a line of .302/.392/.573 and 35/104/103, a wRC+ of 157, a WAR of 6.0 and a UZR/150 of -3.2. I’d take that season each and every year from any third basemen. It seems 2008 got lost in the shuffle and buried away by Yankees fans since it was the first full season since 1993 that the Yankees did not make the playoffs. Between scads of injuries, the team losing Jorge for a good portion of the season and Cano having a brutal year, the Yankees found themselves in a hole they ultimately couldn’t get out of.
Which brings us to the 2009 season, which certainly had its fair share of ups and downs. First Alex declared that he would play for the Dominican Republic in the WBC, spurning the United States. (To me this wasn’t a big deal, and I personally don’t think Major League players should play in the WBC). Alex then pulled himself out of the WBC due to a cyst on his hip, one thing led to another and it was found that he had a torn labrum. Alex would require immediate arthroscopic surgery to repair his right hip with hopes of getting back on the playing field for some time during the season.
Questions about coming back healthy for the season were all that any fan could think of, especially after doling out $275 million one year earlier. Despite normally requiring a recovery period of three to four months, Alex came back from surgery in a mere nine weeks. There were still questions of whether or not Alex would need a second
surgery but everyone knew that if the Yankees could hold out for the month of April without Alex in the lineup, that they would have a good chance at a championship in 2009 even with Alex at 75%.
The next fiasco was the leak of a sealed test from 2003 that Alex had tested positive for a banned substance Primobolan. Alex’s press conference seemed contrived and practiced but he was able to field all of the questions and seemed to take responsibility for his actions like a man. During that same time Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts published a book chronicling Rodriguez’s life. Roberts claimed that he had taken steroids while with the Yankees after he had failed the 2003 test as well as while a teenager in high school.
It seemed as though Alex couldn’t stay out of the news and what he needed was a couple of months away from baseball. That time off spent in rehab was exactly what Alex needed, not to mention that Manny Ramirez, the other premier righthanded slugger of the same generation tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for 50 games.
Alex started the season on May 8 against the Baltimore Orioles in perfect fashion, clubbing a three-run home run on the first pitch of his first at-bat. After missing the first month of the season injecting Alex back in to the Yankee lineup was exactly what the doctor ordered. Mark Teixeira finally started hitting once he had protection and the team looked sharp. Alex had another fine season and capped the season just the way he started it, in grand fashion. In his final game on October 4, he hit two home runs and drove in seven runs to make him the only player in MLB history to have 30 HRs and 100 RBIs in 12 consecutive seasons, 13 overall. Alex finished the season with this line: .286/.402/.532, 30/78/100 with a wRC+ of 151, a WAR of 4.4 and a UZR/150 of -11.7. It may seem pedestrian for Alex, but it’s truly phenomenal when considering that he only played in 124 games and came off a major surgical procedure.
As the Yankees strolled into the playoffs and watched a one-game playoff decide their ALDS opponent, it seemed as though Alex used that final regular season game as a spring board to a momentous 2009 playoff performance. He manhandled the Twins to the tune of a .429 batting average with three home runs and 6 RBI, and of course, no home run was bigger than the one hit in Game 2 of the ALDS.
Down two runs coming into the bottom of the ninth, Mark Teixeira ripped a single down the right field line against Joe Nathan. Alex then came to the plate and delivered a monster home run to right center field to tie up the game. The Yankees would eventually go on to win the game in extra innings on a Teixeira home run, but from that day onward every Yankee fan wanted Alex up at the plate instead of wishing it was anyone but him. This was truly the turning point in the game as the Yankees had their backs to the walls and fought their way to a gripping 2-0 lead instead of a 1-1 series going back to Minnesota.
Next stop was the ALCS to play their achilles’ heel, the Anaheim Angels. Alex’s hot bat continued and the late game heroics followed once again. This time, while facing Brian Fuentes during a frigid Game 2 he hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, recording his third game-tying home run in six games. The Yankees went on to win that game in the same nail-biting fashion as Game 2 of the ALDS and you could tell this team was destined for it all.
He continued his hot hitting into Philadelphia and drove in the go-ahead runs in the ninth inning against Brad Lidge in Game 4. Of course, nothing comes without a cause; many were giving credit to new girlfriend Kate Hudson on Alex’s new found success in the post season. I for one didn’t care — as long as the Yankees were winning why not go with what works.
Hey, we all know how superstitious baseball players are, but I’ll save that for another post. With all of the personal records and accolades that Alex has racked up in his storied career, I found it highly satisfying that he was finally able to earn the elusive championship that had evaded him for the previous 13 seasons.
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