It’s been a strange week for Alex Rodriguez, who began the 2011 season on absolute fire, but has looked almost comically bad at the plate during the last week.
Before anyone gets too crazy, I’m not trying to insinuate that anything significant is going on here — every player in baseball has lousy weeks, and I have full confidence that Alex will get back to playing the awe-inspiring baseball he was wowing everyone with during the first few weeks of the season — but I thought it’d be interesting to look at the data to see what, if anything, was different about Alex’s (or the pitchers he’s faced) approach, given how dramatically different this past week has been.
After last Sunday’s game, April 24 at Baltimore, Alex was hitting .354/.492/.792 on the season, and had walked 14 times against six strikeouts. During the past week Alex hit .120/.120/.160, with zero walks and eight strikeouts.
So what happened to Alex during his past six games? For starters, his plate discipline went out the window (data per Fangraphs):
Not that you needed a chart to tell you this, but during the past few days A-Rod chased quite a few more pitches out of the zone, and made less contact with those pitches than he had been. He also swung more often in general, taking cuts at more than half the pitches he saw, but made contact at a distinctly poorer rate (66.7%, down from his season average of 78.4%).
The weaker hacks have unsurprisingly resulted in a lousier batted ball profile, with a 0% Line Drive% during the past seven days (compared to 11.5% on the season) and 47.1% GB% (compared to 41% on the season).
He’s also been getting himself out to a certain extent, taking bad hacks in favorable counts that you’d ordinarily expect good things to come from Alex (A-Rod is a career .347/.534/.690 hitter in over 4,000 plate appearances ahead in the count). By my count, Alex got ahead in the count (for these purposes defined as any at-bat that experienced a 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1, 3-1 or 3-2 count at any point) in 12 of his 25 plate appearances from the past week and only picked up two hits, a double and a single. His first two at-bats against Jesse Litsch yesterday in particular were highly frustrating as well as something of a microcosm of his week, as he worked Litsch for a 3-0 count in his first- at-bat before striking out on three straight called strikes, and got to 3-1 in his second at-bat before flying out.
I also wanted to see if pitchers were pitching him any differently. The following table is culled from data from Fangraphs:
Unsurprisingly, after punishing the fastball all season long (8.5 runs above average, 3rd-best in the American League), pitchers stopped throwing him as many this past week, as he only saw 42.2% compared to a season average of 56.7%. Coinciding with the drop in heaters was a significant spike in offspeed pitches — 18.1% sliders (up from 14.5% on the season) and a curveball nearly a quarter of the time (compared to 13.3% on the season). This jives with Mike Axisa’s excellent post from last week taking a look at how pitchers — to an extent – have been exploiting the Yankees’ fastball-happy tendencies this season. Expect Alex to continue receiving a heavier diet of offspeed stuff until he starts showing he can punish it.
Pitchers have also been more selective in their location against Alex of late.
Here’s Alex’s Swinging Pitch Types. The lefthand box is on the season, the righthand is this past week’s data (data taken from TexasLeaguers.com; click to enlarge).
Here are his take pitch types:
And here’s A-Rod’s called strike zone:
As you can see, during this past week, pitchers have almost exclusively taken one of two routes against Alex — high and inside, or low and away. Alex really seemed to struggle with the curve low and away this past week, swinging at six of ‘em out of the strike zone.
In any event, as mentioned previously, I don’t think there’s anything in here to get terribly worked up over; hitters have terrible weeks all the time. For Alex, it looks like he may be a tad anxious at the plate, and, as has always been the case with him, he needs to sit back and wait for his pitch so he can get back to driving the ball with authority.
His mastery of the strike zone during the first few weeks of the season was almost uncanny, and it’s been bizarre to see him flail away at non-strikes these last few games, but I have no doubt he’s analyzing this far more than we are and will take the necessary steps to adjust to the way pitchers have been attacking him.
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