For reasons that no one has really been able to explain, Alex Rodriguez has continued to look completely lost at the plate now for over a month. Last week I thought I saw some signs that he might be snapping out of it, but after putting up a .200/.259/.360 line this past week (compared with .231/.286/.231 the week before) things don’t seem to be getting any better for Alex.
So what on earth is wrong with the man who tore through the AL for his first 15 games to the tune of a .354/.492/.792 line but has since hit .183/.227/.239 over his last 18 and has essentially felt like an automatic out every time he steps up to the plate? Many have cited the oblique issue that kept him out of the lineup for a few games as a turning point, and the numbers would appear to back that up, but if A-Rod truly is playing through an injury, however minor, and isn’t at 100%, that is a huge problem as he has been almost worthless to the team (Alex has been worth 0.1 fWAR over his last 30 days).
Here is his batted ball data from the last 7 days (c/o Fangraphs):
I’ve highlighted in red the numbers I think are most worth noting. As you can see, his 2011 LD% is considerably off his career mark, as is his HR/FB%. The good news is the low HR/FB% should correct itself, as A-Rod dealt with a very similar situation a year ago and ultimately ended his 2010 season with a 17.1% — not great, and that was still a career-low, but with a career rate higher than 20% it’s highly unlikely that A-Rod’s fly balls continue to only clear the fence at a mere 13% clip.
For a visual look at where A-Rod’s been putting the ball, here’s his spray chart since April 25, courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com:
Those four pop-outs in foul territory are awful, though I suppose if one wanted to one could take it as an encouraging sign that the majority of his outs to the outfield have been hit to the opposite field.
Here are his last three weeks’ worth of plate discipline and pitch-type data:
After showing improved plate discipline numbers the week prior to this one, Alex’s patience and swing seemed to evaporate again, as he increased his Z-Swing% but only made contact with 80.1% of the pitches in the zone he swung at, compared with 93% the week prior, 86.8% on the season and 83.3% for his career. This also contributed to an overall Contact% of 72.1%, compared with 78.8% on the 2011 season and 75.7% on his career. And after cutting his SwStr% down to 6.3% the week before this one, he whiffed on 13.0% of the pitches he saw this past week, compared to 9.0% on the season and 10.5% on his career.
With regards to the pitch types he faced this past week, Alex saw a considerable drop in fastballs compared to the previous week (51.6% compared to 62.2%) and a major increase in sliders (which he saw once every four pitches). He also saw an uptick in cutters. Believe it or not, he’s still the Yankees’ second-best fastball hitter (6.1 runs above average; with Curtis Granderson leading the team and ranking 3rd in all of baseball at 13.2) but has negative run values against the slider (-1.4, second-worst on the team, behind Granderson), cutter (-1.5, second-worst on the team, once again behind Granderson) and changeup (-2.3, worst on the team). Interesting to see that Granderson has arguably struggled against sliders and cutters even moreso than Alex but has still managed to put together an MVP-caliber campaign thus far.
He’s swung at at least 5 changeups out of the zone, and more alarmingly, nine curveballs. He’s also swung at six out-of-the-zone sliders. I don’t know if occasionally swinging at low stuff is par for the course for Alex over his career, but he appears to be hacking at a fair amount of pitches below the zone that he just can’t get to.
He’s also swung at quite a few heaters on the inner half of the plate and has been seduced by the high fastball eight times. I’d love to see a replay on the four-seamer Alex swung at located at -3 feet horizontal and 3 feet vertical.
I always want my baseball players to be patient and wait for their pitch, but in Alex’s case he may be letting a few too many hittable pitches get by. I count roughly 13 four-seamers in either the middle or outer half of the plate; locations where Alex should generally be able to do quite a bit of damage.
As noted in my first post in this series, Alex continues to be pitched primarily high and inside and low and away.
The other thing I’ve been wondering about A-Rod’s slump is whether he’s been getting himself out. Anecdotally it seems like Alex — along with seemingly all of his teammates — has been getting himself into a fair number of good hitters’ counts and yet still hasn’t been able to come through.
Fortunately we can try to find out whether there’s any truth to that sentiment via Baseball-Reference’s splits page. If Fangraphs ever adds Plate Discipline and Pitch Types by count, RISP and Men On, I’d be able to delve even more granularly into this analysis, but we’ll have to make due with what we’ve got.
The below table takes a look at some of Alex’s key batting splits and also compares them to his OPS in all situations (tOPS+; where better than 100 means the batter did better in a given split than usual and vice versa) and compared to the league OPS for that split (sOPS+, where better than 100 means the batter did better than the league and vice versa).
Once again I’ve highlighted the trouble spots in red. One thing that immediately stands out is that Alex’s struggles against lefthanded pitching, which I delved into over the offseason, have not gone away. It is quite baffling that a hitter of his caliber who has historically destroyed lefthanded pitching (.392 career wOBA) would struggle so mightily with what should be a favorable split for a righthanded batter.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the numbers don’t quite bear out my theory that A-Rod has been struggling to get the job done in hitters’ counts; although what they do show is that Alex has been a near-black hole once the pitcher gets ahead (a paltry 8 sOPS+ in those situations). Oddly, Alex also has been pretty terrible once the count runs full (48 sOPS+; 29 tOPS+), and also after running the count to 3-0 (73 sOPS+; a comical 7 tOPS+). I suppose these struggles with full counts and “After 3-0″ are partially responsible for why it feels like Alex hasn’t been getting it done when he gets ahead.
All told, this paints a pretty disheartening picture. I’m no hitting coach, so I have no idea what the answer is for Alex. His pitch recognition skills still don’t appear to have come back, and he does seem, to a certain extent, to be getting himself out in favorable hitters’ counts.
While this certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen Alex slump as a Yankee, it’s a bit disconcerting given that he had a similar stretch of futility last season, and it’s not as if he’s getting any younger. I still believe Alex is talented enough to pull out of it, but he’s pretty clearly trying to do too much and must exhibit a greater degree of patience. I can live with making outs if a pitcher has legitimately beaten a given player, but getting yourself out due to an overeagerness to correct oneself and swinging at bad pitches in hitters’ counts is rather infuriating.
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