Earlier this month, when I took a look at the Yankees and how they fared when compared to average hitters at their positions, the one thing that shocked me the most was just how depressed offense at the hot corner was. Alex Rodriguez, who was not having an Alex Rodriguez year, was still sporting a 123/118/129 adjusted line when compared to your average American League third baseman.
Before we go farther, let’s talk about A-Rod’s season. To say it’s been bad would be selling Rodriguez way short. When comparing all American League third basemen with at least 100 plate appearances, Rodriguez’s wOBA (.367) and wRC+ (131) are second only to Boston’s Kevin Youkilis (.377 and 136 respectively). He’s also second in fWAR (3.9) to Youkilis (4.1) despite having 125 fewer plate appearances than the bearded Bostonite. Still, something just doesn’t seem quite right with Rodriguez.
And there is something off. The power just hasn’t been there. His IsoP is at .187 coming into today, which is the lowest mark he’s ever had in a full season. He’s hitting more balls into the ground and more balls into the air, which continues a trend that started last year. However, when he is putting balls into the air, they’re not traveling for homers like they have been in the past. Last year’s 17.1% HR/FB was a career low, but this year it’s down to 13.7%. It would seem that when A-Rod is hitting the ball in the air, it’s with far less authority. By the “eye test,” we’ve confirmed this, too. It seems like A-Rod has “just missed” a bunch of balls this year. Perhaps this is just the normal regression of a great hitter, but it’s pretty freaking awesome that a declining A-Rod is still right up there as one of the best hitting third basemen in baseball.
Yesterday at FanGraphs, Eno Sarris had a piece up about the declining offense of third basemen, and that just reinforces the point made at the end of the last paragraph. What we’re seeing from Alex Rodriguez in 2011 is not what we’re used to. But, he’s still an above average hitting third baseman. If this downward trend continues, it will make Rodriguez even more important to the Yankees than he is right now. Offense has long been a given at the hot corner, but as this position continues into its “bust cycle,” as Sarris described it, offense from there will be more valuable.
The future does remain a bit uncertain. We can argue that Rodriguez hasn’t been fully healthy in a long time and that as he moves farther along, he’ll get healthier and his production will rebound. However, he’s also getting older, which means that the likelihood of him staying healthy isn’t as strong as we’d prefer it to be. There’s also the issue of his contract, but I’m over that. It was a bad contract, but fortunately, it was designed to be front loaded. As the years move on, Rodriguez will be making less money. Even so, it’s a lot of money, but we’ve got to get over it and realize that Rodriguez still has the capability to be a valuable player. The Yankees are stuck with Rodriguez until the end of that contract, unless a team wants to be incredibly generous and take it off their hands, and there’s about as much a chance of that happening as there is of me sprouting wings when this post hits the ‘tubes.
The nice thing about Alex Rodriguez is that he’s performed at such a ridiculously high level for so long that even when he’s in (what may be) decline, he’s still above average for his position. That could be a product of the position going down and A-Rod treading water, but I’ll take it. Rodriguez is the type of player who can look like he’s treading water one week, then be setting world records the next. If I’ve learned one thing in my years of watching baseball, it’s not to doubt the talent of Alex Rodriguez.
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