24 April 2007

A-Rod’s Non-Turning Point, and Whither the Yankee Power?


Alex Rodriguez has blown the doors off the American League this year, leading the majors in just about every relevant offensive statistic, including a record-tying 14 homers in April. With six games left to play, it's quite likely that he'll break the record, set just last year by Albert Pujols. His 14 bombs have lapped the competition, as the next closest players in the major leagues (2B Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers and SS Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies) have only seven each. His 34 RBI are 12 more than the next closest player in MLB, Jeff Francoeur, and twice as many as the #2 guy in the AL, teammate Jason Giambi. His 26 runs scored are 5 more than Rollins and Hanley Ramirez, the next closest major leaguers, and 8 more than teammate Bobby Abreu, the closest competition in the Junior Circuit. he also leads the AL in Hits (30) and leads the majors in batting average (.400) slugging (1.053) and OPS (1.507).

Unfortunately for the Yankees and their fans, the rest of the team is not exactly aiding the cause. While A-Rod smokes everything he sees, to the tune of .400/.453/1.053, most of the rest of the offense looks more like smoke and mirrors, with a modest .271/.341/.376 line. While the BA and OBP numbers are at least respectable, that slugging average would rank the Yankees #22 out of 30 MLB teams if not for the heroics of Alex the Great. As it is, with him they're 4th, but I doubt that any other team counts on such a high percentage of its offense as the Yankees have counted on A-Rod. Bronx Bombers? More like the Bronx B-B Guns. Posada's been fine all year, Jason Giambi is coming around and Abreu and Jeter seem pretty good, despite the lack of power, but Melky Cabrera and especially Doug Mientkiewicz are killing them at the bottom of the lineup. Hideki Matsui was struggling before he got hurt, and now that he's back, his ineffective replacement, Kevin Thompson has been sent back to Scranton. With Godzilla's return, the Melk Man will be delivered back to the bench and pinch hitting/running duties. Back-ups Miguel Cairo and Wil Nieves have gone 0-for-19 with one walk. Rodriguez is bound to cool off at some point, and if the rest of the Yankees don't step up by the time that happens, the fans in the Bronx could be in for a long season.


As for A-Rod, it seems there are as many explanations for his hot streak as there are experts to espouse them. I'm hearing a lot about how A-Rod's season was "turned around" by his walk-off grand slam against Baltimore on April 7th, but the notion seems laughable to me. First of all, I don't think it's fair to label anything that happens in the fourth game of the season as a "turning point". A turning point implies that you've started going somewhere already, and with less than 2% of the season's schedule played, I harldy think that's appropriate. Secondly, A-Rod was doing pretty well already, even before he hit that grand slam off Chris Ray in the bottom of the 9th on April 7th.

Before that homer, he was hitting .353/.389/.882, with two homers, three doubles and five RBIs in (almost) four games. After that homer, he's been better, to be sure, but not that much better. Since that day, he's hit .404/.460/1.053, with 11 homers, four doubles, and 25 RBIs. The really interesting thing here, though, is that if he had just continued at the pace he'd been at through the first four games or so, he would still be having an excellent, super-MVP-type season.

              AB   R    H    2B   HR  RBI  BB   SO  SB   TB   AVG   OBP   SLG    OPS 
Pre-GS Pace 75 26 27 13 9 22 4 13 4 67 .360 .392 .893 1.286
Pre-GS Proj 675 234 243 117 81 198 36 117 36 603 .360 .392 .893 1.286
Actual Pace 75 26 30 7 14 34 7 19 1 79 .400 .453 1.053 1.507
Actual Proj 675 234 270 63 126 306 63 171 9 711 .400 .453 1.053 1.505

Before he ever hit that salami on the seventh of April, A-Rod was "on a pace to" hit 81 homers, score 234 runs and drive in 198 runs, all of which would be all-time records, as you probably know. Of course, the pace he's on since then is even better, but it's not exactly like he was dragging his feet for the first few games aof the year. For that matter, he had already hit a homer that very day, in the first inning, while the Yankees were down, 1-0. The interesting thing about seeing the numbers this way is that, in addition to the hits (about one more per ten at-bats), most of the improvement comes from a few of the doubles turning into homers.

Before that grand slam, A-Rod was "on a pace to" hit 117 doubles and 81 homers, or 198 extra base hits, while his actual pace at this point is for 126 homers but "only" 63 doubles, which would be 189 extra base hits. People who believe in silly things like "turning points" in a four-game old season will probably say that this is an inidcator of him swinging harder because of the added confidence after he hit that walk off shot, and therefore hitting the ball farther, leading to more homers and fewer doubles. Those people also believe in things like "momentum" in a baseball season and "staying within yourself", whatever that means. In reality, this is probably little more than a very hot 75-at-bat sample in what will hopefully be a third MVP season for A-Rod and a 27th World Championship for the Yankees. But the latter of those will only happen if someone else on the roster starts to hit a homer once in a while.

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