I originally started researching with a “what’s A-Rod doing wrong” angle in mind, but a very quick look at his numbers to date suggest that the belief that he’s scuffling early on is much more about impressions than results. His slashline reads a distinctly undaunting .267/.365/.422 which, in the current run environment, translates to a .365 wOBA and a wRC+ of 124. Again, those aren’t world beating numbers, but that wRC+is the fourth best mark on the team amongst everyone with at least 40 plate appearances, behind Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher.
What about his peripherals? Extremely good, actually. Through his first 104 plate appearances, A-Rod has drawn a walk 11.5% of the time while striking out at a rate of 15.4%. Both of those numbers are right around his career averages of 11% and 18%, respectively. So if A-Rod is having a problem seeing the ball, it’s not showing up there. Batted ball profile? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.
Believe it or not, A-Rod’s biggest problem right now is the small number of balls he’s been able to get in the air, as his fly ball rate curretnly stands at just 26.1%, while his ground ball rate has shot up to 53.6%. Additionally, of the 18 fly balls he’s hit thus far, 5 of them have been of the infield pop up variety. Even then, however, when you consider that ground balls have a higher xBABIP than fly balls and add A-Rod’s 20.3% line drive rate, nearly 3% higher than his career average and a mark that, if it were sustained for a full season, would be his second highest LD% since 2002, you also realize that A-Rod has been a tad bit unlucky to have a BABIP of just .286.
Now, of course, the big question we can’t answer is: which of these early season numbers are going to normalize? If A-Rod isn’t going to have a >35% fly ball rate all year (he’s not) or hit pop ups at a rate higher than one out of every four balls he puts in the air (most certainly not), can he maintain his HR/FB rate of 22.2%? That’s a number that A-Rod hasn’t really gotten close to since 2009, and has been the most glaring explanation for his struggle to hit for the sort of power we’re accustomed to over the past two seasons. On the other hand, his line drive rates have been well below his career norms in that time as well, so as he starts getting more fly balls, can he continue to square the ball up like he was doing prior to 2010?
Again, it’s obviously impossible to answer these questions, but some sort of normalization is coming here, probably sooner rather than later, and there’s at least a slight possibility that, if he stays healthy, A-Rod is poised for a big power breakout in the coming weeks and months. Or he could start hitting more fly balls to outfielders instead of ground balls to infielders. Either way, the main point here is that Alex has actually been okay in the middle of the lineup this year and, to the extent that the Yankees have a problem there, it’s mostly because of Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. More on that in a bit.