Should A-Rod be on a short leash?

It’s easy to overreact to one game in the postseason, especially the first game, and it’s possible that Alex can change the perception of him quite quickly with a good game tonight, but there was some real reason to worry about his ability to remain effective in the middle of the Yankees’ order. Most of all, and somewhat paradoxically, he didn’t chase pitches out of the zone last night. Via Texas Leaguers, here’s a visualization of all of the pitches A-Rod hacked at in Game One:

As you can see, with the exception of one slider away, all of these pitches are in or around the strike zone, and they’re all fastballs. We saw A-Rod have trouble with fastballs in last year’s ALDS, but that was when he was just coming back from a thumb injury. He’s had some more time to get over the wrist injury he suffered this year, but he’s been struggling with his timing on fastballs for most of the year anyway. Watching him whiff on four hittable fastballs was certainly not what the Yankees anted to see from their number three hitter as they open their latest postseason campaign.

Look, I’m as big a fan of A-Rod as anyone, but it’s certainly safe to say that the only reason he’s still a middle of the order hitter in 2012 is because of the name on the lineup card. His power has been severely diminished all season, and he’s the one guy in the middle of the order opposing pitchers don’t seem afraid to challenge with fastballs in tough spots. It’s not the time for a rash decision, but if Alex doesn’t start producing like a middle of the order hitter, Joe Girardi should seriously consider moving him into the second half of the lineup. Especially if Mark Teixeira is able to overcome that calf injury and hit with some pop, I’d probably be inclined to move him down to the sixth spot in the lineup, where his discipline can create some opportunities for the bottom of the order to do some extra damage, but he won’t necessarily be the guy you need to count on to move Derek Jeter or Ichiro Suzuki around.

For more on how this is no longer A-Rod’s lineup to carry, see William’s article from yesterday

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

27 thoughts on “Should A-Rod be on a short leash?

  1. ProfRobert

    The problem is that the Yankees, right now, have no reliable four-five hitters. Jeter-Suzuki-Cano, is a great one-two-three punch, but, at least against righties, everyone else is really a No. 6 hitter: Teixiera, Granderson, Swisher and A-Rod. Swish is hot right now, so I can see putting him in at No. 5 for now, but Tex hasn't shaken off the rust from the calf injury yet (booming single last night notwithstanding), Grandy strikes out way too much to clean-up these days, and A-Rod is now a singles hitter who walks. If Tex gets hot, that could solve the problem, but until then, paradoxically perhaps, A-Rod with his singles and walks at least might get on ahead of Cano and Swisher (I think someone made this point on William's article yesterday).

    • I wouldn’t have a problem with Swisher batting third the way he’s playing right now.

    • Eli

      Then again given Nick Swisher's historically atrocious post-season numbers I think moving him to the 3 spot would be an over-reaction to one game.

  2. williamjtasker

    It was just one game. I think you play out this series and then reevaluate.

  3. uyf1950

    ProfRobert very good points, I would also like to point out sure A-Rod is struggling and has struggled. But the last time I checked over the last 20 plus games with A-Rod batting 3rd or 4th the Yankees have won over 75% of those games. Now granted A-Rod obviously is not the main reason that's the case, but since baseball is a team sport why mess with something that isn't broke. As long as the Yankees keep winning does it really matter that A-Rod is batting in the #3 or 4 holes?
    Besides as ProfRobert mentioned above there really isn't anyone to move around that is really an upgrade in the #3 or 4 slot. I realize Swisher is hot right now but are our memories so short that we have forgotten Swisher's postseason history. Just food for thought.

  4. AROD-kinda-sucks

    The problem is that ARod hasn't been the Yankees best third baseman against right handed pitching this year by an enormous margin. In 81 fewer plate appearances (274 vs 356) Chavez has a higher Ave (.298 vs .256), with 6 more Hrs, 1 more RBI, 37 fewer Ks, and a near 200 pt advantage in OPS (.908 vs. .717 for ARod). ARod should be on the bench vs righties with Chavez batting cleanup if the Yankees are serious about winning thenWorld Series this year. it's hard to swallow given his great career, large contract, and huge ego, but the numbers don't lie and neither do our eyes as we watch ARod flail against right handed pitching.

    • thehawkishowling

      I've been saying this all year long. Chavez needs to be in the lineup against righties. How can Girardi deny these numbers. Put the loyalty aside and realize Chavez needs to be in the game.

  5. condonini

    Ah, this feels like Deja Vu all over again as a certain Yankees catcher once said.

    We all know 2009 was the exception, not the rule as A-Rod's past two postseason performances have shown. He tightens up in big spots, and although last night he didn't expand the strike zone, he looked miserable against very hittable fastballs (which is in some ways even more off putting).

    In my opinion the biggest problem with A-Rod batting 3rd is his diminished power. I'm not sure if it's the hand, father time, a lack of steroids or all of the above, but both his OPS and Slugging % are on a steady decline since his return from the DL. He simply is not generating the power we need from a 3-spot hitter. My suggestion would be that if you're not comfortable batting Grandy there, at least put Swish there.

    If we hadn't had that big 9th (in which A-Rod was not a part of), A-Rod's performance could've doomed us (again). It is time to face realities and bat A-Rod 7th. Take some pressure off of him, and let him find his groove down there.

  6. I know a-rod was one of the main reasons the yankees won the WS in 09, but ever since he has struggled, remember 07,06,05? 09 was just the bright spot of his playoff career. The last two postseasons have ended the same way, with arod striking out, 2010 against the rangers in game 6 of the ALCS and against detroit in last year's game 5 of the ALDS, my opinion put him on the 7th spot

  7. yankeegm

    C'mon…enough of the Arod bashing. Yeah, we get it he's old, no longer a perennial MVP candidate and Hank signed him for entirely too long and for too much money…but for god's sake continuing to post on ever goose egg is so petty and completely lacks imagination. You guys are so much better than that! Arod is here for the next hundred years, making a trillion dollars a year and will never ever live up to the deal he signed…move on!

    • skeaney

      I'm pretty sure they stated exactly that in the article. The biggest concern is not that he exists but that he exists in the top 5 of the batting order.

      Right now he should either be #2 for his on base skills or in the bottom 3rd.

      • yankeegm

        Thats just not gonna happen. At least not this or next year. Arod, like all ballplayers, is an ego-driven performer. You can't crush that ego and expect it not to affect him. If Arod were significantly worse than every other option for the middle of the order I might say screw the ego, but since he isn't there's no use whinning about him.

        I might have been a bit unfair to TYA, but I am really sick of the Arod sucks mantra by some Yankees fans.

        • yankeegm

          Sorry, IATMS not TYA…got my blogs mixed up!

          • BrienJackson

            I've been called worse. :)

            Anyway, if you're implying that I'm an A-Rod hater, well, I don't think most would agree with that. My point is merely that he hasn't looked very good at the plate for a few weeks now, is having trouble barreling up fastballs in the zone, and has had his power on a downward decline for some years now. this isn't like Torre dropping him down in 2006 or something.

  8. David

    ARod was 22nd overall and 4th on the Yankees (behind Cano, Swisher and Jeter) in OBP… isn't that sort of what you want in the 3 hole in front of Cano and Swisher (5th)? Even last night the announcers were curious how he was laying off some pitches that were called for balls; his eyes seem as good as ever, even if his bat speed isn't?

    • That’s only marginally useful is the pitcher isn’t afraid to throw fastballs in the zone and you can’t hit them hard, though.

  9. uyf1950

    I still contend putting the personal numbers aside A-Rod in the line up makes all the players better. Look at the time A-Rod spent on the the DL I believe the Yankees were 5 games under .500 or something like that during that time. And when he came back the results speak for themselves. Cano, Swisher and Martin all started to hit better. Could it be a coincidence, possibly. But could it be A-Rod being back in the line up? you have to decide for yourselves. I know I have.

  10. Norm

    I think the stat they mentioned last night, that A-Rod is hitting something like .138 in his last 65 postseason at-bats says it all. Plus, the fact teams have been walking guys like Swisher to face him says to me teams no longer regard him as a threat. Let's face facts. He's a 37 year old player with rapidly diminishing skills that the Yankees are stuck with for another 5 years. All we can hope for at this point his enormous ego will not allow him to become a object of ridicule, and he'll retire.

    • uyf1950

      Very, very small sampling size my friend. That number that was quoted above includes the 2010, 2011 (ALDS) and this 1 game for 2012 postseason. Now if you include the 2009 postseason numbers it jumps from .138 as you said above to .267 That's the problem with using such a small sample size as you have mentioned.

  11. williamjtasker

    Most teams make it to the post season because they have excellent pitching. And only their best pitchers will pitch in a short series. Knowing that always makes it curious when people start mentioning a player's low post season production.

  12. LarryAtIIATMS

    I know we love to discuss batting orders, but the smart guys with the advanced numbers tell us that batting orders matter very little. If A-Rod is in the starting lineup, it makes only a small difference whether he hits third or sixth, a difference that (for the post-season at least) is rendered insignificant by small sample size.

    • uyf1950

      Larry, I have to say I don't buy it. No one could convince me that if for the 1st half of the year Martin and Jones were batting 1 and 2 in the line up instead of Jeter and Swisher or Jeter and Granderson that the Yankees still would have been up by 10 games around the All Star break. No way shape or form. Just my opinion.

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        uyf, you can start by looking here: http://bit.ly/ft3YUU. The best evidence we have is that compared to a typical batting order, an optimal batting order is worth about 5-15 extra runs over a 162-game season. That comes out to less than one-tenth a run a game. That's not significant, standing alone. And that's for an entire lineup. If you consider single lineup moves, the difference shrinks further. The studies say that if you bat your pitcher cleanup, that will cost your team 5-15 runs over a season.

        Consider the runs created (wRC) numbers for A-Rod compared to those for another possible 3rd place hitter in the lineup, Nick Swisher. According to FanGraphs, Swisher finished 2012 with a wRC+ of 126, meaning that he was 26% better at creating runs than the average player. A-Rod's wRC+ was 116 in 2012 — 16% better than league average, which certainly indicates that A-Rod is a positive contributor to the Yankees' lineup. Again according to Fangraphs' computation of wRC, Swisher created 20 more runs this season than did A-Rod. Those are raw numbers, and you need to adjust them a bit for the fact that Swisher had about 100 more at bats this season than A-Rod. So, perhaps if we even out the at bats, Swisher would have about 16 more runs created than A-Rod over the course of an entire season, about 1/10 of an extra run produced per game.

        So … if our choice is to play A-Rod versus Swisher, that choice could be worth 1/10 of a run a game. But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about having both A-Rod and Swisher in the same lineup, each producing runs, but giving them different spots in the order where they can produce their runs. The biggest difference between batting third and batting sixth is that the guy who hits third is going to get more at-bats over the course of a season, and for this reason will have the chance to produce more runs, so you want your biggest run producers to hit early in the lineup. Let's guess that the guy who hits third gets 10% more at-bats over a season than the guy who hits sixth — around 65-70 at bats over a season. If that's a guy like Swisher who produces around 95 runs a season, those extra at bats might produce another 9-10 runs for the Yankees over a season. But remember, if those extra at bats go to A-Rod instead, he's ALSO going to produce runs — maybe 7-8 — with those extra at bats. So … the difference between placing Swisher or A-Rod third or sixth in the order might be worth about 2 extra runs for the Yankees over the course of a season. Two runs per season is about 1/100 of a run per game, or 1/20 of an extra run over a 5-game series.

        This, of course, assumes that A-Rod and Swish will produce at their regular season levels over the course of the post-season. But we know that this is not the case. Over a short series, natural fluctuations in a hitter's ability will be far more significant than anything we might achieve by moving a guy up or down a few places in the order. In other words … if the Yanks are actually hurt in this series because A-Rod batted third and Swisher batted sixth, it won't be because Swisher's 2012 wRC+ is 10% better than A-Rod's. It will be because Swisher had a good series and A-Rod did not, relative to the ability they displayed over the full season.

        Please don't get me wrong. It's the manager's job to find these small advantages, and accumulate them, so that together they give the team the best chance to win. But let's not exaggerate the importance of any single one of these advantages.

    • This is true over the course of 162 games, but it’s sort of hard to say what is true in terms of high stakes short series. All things considered, the possibility of picking up an extra plate appearance alone makes me think that you’re probably better off making sure that your best hitters play at the top of the lineup in the postseason.

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        Agreed 100%. What I'm arguing is that you're only a tiny bit better off. By my rough calculation above, you might be 0.01 runs per game better off. Compare that to, say, having an average hitter bunt with a man on first and none out. The numbers say that the bunting decision will cost the team 0.13 runs. Admittedly, this is far from a careful analysis, but a single bad bunting decision might be something like 13 times more costly than a single bad lineup decision.

  13. Mickster

    Dropping him down to 7th in the line-up like Torre did is not appropriate for this kind of post-season performer. A better suggestion would be to put Chavez in, and make A-Rod the ball-girl down the third-base line.

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      I agree with the first part of your proposal. Chavez was a 10% better run producer in 2012 than A-Rod. If you think that the 2012 regular season numbers will hold up during the post-season, then subbing Chavez for A-Rod is going to have a much larger effect than shuffling A-Rod around in the batting order.

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