Friday, February 20, 2015

A performance-only outlook for Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez

How about a 2015 outlook for the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez without diving into the numerous narratives?

No talk of whether he wronged baseball, mistreated his teammates, lied to the fans, made empty apologies or lives with a tarnished legacy. If you want that nonsense, you have landed on the wrong page. We’re going to look at Rodriguez’s chances of helping – or hurting – the Yankees on the field in 2015.

Let's begin with some facts.

Fact: It has been almost 17 months since Rodriguez stepped into a Major League batter’s box.
Fact: Rodriguez will turn 40 years old July 27.
Fact: Rodriguez has played in 265 games and accumulated 992 plate appearances since 2011.
Fact: Rodriguez hit .244/.348/.423 in 2013 across 181 plate appearances.
Fact: The last time A-Rod recorded an OPS over .800 was in 2011.

These truths tell the story of a man who has an uphill battle ahead of him when it comes to hitting a baseball. If you’ll recall, he did not look very good in the 2012 playoffs and those metrics from 2013 are not exactly eye-popping and come with the “small sample size” caveat.

Rodriguez is going to have to overcome some obstacles in order to get to 400+ plate appearances, and to come close to recording an .800 OPS which most teams would like from their designated hitter. First, no matter what kind of drills he’s been doing over the past year and a half, they cannot replicate game activity. He’s yet to see a 98 mph fastball or a wicked splitter when it counts since September 2013. Second, he's got two bad hips which must have some impact on his ability to hit a baseball. Third, he's getting older and older.

The player’s who have had success as a DH (and slightly used infielder as Rodriguez might be) at this age had one thing in common – they went into those seasons having success and health the years before – and in some cases very good health and success. Rodriguez cannot claim that and therein lays the biggest problem.

Checking in on Rodriguez’s last few seasons it is plain to see that he’s been unable to stay on the field, but when he played he was fairly productive.

2011 ★ 35 99 428 67 21 16 62 .276 .362 .461 .823 119
2012 36 122 529 74 17 18 57 .272 .353 .430 .783 111
2013 37 44 181 21 7 7 19 .244 .348 .423 .771 113
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 2/20/2015.

Here’s the $61 million question – can Rodriguez find any of this type of performance after the time off and stay on the field after multiple hip surgeries in addition to fighting the aging process?

It’s simple to say no, and it is the safer bet. The other side of that coin is to suggest that he might have an easier time staying in the lineup, by being off the field. Putting him at third base does no service to the Yankees other than giving Chase Headley or Mark Teixeira a day off. If the club wants to do that they’ll have bonafide solutions for each position, so keeping Rodriguez away from using a glove is one way to help him succeed with his bat.

Further, if he is simply concentrating on hitting, it could help get rid of the rust he’s accumulated quicker in that he’ll have more time to get swings in and study film. Expect the Yankees to get Rodriguez as many plate appearances as possible during Spring Training because they truly need solid production when he’s in the lineup.

What do the projection models say?

ZiPS is higher on Rodriguez than Steamer (both via FanGraphs), but neither is actually high on his chances of being very helpful for the Yanks. It’s not surprising – or it shouldn’t be. At 39, and after averaging 331 plate appearances in the three seasons before missing an entire year, would you expect anyone or any model to predict much more?

There are some fans who still feel that there is something left in Rodriguez’s bat. It seems the Yankees have more hope than belief in that viewpoint. The money on the table is essentially what is keeping Rodriguez’s name on the roster at this time. The long and short of it is that no one will know anything until he actually steps into the batter's box this spring.

The Yankees will give Rodriguez every opportunity to prove there is something left in the tank and will be certainly be grateful if he is productive. However, it’s uncertain what will happen if Rodriguez is barely treading water come midseason. Stay tuned.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.


  1. Can the Yankees cut him? It's my understanding that if anyone else picks him up, they only have to pay the league minimum and the Yanks pay the rest -- but isn't that a risk worth taking for the roster spot?

    1. Nobody will pick him up. The only GM I think would even entertain the idea would be Beane, but even he knows A-Rod needs to be ran out of baseball..

    2. Thanks for the comments. I can't see the Yankees simply releasing him. They'll try to get something out of him and if he's awful, they'll work out a way for him to walk away. Whether that's during the season, after it or not at all depends on his production.

  2. I am torn on A-Rod.

    The realist in me says that if he embraces a role similar to Giambi in Colorado then he has a chance at being productive. Getting 1.5 wins from a part time DH would have to be considered productive.. I do not fault him for Hank being a moron and giving him that contract. The fact that he is putting in the work and showing a burning desire to come back and perform instead of showing up out of shape and forcing the Yankees to release him has made me no longer hate him.. He knows he is going to be booed, jeered, and he will get a ton of high and tight fastballs all year.. Knowing that, he still wants to prove himself. I can respect that. So, I no longer hate him. I just really really really dislike him..
    A ballplayer with a giant chip on his shoulder can have a monster year.. We have all seen that before. I am hoping he does have a great year. If he does, then the Yankees will probably make it to the playoffs.
    So, I don't know exactly what to expect from A-Rod. Personally I don't like him as a person. His personality and ego annoy me to no end. But, while he is wearing pinstripes I will hope for something special out of him. I will hope that he keeps his mouth shut and focuses on the game. I hope that before each game he signs autographs until his hand cramps up. I hope that if he is washed up and can no longer play that he finally shows a little class and hangs his spikes up and walks away..

    1. Thanks for the comment. We can hope he's productive and if he generates 1.5 wins that would surpass what many think, so the Yanks might be OK with it. If he was five years younger and coming back from a season off, his chances would be much better. He wasn't completely healthy in any of the three years before his suspension so it's hard to see him all of the sudden getting 500+ PA. I totally agree with the last part of your comment -- if he can't perform at the necessary level, it's on him to figure out something with the Yankees and part ways.