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.