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Alex Rodriguez: Time to Eat Crow

Raise your hand if prior to the start of the season you gave A-Rod a snowballs chance in hell of being fantasy relevant this year.  Yea, me neither.  Nobody from Fantasy Assembly had him in our third base top 25 preseason rankings; Tommy Lanseadel at least gave him a shout out under the late round picks, but that was it.  The early third base rankings I did with several experts late last year was very similar; David Kerr from Fantasy Squads was the only man bold enough to not only rank A-Rod, but ranking him inside the top 20 (17).  I basically laughed at the notion there was anything left.  He missed time due to injuries from 2011 to 2013, the power was down, and now he was about to miss the entire 2014 season due to his “alleged” involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Add on the fact that he was entering the season at 39 years old (40 on July 27th); the thought of him being a top 5 option for third base seemed absurd, but that is what A-Rod currently is.

Three months into the season and A-Rod is sitting at number 5 on ESPN’s player rater; technically he’s sixth if Miguel Cabrera qualifies for third base in your league, but we’re splitting hairs here.  He is 5th for runs scored, tied for 5th in RBIs, tied for 6th in home runs, 7th for batting average, tied for 1st in BB, 1st in OBP and 3rd in OPS.  There is also the matter of surpassing 3,000 hits; Stan Ross salutes you.  Superman does have one weakness; he is hitting .237 on the road, but nobody is complaining.  Well – I guess we all have some virtual egg on our faces.  Did the time away do his ailing body good?  Did he change something in his mechanics?  Is he taking something?  I’m not going to speculate on that last one (although some of you have thought about it) and I’m going to assume the rest has helped some.  The only thing I can do is dig into the numbers to see if there is any explanation for what we are seeing. 

Walks and strikeouts 

I already mentioned Rodriguez is tied for 1st among third basemen for walks, but he is also tied for 9th in the league.  A 13.2% walk rate is slightly above his career average (11%) but not far off what he was doing in 2013 (12.7%).  A-Rod has always been able to draw walks.  In fact, since 2000 he has only had 2 seasons with a walk rate below 10%.  The strikeout rate has some similarities to his walk rate.  Currently it sits at 20.8%; slightly higher than his career average (18.4%) but much better than it was the two years prior to his suspension.  The few extra strikes most likely come from pitchers challenging A-Rod at the plate.  His F-Strike% is at 62.4%; we haven’t seen a number that high since 2005 and it is 5% higher than his 57% career average.  I can’t see this changing much in the second half; attacking the plate with a 40-year-0ld player is smart, but it hasn’t phased A-Rod much.  Overall there is nothing out of the ordinary here; the walks and strikeouts are in line for what he has done in his career.

Batted Ball Profile

We’ll start with the 42.3 ground ball percentage which is right in line with his career average (42.8%).  The line drive percentage is up this year (21.6%) compared to his career average (18.1%), but this is of little surprise since it has been above 20% since 2012.  The flyball percentage (36.1%) is lower than his career average of 39.2%; in fact, it is the second lowest flyball percentage of his career (32.5% in 2012).  If A-Rod stays on his current pace, he will finish with a flyball percentage below 37 for only the second time in his career. 

While a 36.1% flyball percentage isn’t bad, it is hardly a number that suggests a HR/FB% of 21.4 is sustainable.  The home runs may come down some as the law of averages adjusts, but it will not be for a lack of power.  A-Rods average flyball distance so far in 300.5 feet.  That is up 9 feet from 2012, 25 feet from 2011 but in line with his power stroke from 2010.  The extra oomph behind his swing has me a little suspicious, but that’s a discussion for another time.  One of the most interesting numbers here is his infield fly ball percentage.  The career average is 9.7 and his lowest average for any year was 6.8% in 2009.  This season it is 1.4%; very similar to Joey Votto.  This is not a bad thing, just very uncharacteristic considering his history.

Source: Fangraphs
His spray chart is rather impressive.  Most of the ground balls are to the left side, but when the ball is in the air it is basically all over the field.  Normally as a player ages we see them pull the ball more, but A-Rod’s pull percentage (45.9%) is right in line with his career average (45.5%).  The opposite field percentage has dropped some with the additional balls are going towards center; a slight change but nothing we haven’t seen before from the man.  Just like with the balls and strikes there is nothing out of the ordinary here.

Plate Discipline

We all know as players age they tend to swing at more pitches; unfortunately that is not the case here.  A-Rod has a 44.2% swing percentage and this season it sits at 44.9%.  His swing percentage of pitches outside the zone is up 5% over his career average, but overall everything is the same and his line is very similar to those of years past.  Contact is another story.  A-Rod has a contact percent just below 70%; this is the first time it has been below 70 in his career (75.3% average).  Contact inside the zone is at it lowest point ever (76.8%) and has been on a steady decline since 2010.  This helps explain the high F-Strike% and why pitchers are attacking the zone more. 

A-Rods 69.9% contact rate place him at 151 in the league among qualified hitters.  Directly below him on the contact leaderboard are Justin Upton, Avisail Garcia, Ryan Howard, Chris Davis, Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson, Giancarlo Stanton, George Springer and Chris Carter.  I was expecting to find some bad players here, but overall (batting average withstanding) A-Rod has some nice company.  Since his contact was down inside the zone I looked at who else had similar contact issues here.  Again A-Rod was on the bottom, but he was again surrounded by many of the names just mentioned above and nobody is going to disparage players like Stanton, Bryant or Pederson.  Some players can get away with a low contact rate, just as long as the contact they are making is good contact.

 

Alex Rodriguez time to eat crowSo what does all of this mean?  I have to admit I’m a little disappointed as I was hoping to find some statistical explanation for A-Rod’s resurgence.  Unfortunately there are none. 

A-Rod may hit a few less homers in the second half, but that is about the only thing that should change going forward.  His LD% should help maintain the current batting average despite the low contact rate. 

Do I believe in the numbers A-Rod is putting up?  Not really.  Have I gained any respect back for the player after what he has done over the first three months?  Not a drop.  Would I want A-Rod on my fantasy team for the remainder of the season?  Absolutely!  I may not respect or believe in the man, but this is fantasy and all we care about are the numbers.  The only thing that can derail this train is an injury (or failed drug test).  Kudos to those brave souls who drafted A-Rod or were quick to pick him up early.

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By Jim Finch

The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.