All A-Rod, All the Time

As I cobble together this week’s Hit List, here’s a link to a New York Sun piece I did on Alex Rodriguez’s hot start. Sun articles are now free, but here’s a taste if you need extra encouragement:

Before A-Rod this spring, only three hitters have hit more than 11 homers in April — Pujols, Luis Gonzalez, and Ken Griffey Jr. That number is partially a product of scheduling — Opening Day now arrives about a week earlier than it did prior to 1993, and two weeks earlier than it did in the late 1950s. Given that the Yanks still have six games to play before the calendar flips to May, setting the bar at 24 games provides a better gauge to measure Rodriguez against other hot starters in baseball history. Since 1957 (the earliest year for which game logs are continuously available), just six other players have managed 12 or more homers in the first 24 games:

As a group, this sextet averaged 35.2 homers the rest of the way, but none of them broke any records, and only two, Gonzalez and Griffey, are among the select group who have topped 50 homers in a year. However, the record-setters weren’t too far off this pace — Mark McGwire hit 10 of his record-breaking 70 homers in the first 24 games of the 1998 season, while Barry Bonds hit 11 homers through 24 games in 2001, on his way to the current single-season standard of 73. (Previous recordholder Roger Maris had just three through 24 games in 1961, proving that a hot start isn’t a necessity).

In all, 51 players besides Rodriguez have hit at least 10 homers in the first 24 games, including two others — Willie Mays in 1965 and Brady Anderson in 1996 — who hit at least 50. As a group, this bunch averaged 28.4 homers the rest of the way, with Bonds (62 in 2001) and McGwire (60 in 1998) pacing the field.

I followed that up with an expanded chart and an extensive set of A-Rod-related links in an Unfiltered post. The must-read is Tyler Kepner’s New York Times piece discussing Rodriguez’s work with new hitting coach Kevin Long, who’s encouraged the slugger to swing at the first pitch more often, concentrate on the opposite field, and focus on keeping his head stationary.

Like every Yankee fan, I’m excited to but guardedly optimistic about phenom Philip Hughes’ debut tonight. One of my Baseball Prospectus colleagues was quite critical about the way the Yanks have handled this, charging that the Yankees were reacting rather than acting by noting that Chase Wright was recalled to prevent Hughes from being rushed. Said colleague came around to my way of thinking when I noted that in the time between Wright’s recall and his four-homer drubbing, two things had happened. First, Hughes had put forth his best start in Triple-A (striking out 10 in six innings), washing away the mixed results which had preceded it. Second, the Yanks had been able to add him to the 40-man roster — where Wright already resided, dictating the team’s earlier choice — without exposing another player to waivers. Humberto Sanchez’s Tommy John surgery, lamentable though it is, allowed him to be shifted to the 60-day disabled list, which doesn’t count in terms of roster slots. Got that?

In any event, as the roster arcana which has surrounded Hughes all year — I’m one of those who advocated him not breaking camp with the club so as to prevent his service clock from starting, potentially giving him an extra winter under club control — recedes into the distance, we’ll get to watch perhaps the best pitching prospect in the minors take it to the grand stage of Yankee Stadium tonight. Here’s hoping it lives up to the hype.

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