What’s Eating A-Rod?

For the Baseball Prospectus/ESPN Insider soup du jour, I join forces with Will Carroll to examine Alex Rodriguez’s struggles, which saw him benched for Friday and Saturday’s games amid an 8-for-55 June swoon that dragged his overall line down to .212/.370/.462. Here’s a taste:

The schadenfreudians might believe that Rodriguez is receiving a cosmic comeuppance for his sins, but the slugger’s statistical line suggests his slump is nothing extraordinary, except perhaps in the context of his extraordinary career. His .250 isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) is 22 points below his career mark, but about the same distance above two of his five full seasons in pinstripes. It surpasses all but 24 batting title qualifiers, not that A-Rod himself has enough plate appearances to qualify. He’s homered in 5.4 percent of his PA, which would rank ninth among qualifiers, though it would be the fifth-lowest of his career.

The 33-year-old superstar’s real problem is that the hits aren’t falling in. Prior to his benching, Rodriguez’s batting average on balls in play was .192, 128 points below his career mark and 10 points below the lowest qualifier, Jay Bruce. Upon closer inspection, he’s hit line drives — which result in hits far more frequently than any other type — on just 14.8 percent of his balls in play, well below last year’s 18.1 percent. Meanwhile, his groundball rate has risen significantly. Using BP Idol contestant Brian Cartwright’s BABIP estimator (15 * FB% + .24 * GB% + .73 * LD%) with the Baseball Info Solutions-based data available at Fangraphs around which he designed that formula (instead of our own MLB Advanced Media-based data, which differs somewhat), we can see how askew his results are:

Year    LD%    GB%    FB%  eBABIP  BABIP    dif
2002 19.0 38.1 42.9 .294 .292 -.002
2003 22.8 38.8 38.4 .317 .309 -.008
2004 15.5 45.2 39.3 .281 .313 .032
2005 15.6 44.8 39.7 .281 .349 .068
2006 18.1 42.3 39.6 .293 .329 .036
2007 16.9 41.1 41.9 .285 .315 .030
2008 18.1 42.0 39.9 .293 .332 .039
2009 14.8 46.3 38.9 .278 .192 -.086
Total 17.9 41.8 40.2 .291 .315 .024

Because BABIP is so unstable, the formula isn’t terribly accurate given one season’s worth of data; Cartwright notes that the annual root mean square error for hitters is 36 points. Even so, while A-Rod may be making solid contact less frequently, his batted ball distribution isn’t so out of whack that it should produce a sub-.200 BABIP. Decreased foot speed from aging or injury doesn’t explain the dip, either; he’s produced infield hits on about eight percent of groundballs since 2002, but just four percent this year — a shortfall of two hits.

Indeed, his numbers could simply be the product of bad luck in a small sample size. Such low BABIPs over the course of exactly 165 PA aren’t uncommon, with 86 hitters—many of them accomplished sluggers—enduring such stretches since Opening Day 2007, including eight this year…

Meanwhile, Will takes the medhead approach to discuss how little we know about the wave of hip procedures that have been done on hitters lately (Chase Utley, Mike Lowell, Alex Gordon, Carlos Delgado) because the latter two aren’t even back in action yet. Elsewhere at BP, Will cited Pete Abraham’s piece from last week about the Yankees’ failure to follow the plan for A-Rod. Here’s Pete:

According to Rodriguez, the plan put in place by Philippon and Lindsay was for him to take 5-8 games off during his first 45 games back with the team. Not 45 days, 45 games.

But over the first 38 games he was back, A-Rod sat out zero games. He started every one of them, 35 of them at third base. Day games after night games, rain-delayed games, every single game.

A-Rod said he fought to stay in games, which is what he supposed to do. Knowing him, I’m sure that’s exactly what he did. But why didn’t the Yankees stick with the plan their doctors drew up? All of a sudden a third baseman with a high school education knew better than the two best doctors in their respective fields? Of course Alex said he wanted to play. What else would he say?

Joe Girardi admitted yesterday that he should have given Alex more days off than he did. It appears that Brian Cashman finally forced the issue yesterday. But he should have made that call a week ago. A-Rod has been struggling for three weeks now. His June slugging percentage is .291. Teams have been intentionally walking other players to get to him.

It simply amazes me how the team has handled their priciest asset, and it speaks ill of Brian Cashman that he hasn’t secured a better backup to cover for Rodriguez on his much-needed off days. Meanwhile, Angel Fucking Berroa languishes on the roster hitting .136/.174/.182. That’s a one-fucking-thirty-six average with a three-fucking-fifty-six OPS in case you can’t see the numbers because they’re so small. Berroa hasn’t been a useful major leaguer since 2003. That’s gross general managerial malpractice, right there. As is having Brett Tomko on the roster, but that’s a story for another day.

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