What Kind of A-Rod Will We See?
The Yankees welcomed Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez in Chicago today to make his season debut against the White Sox. A-Rod is expected to be in the lineup, returning to his original position for the club. The other major event on Monday is Commissioner Bud Selig announcing the suspensions of 12 players for 50 games, and Rodriguez's 211 game suspension, which takes effect on Thursday, August 8th. This has been appealed by A-Rod already as reported by the MLB Twitter account. A-Rod will be on the active roster through the appeal process, and should be able to play a few weeks before his status is ultimately decided on, so what can we expect to see from him on the field?
Looking at His Performance
Rodriguez played in 15 minor league rehab games to ease his return to the big leagues from off-season hip surgery. In those games, he hit .214 with a double, and 3 HR, while driving in 10 runs. In this extremely small sample size of varying levels, it's difficult to make any reasonable assessment. However, we can look at a few peripheral statistics to try and gauge they type of A-Rod we're going to see. In his 51 minor league Plate Appearances, A-Rod struck out 13 times and walked 6. This leads to a 25.5% K-Rate and an 11.8% BB-Rate. The small sample size accounts for a large amount of error, but these numbers don't appear to be too drastically apart from his usual self. A-Rod's career K-Rate is 18.2%, and it is 19% over the last 5 seasons. As he's aged, Rodriguez's strikeout numbers have marginally increased, and seems to be following that trend. He walked 10.9% of the time over his career, and 11.3% over the last 5 seasons. A-Rod has become a more disciplined hitter with time, as pitchers have also been more cautious and pitch around him at the plate.
Due to A-Rod's K% and BB% in the minors seeming to be fairly stable compared to his past performance, I believe that we'll see A-Rod maintain his current career trajectory. His durability is not what it has been in the past, but he should return to the player he would've been in 2013, injury or not. I don't see a sudden huge drop-off, or surprising upturn in performance happening.
The following three plots show A-Rod's Career trajectory in OPS (On-Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percentage), wOBA (Weighted On-Base Percentage), wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created, Adjusted to the League where 100 is average), and WAR/162 (Wins Above Replacement Prorated for 162 Games). In all of the categories, higher numbers indicate a better performance. I used 4th power exponential trend lines to approximate in all of these cases except for WAR, where I used a 6th power polynomial to account for the increased variance.
The reason for choosing a 4th degree polynomial is that I believe it truly reflects the path of A-Rod's career. He burst on to the scene during his first full year in 1996 with the Mariners, as he was named an All-Star, won the Silver Slugger Award, and finished 2nd in MVP voting. His line that year was .358 / .414 / .631 and an OPS of 1.045. Rodriguez experienced a "Sophomore Slump" if you can call it that where he hit a measly .300 / .350 / .496 and an OPS of .846, garnering his second All-Star Game appearance. it would take A-Rod two more years to return to his 1996 performance, causing this first curve. This curve started slowly climbing upward in 2001, his first year with the Rangers where Rodriguez admitted steroid use due to the pressure he felt to perform. He reached his peak in 2007, an MVP season where he hit .314 /.422 /.645 with an OPS of 1.067 and 54 Home Runs, the most of his career.
This is where his current downward trend begins, as A-Rod began creeping into his mid-late 30s which bring us to where we are today. I've indicated A-Rod's drop-off since 2007 by the vertical black lines. Notably, A-Rod's agent Scott Boras announced during the Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, as the Red Sox were about to clinch a championship, that Rodriguez would be opting out of his contract. The Yankees initially didn't want to negotiate with A-Rod, but later signed him to a new deal, worth $275MM over 10 years. Seeing A-Rod's current decline, this was not a good move for the Yankees. However, this was perfect for A-Rod, as he secured the deal coming off of an MVP caliber season when his value was the highest. It's just Boras working his magic again.
Alex Rodriguez is on a downward decline, but as stated earlier, we should see a version of A-Rod resembling what he would be if he never missed time for injury. This is a much needed boost for the Yankees, as their 3B for the year have accumulated a -0.9 WAR, which is 26th in the league. With A-Rod, who I projected to have a 2.1 WAR, the Yankees greatly improve at his position. Assuming A-Rod plays 15 games before we know the results of his appeal, he'll accumulate a 0.19 WAR, while the Yankees other 3B options would produce a -.08 WAR based on their performance this season. This is a 0.27 WAR swing for the Yankees. If you prorate this over a 162 game season, this would be a 2.92 WAR improvement which is on the Solid Starter/Good Player borderline. For however long the Yankees have Alex Rodriguez in the lineup, he will be a huge improvement for them. It's just a question of how well A-Rod can focus on playing during one of the most controversial and stressful times in his long career.
For further reading, this is an excellent article by Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald:
Before he was A-Rod.
Something that struck me personally was when I saw one of my former summer ball coaches, a High School teammate of A-Rod, in one of the pictures included with the article.