Alex Rodriguez’s disappointing decade as a Yankee

6 04 2015

Alex Rodriguez would be a disappointment to Yankee fans if he had never used performance-enhancing drugs. Nothing enhanced his post-season play for the Yankees. That he was caught using drugs twice, lied about using them and still was a huge October disappointment makes him really unique among disappointing Yankees.

Don Mattingly made the post-season only in his final year with the Yankees and never delivered a championship. Yankee fans revere him. Dave Winfield was a horrific 1-for-22 in his only Yankee World Series, but fans have forgiven him. Bobby Murcer and Mel Stottlemyre also became fan favorites without winning rings (though Stottlemyre made it to the World Series his rookie year and pitched well in head-to-head match-ups against Bob Gibson).

A-Rod actually won a ring, putting him ahead of those Yankees  (but behind dozens of Yankee stars of various eras).

None of the Yankee busts disappointed on the scale that A-Rod did — not in-their-prime free agents who tanked under New York pressure (think Steve Kemp, Ed Whitson and Carl Pavano) and not aging stars who didn’t have one more great season left for the Yankees (think Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson). The free agent busts and lopsided trades just kind of blur together. But A-Rod stands out as the biggest disappointment in Yankee history.

I didn’t blog about his suspension last year or about the various discussions of his return this year or about his appearance at spring training or his stupid hand-written apology to fans. I guess that I was hoping he would just retire, rather than make us watch how far he had declined after a year off. I mean, how much money does one person need?

But it’s Opening Day and he’s back, so I’m posting this piece that’s been in the works for more than year, about A-Rod and why he’s been such a disappointment to the Yankees and Yankee fans.

When the Yankees traded Alfonso Soriano to get A-Rod from the Rangers, with seven years remaining on his 10-year, $250 million contract, my initial reaction was that I’d probably rather have Soriano’s next seven years than A-Rod’s. Both players were 27 at the time of the trade, but A-Rod seemed at his peak and Soriano seemed on the rise.

Well, I was wrong about who would be better, but right that A-Rod wouldn’t play as well with the Yankees as he had before. Both players were disappointing, but A-Rod continued his potential record-breaking pace initially (in the regular season), earning Most Valuable Player awards in two of his first four seasons. But he came to the Yankees with six straight 40-homer seasons (twice reaching the 50s). He appeared on pace to be the all-time home run king. He topped 40 homers only in his MVP seasons for the Yankees, hitting 48 in 2005 and 54 in 2007.

A-Rod’s production dropped notably for 2008-10 (after he signed his second 10-year contract), then went in the tank for 2011-13, followed by last year’s suspension. When he steps to the plate for the Yankees this year, we have no expectations of greatness, or even goodness. Even with artificial enhancement, he hasn’t been a feared batter for seven years. All he’s doing now is cashing the ridiculous paychecks the Yankees guaranteed for the summer he turns 40.

Milestones ahead

If the unjuiced A-Rod has anything left, his remaining time with the Yankees is sure to be marked by milestones and by fans who don’t care about them.

He just needs six homers this year to catch Willie Mays with 660 for his career and fourth place on the all-time list. Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762) appear out of reach for a guy who hasn’t hit 30 in a year since he was 34. Unless he has a 40s revival (hard to imagine if he’s finally playing without performance enhancement), Babe Ruth at 714 career homers is at least two or three years away.

Rodriguez will reach the 3,000-hit club with just 61 more hits. With just 31 more RBI, he’ll become only the fourth player with 2,000 career runs driven in. Aaron’s record of 2,297 appears out of reach, fortunately. With 81 more runs, he would become the eighth player to score 2,000 times (again, well out of reach of the record, Rickey Henderson‘s 2,295).

Don’t expect a lot of commotion over any of those milestones. When A-Rod passed Ruth’s beloved teammate, Lou Gehrig, to claim the all-time grand slam record in 2013, Yankee fans barely noticed. While bases-loaded is unquestionably a clutch situation, grand slams, as I’ve noted before, also are a function of the batting order. Yankee fans care most about a different type of clutch hitting, and A-Rod didn’t deliver there.

The great shortstop argument

Before he joined the Yankees, A-Rod was part of a great discussion about the amazing shortstops of his time. We liked to argue who was the best: A-Rod, Derek Jeter or the Red Sox’ Nomar Garciaparra (Miguel Tejada crashed the argument with an MVP year in 2002 and everyone conceded Omar Vizquel was the best defensive shortstop of the time).

The argument for Garciaparra looks weak in retrospect, but he won back-to-back batting titles. A-Rod clearly had the best regular-season offensive numbers, with three home-run crowns, a batting championship and an MVP award (he should have had two) before joining the Yankees. And Jeter was racking up the championships and unprecedented post-season numbers.

Post-season failure

A-Rod graciously moved to third base when he joined the Yankees. And the Yankees stopped winning championships.

His failure in the post-season is as clear as Jeter’s success. In post-season series, Jeter hit below .200 just four times in 33 series, and he hit .400 or better 10 times. A-Rod, on the other hand, hit less than .200 six times in 13 post-season series for the Yankees and topped .400 three times.

Jeter achieved his stellar post-season record against top-flight pitching, and it would not be unreasonable for A-Rod’s post-season numbers to be down a bit, given the quality of pitching he faced in the post-season. But when a .299 career hitter drops to .263 in the post-season, and his slugging drops from .558 to .464, that’s a huge disappointment.

For his career, A-Rod averaged 41 homers and 124 RBI per 162 games, awesome totals. A-Rod’s 63 post-season games for the Yankees are more than a third of a season, plenty of opportunities to be indicative of more than random performance in the post-season spotlight. Extrapolated over 162 games, his post-season averaged 26 homers and 85 RBI, OK if you’re Nick Swisher, but a huge failure for A-Rod.

Every hitter runs into occasional dry spells like Winfield’s slump in the 1981 World Series. But 13 series over nine years say something about a player’s clutch hitting.

Other Yankees, including Jeter, disappointed at times in the 2004-2013 decade when A-Rod played in pinstripes and the Yankees won only one championship. But the biggest reason the Yankees fell short time and again in the post-season was that A-Rod fell short time and again in the post-season.

Let’s examine Rodriguez’s post-season performance as a Yankee, starting with his first season and the Yankees’ most-famous collapse, 2004.

2004 post-season

A-Rod had a good, but not great, regular season his first time in pinstripes, hitting 36 homers and driving in 106 runs, his lowest totals in both stats since 1997. The post-season started off well for him. The four-game series with the Twins was one of A-Rod’s best post-season performances, hitting .421 with a homer and 3 RBI.

Even in Johan Santana‘s shutout victory for the Twins in Game 1, A-Rod had two singles.

In Game 2, his 4-for-6 performance was critical to the Yankees’ 7-6, extra-inning win. He singled in the third inning and scored on Gary Sheffield‘s game-tying homer. A-Rod’s solo homer in the fifth inning put the Yankees ahead and his RBI single in the seventh extended the lead to 5-3. After the Twins tied the game, A-Rod’s ground-rule double in the 12th inning moved Jeter to third base, setting him up to score the winning run on a sacrifice fly. The game might have been A-Rod’s best in the post-season as a Yankee.

The Yankees won Game 3, 8-4, so no one cared much about Rodriguez going 0-for-5, ending three innings with men in scoring position.

In Game 4, the Yankees won, 6-5 in extra innings, again with big contributions from A-Rod, who went 2 for 4 with two walks. He doubled in the 11th, stole third and scored the winning run on a wild pitch.

The Twins series was a great start to A-Rod’s post-season career with the Yankees. Then came the Red Sox.

A-Rod got off to a great start in the Red Sox series, going 6 for 14 with a homer as the Yankees won the first three games of the series, getting 10 runs in Game 1 and 19 in Game 3.

But no Yankee loomed bigger in the team’s collapse over the next four games. Time and again in those four games, A-Rod blew chances that could have saved his team, especially in the two extra-inning games, when one clutch hit could have sent the Yankees into the World Series.

In the ninth inning of Game 4, leading just 4-3, with Jeter on first and no outs, A-Rod popped out to second. A home run there, and the Yankees are in the World Series (Boston managed a tying run in the bottom of the ninth, but didn’t get its fifth and sixth runs until the 12th). A double in the gap there, and Jeter scores an insurance run that sends the Yankees to the World Series. A single moving Jeter to third might have allowed him to score on Sheffield’s line drive out to left field. But A-Rod popped up.

In the top of the 11th, Miguel Cairo led off with a single and Jeter sacrificed him to second, setting up A-Rod with a chance to drive in the lead run. (The Red Sox went scoreless in the bottom of the 11th, so this would have been the series-winning run.) All the Yankees needed here was a single. They got a line-drive out to shortstop, and Cairo ended the inning stranded at third after two walks.

In Game 5, A-Rod let was 0-for-4 with 2 walks and was hit once by Pedro Martinez. His most disappointing at-bat was in the top of the 8th, with the Yankees leading 4-2. Cairo was on third after a double and bunt. With one out, all A-Rod needed to do to bring home an insurance run was make contact. Ground ball, fly ball, bloop single, home run. Just put the bat on the ball. A-Rod struck out. The Red Sox tied the game in the bottom of the eighth.

Rodriguez struck out again in the 10th. In the 12th, he had another chance to bring Cairo home, this time from second base. Just a bloop single would do the trick. A-Rod flew out to center and the Red Sox won in 14 innings.

In those two games that got the Red Sox back into the series, A-Rod was 1 for 9, wasting four runners in scoring position. In extra-inning losses, any one of those runs could have sent the Yankees to the World Series.

In Game 6, the “bloody sock” game, A-Rod was 1 for 4. He had a chance to get the Yankees back in the game, trailing 4-2 in the eighth inning and Jeter on first. A-Rod tapped it back to relief pitcher Bronson Arroyo, and was called out for slapping at Arroyo’s glove. He initially got away with the move, scoring Jeter. It was as close as he came to a clutch play in the final four games of the series.

By Game 7, the Yankees were just completing the collapse. A-Rod led the way, going 0 for 4 in a 10-3 blowout.

2005 post-season

A-Rod hit .321, led the league with 48 homers, 124 runs and a .610 slugging percentage and drove in 130 runs. This was an MVP season, what we thought we were getting when we traded for A-Rod. Until Occtober.

In the 2005 Division Series with the Angels, the Yankees won 4-2 in Game 1, with A-Rod going 0-for-3. In Game 2, the Yankees lost 5-3, with A-Rod scoring one of the runs after a walk. You can’t pin that loss on him, though he did ground out for the final out. In Game 3, he got two hits and scored a run in an 11-7 loss. That one you blame on the pitchers. In Game 4, he walked twice and scored a run in a 3-2 win. So give him a hand in that win.

But Game 5, the deciding game, was a 5-3 Yankee loss, plagued by consistent A-Rod failure: popping up to second base with Jeter on and no one out in the first (Sheffield singled later in the inning); striking out swinging with Bubba Crosby on second base to end the second; grounding out with no one on in the seventh (the next batter doubled); and grounding into a double play in the ninth (the next two batters singled). He also was hit by a pitch and didn’t score in the fifth. A hit in any of his four at-bats would have likely resulted in a run, maybe more. You can’t pin the whole loss on A-Rod, but it counts as a deciding game where he blew chances that could have tied or won.

2006 post-season

A-Rod dropped off some from his 2005 pace in the regular season, but still belted 35 homers and drove in 121 run.s

In the Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, A-Rod had his worst post-season series ever, going 1 for 14. He got his only hit in the first-game victory, an 8-4 Yankee win where they were leading 4-0 when he delivered his third-inning, bases-empty single that didn’t factor in the scoring.

The Yankees lost 4-3 in Game 2. A-Rod struck out with the bases loaded to end the first inning. He flew out leading off the fourth. A Johnny Damon three-run homer in that inning produced the Yankees’ only runs of the game, so A-Rod would have produced another run if he had gotten on base. His other two at-bats, he ended innings by striking out with no one on base, unproductive but not great scoring opportunities either.

The Yankees lost 6-0 in Game 3 and 8-3 in Game 4, so A-Rod’s 0-for-3 performances in both games were pretty inconsequential. You can’t say that he cost them the series. But he blew an opportunity to blow Game 2 open early, and had opportunities to tie the game in later at-bats. So his failure to hit in that series cost the Yankees a shot at Game 5.

2007 post-season

In the regular season, A-Rod had the best year of his career, with league-leading and career-best totals in RBI (156), runs (143), slugging (.645) and OPS (1.067). His 54 homers also led the league, but were three short of his career best. He easily won the MVP. But not in October.

In the 2007 Division Series against the Indians, the Yankees lost the first game 12-3. One batter can’t save that game, but A-Rod was 0-for-2 with 2 walks, so he was part of the problem.

Game 2 was a 2-1, 11-inning loss, where A-Rod’s 0-for-4 showing made a difference. He popped out leading off the second; struck out swinging with Jeter at second and one out in the fourth; struck out swinging with Bobby Abreu on first in the seventh and struck out swinging, with Abreu on second to end the ninth. That’s two opportunities with men in scoring position and one with a man on first in a game that went to extra innings.

He contributed two hits and a run in the Yankees’ only win of the series, 8-4, in Game 3.

Game 4, a 6-4 Indians win, was a mixed bag. A-Rod struck out swinging with men on first and second in the first inning. The Yankees were trailing 2-0 and left both men on base, an important squandered opportunity.  Rodriguez struck out looking to lead off the third inning. With a double, ground out and fly ball following him, he likely would have scored in that inning if he’d gotten on base. Instead, the Yankees remained behind, 4-1. A-Rod hit a solo homer in the seventh to make the game 6-3. Then he flew out with no one on base and one out in the ninth. He made a contribution, but also had opportunities to extend the game and the series.

2008

In 2008, for the first time since before the 1994 strike, the Yankees didn’t make the post-season. A-Rod’s totals were respectable, .302 ,35 HR, 103 RBI, but well down from his MVP years. At age 32, his career was in decline.

Reviewing his first five years with the Yankees, they didn’t make a World Series, after playing in six World Series (and winning four) in the eight years before he arrived.

The Yankees lost as many post-season series in A-Rod’s first four seasons than they did in Jeter’s first eight.

While he was a big factor in the only series they won in his first five years (against the Twins), his wasted opportunities played huge factors in the four series the Yankees lost. His failures in the first two potential clinching games against the Red Sox in 2004 cost the Yankees a World Series trip. And his deciding-game failure against the Angels cost them a shot at the American League championship.

You can’t pin the two four-game series losses as clearly on Rodriguez, but in each series, he blew opportunities to win games. By the time the Yankees returned to the post-season in 2009, A-Rod had a well-deserved reputation for disappearing in October. Finally he showed up.

2009 championship season


The 2009 post-season is the only reason you can’t call A-Rod a complete October bust for the Yankees. They won the World Series and he played well against all three October opponents. He still was playing respectably, if down from his MVP levels: .286/30/100.

In the 2009 series against the Twins, A-Rod was sizzling. He was clearly the biggest factor in the 4-3 Game 2 win, driving in three runs with game-tying RBI single in the sixth and a game-tying two-run homer in the ninth. Without question, the Yankees would have lost that game without A-Rod (one of few post-season games you could say that about).


But the Yankees were probably going to win that series anyway. C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and the Yankees’ bullpen were dominant in Games 1 and 3, won by the Yankees 7-2 and 4-1. A-Rod’s contributions in both games were meaningful but not crucial: a solo homer, two RBI singles and a walk that led to a run.

As for the 2009 ALCS win over the Angels:

Sabathia dominated Game 1 in a 4-1 win. A-Rod had a sacrifice fly and a single and was thrown out at home.

A-Rod was 1 for 6 in Game 2 and lined out for the final out of the third inning with a man on first. But his one hit was a solo homer to tie the game in the bottom of the 11th. He didn’t win this game for the Yankees, but certainly kept them alive. And they won in 13, 4-3.

The Angels won Game 3, 5-4 in 11. A-Rod was 1-for-4 with a solo homer and no runners stranded in scoring position.

In Game 4, the Yankees won 10-1 with big contributions from A-Rod, who went 3-for-4, with a homer and a double, 2 RBI and 3 runs. The Yankees were leading 3-0 when he homered in the fifth and led 7-1 when he doubled in the ninth, so he helped them pour it on.

In Game 5, the Angels won 7-6, with A-Rod going 1-for-3 with 1 run.

The Yankees clinched in Game 6, a 5-2 win featuring Andy Pettitte’s strong pitching. A-Rod reached base every time, with two hits and three walks. His bases-loaded walk drove in the third run.

For the Angels series, A-Rod was a significant contributor, hitting .429 with three homers, six RBI, six runs, nine hits and eight walks. While he didn’t take over a single game, he contributed notably to all four Yankee wins and was clearly the best hitter of the series (Sabathia was MVP).

Finally A-Rod made a World Series, against the Phillies. He cooled down (even Jeter didn’t hit .400 in all three series in any post-season) but still contributed significantly.

A-Rod was hitless in the first two games, striking out three times in each, a 6-1 Phillies win in Game 1 and a 3-1 Yankees win in Game 2.

In Game 3, he started a Yankee comeback with a two-run homer (awarded after instant replay) when they were trailing 2-0. They won 8-5.


In Game 4, his two-out 9th-inning RBI double gave the Yankees a lead. He also scored and they won 7-4.

The Yankees lost Game 5, 8-6, with A-Rod going 2 for 4, with 3 RBI and a run.

In Game 6 the Yankees wrapped up the Series with a 7-3 win, with Pettitte again pitching well. A-Rod was 1-for-2 with two walks, two runs and a stolen base. He walked in the second and scored on a homer. He struck out looking with the bases loaded in the third inning. Hideki Matsui, the Series MVP, followed with a 2-run single.

In his one World Series appearance, A-Rod hit .250 with a homer and 6 RBI. Not great, but he was pretty good after the first two games and contributed to the Series victory.

In the 2009 post-season, A-Rod drove in 18 runs, more than in his other 10 Yankee playoff series combined. He hit six homers, more than he hit in the other 10 series. In fact, A-Rod hasn’t hit a post-season homer since 2009.

Give A-Rod credit for an outstanding post-season in 2009. He might have been the most valuable Yankee for the whole post-season, but he also might have been fourth, fifth or sixth most-valuable. Jeter had more hits and also hit .400 in two of the three series. Matsui sizzled hotter in the World Series, hitting .615 with 3 homers and 8 RBI. Pettitte was 4-0 in the post-season, winning all three clinching games. Sabathia was 3-1 in the post-season. Mariano Rivera gave up one run in 16 post-season innings and saved five games.

Here’s the point: 2009 was absolutely the highlight of A-Rod’s post-season career with the Yankees, but it was nothing special for a Yankee star. It’s what Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, Orlando Hernandez and other Yankees did time and again since 1995.

And that was his last good post-season.

Since 2009

A-Rod hit .273 (3 hits in 11 at-bats) in a three-game sweep of the Twins to open the 2010 playoffs. That’s the last time he hit .200 in a post-season series. His batting averages in four series since then were .190, .111, .125 and .111, even worse than his declining regular-season performance.

In five series and 21 post-season games since 2009, A-Rod has two extra-base hits, both doubles. He drove in six runs in those series, none in his last two series. On the other hand, he struck out 24 times in those series, including nine against the Orioles in 2012.

In the 2010 ALCS against the Rangers, Rodriguez contributed a two-run single in a 6-5 Yankees Game 1 win. His 2-for-14 contribution in the four Yankee losses was meager, but he couldn’t have made much difference in games the Yankees lost 7-2, 8-0, 10-3 and 6-1.

His 2-for-18 showing in the 2011 Division Series with the Tigers was miserable, especially in the deciding Game 5. A-Rod struck out looking to open the second inning. Mark Teixeira followed with a ground-rule double, followed by Swisher’s ground out to shortstop. If A-Rod had gotten on base, he had a good chance to score that inning. He walked leading off the fourth (he was left on base). He grounded out with the bases empty to end the fifth. In the seventh, A-Rod struck out swinging with one out and the bases loaded. Teixeira walked to force home a run, but the Yankees left the bases loaded, trailing 3-2. That was the score in the ninth, when A-Rod struck out swinging to end the game.

That was another deciding game. A-Rod whiffed with a chance to give the Yankees the lead. Another failure when he could have given them the run they needed to take the game to extra innings. In the other two situations, a homer would have tied the game. A base hit would have at least extended the inning.

In the 2012 Division Series against the Orioles, Yankee manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for A-Rod twice, once with Raúl Ibañez and once with Eric Chávez. And in the deciding Game 5? Chávez started at third base, Ibañez at DH. A-Rod didn’t play.

He did play against the Tigers in the American League Championship Series, but not much or well.

In Game 1, A-Rod grounded into a force play with the bases loaded to end a scoreless first inning. He grounded into a double play to end the third. He struck out swinging with runners at second and third in the sixth. Three at-bats, four outs and six wasted base runners. And the next time up, Girardi sent Chávez to pinch-hit.

In Game 2, A-Rod struck out twice and flied out. He came up in the ninth inning, trailing 3-0 with two outs, and Yankee fans were expecting another final out from A-Rod. Instead, he got a groundball single. But he was left on base.

A-Rod didn’t even play in Game 3, another Tiger win. In Game 4, Ibañez started at DH, but A-Rod came in to face a left-handed reliever, trailing 6-1 in the sixth, with runners on the corners. He flew out to centerfield. He came up again in the ninth, trailing 8-1, with one out and no one on. He grounded out to the shortstop.

You can’t blame a four-game sweep on one player, but that was the last time we saw A-Rod in the post-season, three seasons ago. He was a part-time player who got one hit in a losing series sweep and didn’t score or drive in a run. And that was when his performance was enhanced?

Since then, we’ve had the 2013 season, when he was injured a lot, hitting seven homers in 44 games, and the 2014 suspension.

The Yankees have no one but themselves to blame for signing A-Rod to a 10-year contract in 2007. So they’re stuck with him this year. But no one should expect anything good from him any more. Especially if the Yankees should be lucky enough to be playing in October.

Source note: Statistics and game details here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

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15 responses

28 04 2015
leachbaseball

I think this is a great blog. I am a yankees fan and was a little on edge to see how A-Rod was going to come back and contribute to this yankees team. He has exceeded my expectations and many other fans. I look forward to seeing how the rest of the season pans out from A-Rod and the rest of the yankees.

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11 05 2015
wwwpalfitness

I liked your blog and I am following. Please do the same. I think A rod was better being the big fish in a small pond and has often failed in big situations. He is great at hitting 1 and 2 run home runs when little is on the line and he has a track record in the playoffs that is horrible. It is also not going away with a good season after a good 15 without a good finish.

My blog is varied to a few different subjects. I am a New Yorker and have a wide range of subjects just FYI.

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11 05 2015
Steve Buttry

Thanks, I’ll take a look.

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12 05 2015
wwwpalfitness

Thank you…

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25 05 2015
Robert Vincent Peace

Reblogged this on Games with Robert Vincent Peace.

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28 05 2015
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19 07 2016
Do we have a Yankees team with no future Hall of Famers? | Hated Yankees

[…] run titles, two RBI titles, a batting championship, 329 stolen bases, a 40-40 season. Even with his disappointing post-season record (but he finally won a championship ring in 2009), that’s an automatic Hall of Famer, easily […]

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12 08 2016
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