Poor Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees’ 27-Million-Dollar Man has had a month to forget. Since going 5 for 5 in Texas on May 25th, A-Rod has hit just .186 over his last 20 games with a .314 slugging percentage and a .352 OBP. That .666 OPS is devilish indeed.
Last night, A-Rod had a chance to be a hero. After a Mark Teixeira single, A-Rod came to the plate as the potential winning run. When the Yanks pinch ran for Teixeira with the speedy Brett Gardner, A-Rod’s chances of delivering improved. Gardner stole second on an 0-1 count and third on a 1-1 count. With the tying run just 90 feet away, A-Rod had a few pitches to lift a fly ball or knock out an RBI base hit to tie the game.
Well, as we know all too well, that didn’t happen. A-Rod drew a walk, and after a stellar at-bat by Cano, the Yanks lost when Robbie hit a 2-2 pitch on the ground right at Cristian Guzman. 6-4-3, double play. Game over. Nationals win.
After the game, as I made my way out of the stadium, I thought about how frustrating it was to watch Cano’s AB and to come away empty-handed. My dad texted me, though, and while he usually supports A-Rod, he put this one on the Yanks’ third baseman. “A-Rod was too happy to get that walk,” he said. “His job was to put the bat on the ball. He failed. He set up the double play.” After a few exchanges in which I defended A-Rod, he said, “A-Rod should have brought the run home.”
At first, I wasn’t too receptive to this idea. Of course, we wanted A-Rod to bring the run home but not at the risk of swinging at bad pitches. A walk, after all, keeps the line moving, and doesn’t baseball wisdom dictate that a walk is as good as a hit? Here’s a thought though: What if it isn’t?
To find out, let’s turn to some win expectancy numbers. These number measure the percentage of times the team in any given situation wins the game. When the Yanks started the 9th inning, they had a 9.7 percent shot at winning. After Damon’s home run, that number hit 20.9, and when Brett Gardner made it to third with one out, the Yanks had a 41.9 percent Win Expectancy. The game was nearly in their grasp.
When A-Rod walked, that number went up by 4.7 percent. Facing a one-run deficit with two on and one out, the home team wins 46.6 percent of the time. That move, though, didn’t maximize A-Rod’s potential contributions. In fact, outside of an unproductive out or an improbable double play, it was the least A-Rod could do.
With Alex up, there were a few different outcomes. He could end the game with a two-run home run; he could drive in the run with a base hit; he could drive in the run with an out; or he could walk. Ending the game would have pushed the Yankees’ Win Expectancy from 41.9 to 100. A base hit would have pushed the team’s WE somewhere from the upper 60-percent range to the low 80-percent area depending upon whether the hit was a single, double or triple. An out with an RBI would have tied the game. For 2009, in a tie game with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, the home team wins 53 percent of the time. Historically, that number is closer to 60 percent.
As we saw, A-Rod’s true outcome bumped the team WE up by 4.7 percent. A walk was not in fact as good as a hit.
A-Rod got on base; he improved the team’s chances to win; he kept the line moving. He didn’t maximize his opportunity, and he — as the clean-up hitter — didn’t drive home the run the Yanks needed to score. Maybe he didn’t see his pitch; maybe he’s not feeling it at the plate right now. He did not, however, induce the double play, and the Yanks had a better to chance to win after A-Rod’s at-bat than before it. It’s not always his fault.