What Went Wrong: Alex Rodriguez

Prospect Profile: Cito Culver
Yankees decline options for Wood, Berkman, and Johnson

Over the next week or two or three, we’re going to recap the season that was by looking at what went right as well as what went wrong for the 2010 Yankees.

(Bill Kostroun/AP)

In March of 2009 Yankees fans got a scare. During his stint in the World Baseball Classic he suffered a hip injury — though it was actually a lingering issue that came to a head during that time. The outlook appeared grim at the time, but Dr. Marc Philippon suggested that an arthroscopic procedure would allow A-Rod to play the season, after which he could have the more invasive procedure. But after a season in which he hit .286/.402/.532 and played the hero in the postseason, the second surgery was deemed unnecessary. A-Rod would return at full strength in 2010.

A year later, Rodriguez has wrapped up the worst full season of his career. He produced career lows in batting average and OBP, while his SLG just barely edged out the .496 mark he posted in 1997. He walked less, just 9.9 percent of the time, and he hit line drives at an astonishingly low 13.8 percent rate. While things might have seemed worse early in the season, when he had just one home run on May 8, he actually went through a horrible slump from early June through mid-August, during which he hit .227/.290/.431 in 241 PA, which accounted for about 40 percent of his season. It would have been a lot worse, too, had he not gone 4 for 5 with three homers in a game against Kansas City. After that game he went 0 for 6 before heading to the DL with a strained calf.

Rodriguez was actually one of the few Yankees who hit in September. In his 112 PA he hit .295/.374/.600, including nine home runs — four of which came against Boston. But that didn’t lead to a good postseason performance; Alex went 7 for 32 with two doubles and four walks, but not much else. His one shining moment was driving in two during the eighth inning of the ALCS Game 1. But other than that, much like the rest of the Yankees offense, he came up empty. It was a fitting end to a disappointing season.

To get an idea of why A-Rod had a poor season, we can take a look at his spray charts, courtesy of Texas Leaguers. Here’s 2010:

That doesn’t look like a terrible spray chart, but when you look at his 2009 chart, the differences are noticeable.

The green dots down the left field line immediately stand out, as do the balls that lie beyond the left field fence. It appears as though Alex pulled the ball with much more authority in previous years. There also seems to be a greater concentration of green dots in the shallow outfield this year. These two factors, combined with his abysmally low line drive rate, suggests that he didn’t have a feel for his swing this season. Kevin Long did lend a hand in August, helping A-Rod with opening his hips as to generate more power. That appeared to help, as evidenced by his three-homer game followed by a power-filled September. But it wasn’t enough to recover the lost season.

What makes A-Rod’s season hurt is just not his production compared to his previous years, but his production compared to the average AL cleanup hitter. While his .270/.341/.506 season handily outpaced the average AL third baseman, it was in line, or perhaps a bit worse, than the average AL No. 4 hitter, .275/.350/.477. In other words, in what is supposed to be the most productive lineup spot, the Yankees got average results. That’s not something they expected coming into the season. In 2009 A-Rod was far better than the average cleanup hitter.

Still, the season wasn’t a total loss. Alex did get his hits when it really mattered. With men on he hit .296/.368/.556, and with runners in scoring position he hit .283/.355/.500. He also managed 11 sac flies and a .364/.373/.727 line with a runner on third and less than two outs, while hitting .286 with a runner on third and two outs. The discrepancy between his production with the bases empty and with runners on base might not be a sustainable one, though there is hope that the former rises to meet the latter next season.

Heading into next year, Alex will face many questions stemming from his relatively poor 2010 season. Did his hip affect him? Does he regret not having the second surgery? What will he do to correct the power issues that afflicted him early in the season? But given what we know about his talent, we shouldn’t expect a repeat in 2011. Players have down years all the time; A-Rod just happen to have his first one in 12 years this season.

Prospect Profile: Cito Culver
Yankees decline options for Wood, Berkman, and Johnson
  • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

    If I had to pick two players on the Yankees that will have big years (who aren’t named Robinson Cano) I’d pick Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez. He’s an all-world talent, I think he has one more 40 homer .950 OPS left in him.

    • Slugger27

      what concerns me is that his ld% dipped to 13.8%. thats 4 points lower than career, and more than 6 points lower than last 2009. his walk rate also dipped slightly.

      the .274 BABIP may seem like a lot of bad luck, but with the decline in line drives and increase in grounders, maybe it wasnt

      • http://twitter.com/AndrewLeighNYC Andrew

        I’m concerned about his bat speed, given the uptick in ground balls, drop in line drives and his career-low performance against fastballs in 2010. But I also am optimistic that he just had one of those years, considering his fly ball percentage was still in line with his career averages but his HR/FB% was way lower. And yes I understand his LD% dropped so that could be a reason for the collapse of his HR/FB%, but his LD% didn’t totally fall off a cliff (he posted some similar line drive% years in the mid-00s).

        I am cautiously optimistic that he just had a down year and is not starting to enter total decline mode.

    • Hughesus Christo

      You know he’s an older man with a chronic hip injury, right?

      • Nice


      • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

        He’s Alex Rodriguez, not a mere mortal. You realize his “worst season ever” is a career year for some guys, right?

        • Jimmy McNulty

          Yes, but those guys aren’t making 30MM a year nor are they signed until they’re 40. Alex Rodriguez is a great player, yes you’re absolutely right but his greatness and his contract places higher standards upon him for what Yankee fans will “accept” from him.

  • Clay Bellinger

    you meant “relatively poor 2010 season” in that last paragraph right?

  • guy

    Just looking at the spray charts, it appears to me that he was hitting with less power to right field. Fewer HR’s, fewer hits, more outs.

    Of course, that’s just eye-balling the pix — and we know what “eye-balling” means down under. And without doing the stats; that’s just what we’re doing.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      Of course, that’s just eye-balling the pix — and we know what “eye-balling” means down under. And without doing the stats; that’s just what we’re doing.


      • UWS

        Where’s pat when you need him?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Your beauty is why God invented eyeballs
          And your booty is why God invented my balls


  • Frank

    A-Rod’s numbers notwithstanding, I don’t think it’s fair to describe his season as “poor” or “relatively poor.” Those ae more fitting for AJ, Jeter and perhaps even Tex. Personally, I think A-Rod is not 100% physically. Whether it’s the hip or something else, who knows.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

      “Relatively poor” is 100% accurate in describing A-Rod’s season. It was very bad (hence, poor) by the standards he set (hence, relatively).

      • Frank

        Sorry, but I disagree.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

          He had a .363 wOBA this year. From 1998 through 2009 the lowest mark he posted was .385. How is this year not poor compared to his previous years?

          • http://twitter.com/iiKeane JobaWockeeZ

            It’s poor for A-Rod but it’s definitely not a bad or poor season at all.

            • James

              gentleman, we’re picking nits here…

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

          Additionally, his BA and OBP are the lowest of his career. Again, poor when related to his body of work.

          • Clay Bellinger

            Agreed…although his year was not at all poor by MLB standards, it was certainly poor by ARod standards.

          • http://twitter.com/joero23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            “…poor when related to his body of work.”

            …Which is as close as you can get to the definition of “relatively poor,” but I don’t know man, I might have to go with Frank on this one.

            • Sweet Dick Willie

              Are you agreeing with Frank that Alex’s season wasn’t poor when related to his body of work?

              Since it was the worst full season of his career, I don’t know how anyone can deny that he had a relatively poor season.

              • http://twitter.com/joero23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                Apparently I didn’t pour enough sarcasm into that comment.

                • Sweet Dick Willie

                  Didn’t detect it, sorry.

                  I probably wouldn’t have commented it it was said by most commenters, but coming from you, well, let’s just say I was surprised.

                  • http://twitter.com/joero23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

                    Ha, no worries. I was pulling the old ‘point out something factual then say that since Frank says differently, he must be right’ thing, but it wasn’t the type of thing that beats you over the head with the sarcasm (which I know can make it tougher to detect, in interweb-land).

              • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

                I think it’s just that A-rod’s 2010 line and “poor” don’t seem to go together.

                What Joe is saying, though, is that A-rod’s 2010 was poor when judged against the astronomical standards he’s set in previous years.

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

                  “What Joe is saying, though, is that A-rod’s 2010 was poor when judged against the astronomical standards he’s set in previous years. “relatively” is a word you can look up in any number of dictionaries if you’re not 100% certain as to its meaning.


  • John C

    Rodriquez himself admitted his hip, at least indirectly, was the source of problems over the course of the season. He stated rehabbing his hip took much away from his baseball related off-season work that ultimately effected his on-field performance. He also added that his hip felt fine. I wish I had the link to the article, but the conversation took place right after the Yanks were eliminated from the post-season.

    The Yanks, courtesy of dim-bulb Hank, are stuck with Alex for another 164 years. Let’s hope Alex’s legendary hard work and drive keep him at plus production levels for at least the next few years.

    • Tank Foster

      Talk about chipping your tooth…that contract stinks.

      But you bring up a good point: ARod is a notoriously hard worker, and I think his fixation on records will keep his motivation high no matter what. Not like we’ll come close to getting our money’s worth out of Alex, but he won’t be no Sammy Sosa in Baltimore…..

      • John C

        It’s impossible for the Yanks to get their money’s worth out of A-Rod.

        We can talk all we want about BABIP, LD%, GB rate, spray patterns, and as Piliere wrote, balance, but these are all simple physical manifestations of decline either permanent or temporary. If it were just a decline in one category such as BABIP, maybe we could say his off year was bad luck, but that would be un-wise.

        All we can do is hope this was not the start of the big decline and that A-Rod can work his way back to 140’s type wRC+ performance. Personally, given A-Rod’s own statements regarding his health, I think he will.

        Of larger concern to me is the Yanks committing to Jeter for an excessively long period of time.

  • Dick Whitman

    I think Alex will have a better year next year than he did this year. His LD% went down, sure, but his swinging strike % was a career low 8.9%. If he bat speed was slowing, he’s be swinging through more pitches, not less. His contact% was also a career high 80.3%. Again, more evidence that his bat speed isn’t necessarily the problem.

    IMO, three things led to his lesser season:

    1) bad luck
    2) swinging more often (at bad pitches)
    3) mechanics weren’t where they usually are (speculation)

    • http://twitter.com/AndrewLeighNYC Andrew

      Slowed bat speed could also manifest itself in the increased ground balls or weak fly balls, couldn’t it? He clearly has a ridiculous ability to get the bat to the ball, but maybe it’s not as great a thing if he can’t square pitches up like he used to? I agree with you, though, on the 3 things you pointed to that contributed to his down year. I want to believe that he just swung at the wrong pitches and didn’t put himself in the ideal spot to drive the ball, hence the fewer line drives/more grounders, and that luck just totally went against him in ’10–and with his skills he should (barring injury) be able to improve on that next year.

      • Dick Whitman

        I agree it’s absolutely possible.

        The reason I don’t think it’s that likely is because his BB% dropped to 9.9%, the lowest it has been since 1999 and his outside the zone swing % (O-swing%) was at a career high 25.4%. His swing % was 45.1%, which is pretty close to his career 45.1% Outside the zone contact % (O-contact %)also shot up to a career high 66.0%, about 14% higher than his career figure.

  • larryf

    Thinking that ARod having 125 rbi’s in a down year is pretty darn good even if rbi’s are not a great stat. Same for Tex who had a worse year. Next year please bat cano 3rd and watch him drive in 140.

    Arod’s fielding, while low in errors thanks to Tex, ain’t great either. Not sure if it is just slow lateral movement or having to compensate somewhat for Jeter’s lack of range or both.

    • Hughesus Christo

      Compensating for Jeter’s lack of range is somehow crippling ARod’s lateral movement? GET JETER OUT OF HERE NOW

  • Tank Foster

    I just want to say that I think the premise of these articles – “What went wrong” – is off base.

    Best record in baseball. Had Pettitte not been injured, the Yankees might have been up 2-0 in the Texas series and on their way to a win. You just don’t know how things are going to go.

    I agree that in the end, they were not the best team, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying something was “wrong.”

    • Clay Bellinger

      They didn’t have the best record in baseball, not even the best record in the division for that matter.

      I understand your point in that there can’t be much wrong with a team that was 2 games away from going back to the WS, but there’s always something wrong that can be improved with each and every team that doesn’t win the WS…even if it is minor.

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      well, things went wrong for various members of the team. If they have an article that’s like “What Went Wrong: Robinson Cano” I’ll raise my eyebrow, but I mean, things went wrong even for last year’s Yankees. It’s not unfair to note that. I assume they’ll have a “What Went Right” group too. I did think Alex had a down year for Alex, but it was quite a solid year overall.

  • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

    LD% by Month
    Mar/April: 16.4%
    May: 22.6%
    June: 14.3
    July: 8.9%
    August: 7.5%
    September: 10.3%

    June 1 – August 16: He started 61 of 66 games. A fatigued ARod in middle of the summer months is not a productive ARod. His BB% also dropped in the summer months too.

    • Clay Bellinger

      Good point…maybe a few more days off here and there as he gets older will keep him fresh.

  • larryf

    I went to a game at YS on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Yanks were playing good ball and beat Toronto. ARod came back the next day and we were pretty bad as a team after that (except for the Twins series)

    /just sayin’

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      Yeahhhh not really sure what you’re trying to say here

      • larryf

        that we can win without him and without Jeter..

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          larryf: 1
          Strawman: 0

          • larryf

            Why thank you Tommie Smith

            /fist in air salute

            • king of fruitless hypotheticals

              boy, don’t i feel like the effing a……

              all this time i thought it was Tommies Mith…

            • http://twitter.com/dpatrickg Dirty Pena

              Maybe you should look up what “strawman” means…

    • http://twitter.com/AndrewLeighNYC Andrew

      That has a lot more to do with the increased usage of Chad Gaudin, Dustin Moseley, Ivan Nova, etc., rather than A-Rod’s return. After all .295/.374/.600 was his line in Sept., as written up above, so it’s a huge stretch/totally inaccurate to passively imply that A-Rod was the reason the team faded in September.

  • Jerome S

    Put your hand up if you think A-Rod will garner MVP votes next year.

  • larryf

    Just use a lighter bat next year Alex!

    As an aside, an old timer Yankee fan told me a story yesterday (another one) that Mantle used heavy bats and, after breaking one in a game, he picked up Billy Martin’s lighter model and hit one over 500ft to dead center…

  • MikeD

    I thought A-Rod was going to have a great year in 2009 for a couple reasons. His last fully healthy season was 2007, his monster MVP season. His hip started to bother him in mid-2008, impacting his overall stats. 2009 we all know about. Hip surgery. Missed the first month of the season, and then started what was in essence his Spring Training in May, except it was in MLB games against pitchers already in top form, yet he was only at 80% or so as he was still recovering month by month. The Yankees also overplayed him in May and June, leading to fatigue. He was strong again August through October and it showed in the results. For 2010, with surgery a year behind him and an off season to fully recover, it seemed reasonable a big year was in front of him. I wasn’t expecting a return to 2007, which I wouldn’t have expected even without surgery, but I certainly thought a .300/.390/.600 with 40 HRs was in shot based on what we saw the last half of 2009.

    We now have to accept that the hip issue, coupled with age, have permanently blunted A-Rod’s hitting skills. The Yankees should plan their line-up around a reduced A-Rod, not that a reduced A-Rod won’t be productive. Heading into 2011, the Yankees should build a team expecting A-Rod to produce around what he did in 2010. If he does better, great, but don’t plan for it.

    My personal feeling is that while the days of the great A-Rod are gone, I think he’ll rebound some from 2010. He was definitely having some problem turning on inside pitches during the mid-months, leading to pitchers trying to exploit that weakness. That also reduced his opposite field power as pitchers were less fearful of coming inside. The fixes after the Kevin Long session seemed to work, improving his hip rotation. I think a .285/.370/.560/36 HR season are within reach. Just don’t expect a return to classic A-Rod.

  • Jonathan

    I love Arod, but you’re burying your head in the sand if you think this was just an “off” year. He clearly still has significant hip issues. He totally abandoned his old swing and cut out the leg kick because he can’t stay back on his bad hip. He also has trouble turning on quality pitches and staying back on breaking pitches. The fact that he put up the year he did with these problems is amazing, but if he doesn’t get that hip fixed, I don’t know how anyone can expect him to rebound without fixing the problem that caused his down year.