A-Rod’s continued woes against left-handed pitching

What Went Right (And Wrong): Farm System
What Went As Expected: Mariano Rivera
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Alex Rodriguez has been an equal opportunity masher for almost the entirety of his career, bashing righties to the tune of a .306/.386/.570 line and crushing lefties with a .289/.386/.559 triple slash. However, something funny happened on the way to Alex’s 2010 campaign — his production against left-handed pitching fell off dramatically, as he put up a meager .217/.314/.441 line (.323 wOBA, 96 wRC+) against lefties across 172 plate appearances.

(please click to enlarge)

Last winter I dug into the numbers to figure out why that might have been, and concluded that Alex’s struggles against lefties appeared to be due in part to an uptick in cutters (7.2% of the time), two-seamers (15.3%) and changeups (16.1%) seen, none of which he handled particularly well last year.

v LHP 2010 GB% LD%
FC 57.1% 14.3%
CH 53.8% 15.4%
FT 41.2% 5.9%
Season (v all) 46.0% 17.8%

(PITCHf/x data courtesy of JoeLefkowitz.com)

My former co-writer at TYA, William J., followed my A-Rod post up with a comprehensive look of his own, and found that Alex’s struggles against lefties likely had something to do with his minuscule .212 BABIP, which probably was partially the result of his LD% against lefties falling from 26.4% in 2009 to 12.1% last season. William also dug a bit deeper and found that 26% of Alex’s plate appearances against lefties came against the AL’s elite southpaws — including David Price, Ricky Romero, Jon Lester and Cliff Lee, among others — and found that his production essentially decreased across the board year-over-year against the league’s best.

So how did Alex follow this (hopefully) one-year aberration in production against left-handed pitching in 2011? Well, for one, he managed to dramatically improve both his batting average and on-base percentage, and also bettered his 2010 wOBA v. lefties with a .333 mark, which actually made him a slightly above-average producer against southpaws (105 wRC+). Some of this was no doubt fueled by a .100-point-plus increase in BABIP against lefties to .316 in 2011 (which itself was the partial result of a rise in LD% back up to 19.2%). However, his ability to hit for power fell off a cliff (though as we saw in the second-half following his return from the DL, this wasn’t an issue exclusive to facing lefties), as he put up a mere .383 SLG against lefties in 2011. In fact, A-Rod only hit two home runs off left-handed starting pitching all season — one against Chris Capuano on May 21, and the other against former-Yankee-killer Brett Cecil on September 4.

Now we do need to acknowledge that there are some sample size issues here, as he only came to the plate 109 times against left-handed pitching in 2011, compared to an average of 168 PAs from 2004-2010. Still, that lack of power is troubling, especially since he showed he can still get on base against left-handed pitchers.

The pitch selection against Alex varied (though it’s important to bear in mind that year-over-year PITCHf/x data is not the most reliable thing in the world, given the myriad misclassification issues that can arise, but as I don’t have time to manually reclassify questionable pitches we have to use the data that’s readily available), with the percentage of cutters and two-seamers down from 2010 (to 4.1% and 11.9%, respectively), which changeups ticked up slightly (17.4%). However, they remained rather effective weapons against Alex, as his batted ball results against these three pitches didn’t exactly improve:

v LHP 2011 GB% LD%
FC 50.0% 16.7%
CH 79.9% 0.0%
FT 75.0% 8.3%
Season (v all) 48.4% 13.2%

As in 2010, a little over a quarter of his PAs against left-handers came against the league’s elite, as he stepped to the plate against Ricky Romero, Jon Lester and David Price 31 times over 7 games, and they continued to crush him, as he picked up a mere three hits against that trio.

Now, in fairness, Alex really didn’t look right after returning from knee surgery in late August — although the majority of his PAs against lefties came prior to his stint on the DL — so I’m willing to give him a slight pass on his late-season performance. Also, as previously acknowledged, this isn’t a perfect comparison, given that Alex’s number of PAs against lefties fell by 36% in 2011. However, I think we have enough of a sample to concur that A-Rod has definitely struggled against left-handers for two straight seasons, with the former seemingly due in part to some bad luck and the latter due to an inability to drive the ball.

It’s difficult to be terribly optimistic about Alex’s chances of a significant bounceback year after two straight injury-riddled ~.360 wOBA campaigns featuring diminished performances against pitchers he should in theory have a platoon advantage against. However, it seems like a 100% healthy A-Rod should be able to outdo a .333 wOBA against portsiders. At this point I suppose the biggest question is whether he can actually stay healthy.

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What Went Right (And Wrong): Farm System
What Went As Expected: Mariano Rivera
  • BigDavey88

    “portsiders”…

    I don’t hate it.

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

      No worse than southpaws.

  • Ted Nelson

    Good analysis

  • Monteroisdinero

    Breaking “down” is hard to do.

  • Professor Longnose

    So how does that affect roster decisions? Do you have to plan to have a backup third baseman better than Nunez in case Rodriguez is out for a month or two? Can you get by with an injury-prone backup like Chavez?

    • Larry Koestler

      Hey professor! Nice to see you over here. I’m sure the Yanks will explore the market for some sort of third base caddy for Alex, to both give him rest and have a back-up in case of injury. Nunez sets the bar pretty low, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to find a serviceable backup. Though his production fell off a bit near the end of the season, I think the Yankees would happily have Chavez back if he doesn’t retire. The remainder of the hypothetical backup 3B market is pretty slim — I for one want no part of a Wilson Betemit reunion, though I suppose that remains a possibility, though it sounds as though he may be able to get a starting gig somewhere. In any event, I believe Moshe will have more on this exact topic in his RAB debut.

      • Jose M. Vazquez..

        I think Jorge Vazquez might fit the bill here. He is not that good defensively at third but can be competitive at first also. He possesses a power bat too and if given the opportunity I am sure he could do the job and for a lot less dollars than an outside replacement.

      • Ted Nelson

        Nunez can hit lefties and 2011 was a bad error season even by his standards. I would not be surprised if he got the errors down to the point where he’s a better overall option than Chavez. I like Chavez fine, but he hasn’t hit in years and is more of a health risk than A-Rod. Luckily the Yankees can carry Nunez and someone else to hedge their bets, plus have additional depth in Laird, Vazquez, CoJo, Pena, etc. in the minors.

        Betemit should get a chance to start or at least be the LH side of a platoon. He crushes from the left-side. Might be better off as a DH or maybe a longer look in the OF (got 19 innings in 2010). Even with his defense he might be the best option at 3B for a whole bunch of teams.

      • Professor Longnose

        I think Chavez is great when he’s healthy, but it’s hard to have a guy likely to hit the DL for a month or three as a backup to a guy likely to hit the DL for a month or three.

        • Larry Koestler

          An astute point, although I think I’d almost take a likely-to-break-down Chavez over any of the available free agent third basemen.

        • Ted Nelson

          Nice thing is not having to rely on one back-up with Chavez/replacement, Nunez, Laird, JoVa, Corban Joseph, and Pena all able to step in.

          Pretty tough to have a back-up who is starting caliber, and when you do it might be wise to move/trade one or the other to fill another need. Nunez can hit (decently), run, has good range, and just might get the throwing errors down enough to be a valuable back-up.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Let’s face it Alex has not been the elite player for the last two years that he once was. You can blame it on injuries or other causes but I personally do not think he is going to get better in the next few years as father time catches up with us sooner than later. He will need more R&R the following years.

    • Ted Nelson

      You pretty much have to blame it on injuries. He was the best 3B in baseball before he got hurt in 2011. You look at guys like Carlos Beltran or Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon (for some recent NYC examples) and it’s hard to assume someone can’t regain their health at least for a season or two.

  • http://ablogforarod.blogspot.com/ The Captain

    Well-researched and supported as usual, Larry, but a very disheartening topic. Great work.

    With A-Rod moving forward, it’s all going to come down to his health. If he’s healthy, he’ll hit everybody better. If he’s not, then we’ll probably have to put the pieces together to figure out what pitchers or pitches he’s going to struggle against as a result.