Can A-Rod return to the .500 SLG plateau?

Fan Confidence Poll: December 12th, 2011
Repeating History With Yu Darvish
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

On the heels of my A-Rod OBP post from several weeks ago, commenter Andy asked whether we can expect Alex to get back over the .500 SLG threshold. While the safe answer is “probably not,” what with Alex turning 37 and all next year, I was curious to see what a breakdown of Alex’s 2011 round-trippers might portend for the future.

As you know, Alex Rodriguez hit a career-low 16 home runs across 428 plate appearances in his injury-riddled 2011 campaign, or a pace of 26.75 PA/HR. However, this pace wasn’t impacted by his second half — up until he hit the DL in early July he’d hit 13 home runs in 344 PAs, which is a 26.46 PA/HR pace. As a point of comparison, for his career he’s a 16.91 AB/HR hitter.

Aside from injury speculation, part of A-Rod’s power outage is likely due somewhat to his recent struggles with left-handed pitching, as he only hit two home runs off LHP all season. However, a more interesting picture begins to emerge when looking at B-Ref’s Play Index breakouts of Alex’s home runs. In 2009, eight of his 30 home runs came while behind in the count, nine while the count was even and the remaining 13 while ahead. In 2010, seven of his 30 home runs came while behind, six while even and 17 when ahead. And in 2011, he hit zero home runs when behind in the count, five when even and 11 when ahead.

Now, clearly hitters fare better when ahead in the count and are subsequently more likely to hit home runs, but based on this data Alex was obviously not a threat to go yard in 2011 once the pitcher got ahead. This is further underscored by the following graph detailing Alex’s last three years of tOPS+ and sOPS+ when ahead, even and behind in the count (click to enlarge):

Not only was Alex not a threat to go yard when behind in the count in 2011, he wasn’t a threat to do much of anything, performing 83% worse than usual in those situations, and 12% worse than league average.

So what were pitchers giving Alex after they got ahead of him?

Versus right-handers, Alex could expect to see a fastball the majority of the time when behind in the count; however, once lefties got two strikes there was a strong chance Alex was going to see a curveball or a slider, two pitches he was largely ineffective (0.22 wCB/C and 0.06 wSL/C) against.

Moving on to pitch location, if we look at his home runs versus swinging strikes, it appears that Alex chased an increased number of pitches low and away in 2011 compared with 2010, which would seem to make sense given that Alex does most of his home run damage middle-in.

As far as pitch type goes, Alex’s home run breakout was as follows:

The two home runs off lefties came on a changeup (hooray!) and cutter (double hooray!), two pitches he’s had some difficulties with. The other changeup homer came off James Shields, which is just awesome considering how much Shields — not to mention changeups in general — kills the Yankees.

So what does all this mean for Alex’s chances of increasing his home run tally in 2012, and hopefully getting that SLG back above .500? For one, it’s pretty clear he’s going to need to be more aggressive when falling behind in the count. However, he’ll also have to improve his ability to stay away from breaking pitches with two strikes in the count, as they’re likely to finish out of the zone.

Now, the same could be said for every single player in Major League Baseball, but as illustrated above this was a pretty big weakness for Alex in 2011, and enhanced pitch recognition should help him battle back more frequently when he gets behind and ideally get a better pitch to drive. This also ties in to getting his plate discipline numbers back in line with his career averages. If Alex can regain the superb selectivity he featured for much of April 2011 combined with a revamped approach after falling behind in the count as well as against left-handers, he should return to being the middle-of-the-order force we know and love, and the SLG will follow suit.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 12th, 2011
Repeating History With Yu Darvish
  • Gifted Go Gitta

    Maybe his cousin could help him out.

  • MannyGeee

    maybe he needs glasses/Lasik. Not kidding.

    Is his elevated age, maybe he needs to get himself checked out? Its not bat speed, as evidenced by the pie above, and younger A-Rod hit the hell outta EVERYTHING.

    You can’t hit what you cant see.

  • Scully

    I also think staying on the field will help (obviously). His pre-DL HR numbers were down because he had been playing with the knee injury for a number of weeks before hand (Cubs interleague series). His power numbers in April were good to great when healthy. If we can figure out how to keep him healthy for 145 games I think you can see him slug .500

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    When he was young and in Seattle he would punch the ball through the middle with two strikes. Now he is trying to hit homers every time or at least it appears that way. It is going to be difficult for him to break the HR record. Even if he averages 20 per season the next 6 he will fall short. Of course what we want is that he provide a good bat in the lineup. I hope he does well from hereon but the odds are against it.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      I do not think he can slug .500 again.

  • Gonzo

    I think he can slug .500 again. I worry about the long-term health concerns more though. I don’t know, but he never looked 100% comfortable at the plate. Maybe not, and if so, who knows why.

    I saw paparazzi photos from one of his parties. He likes his ladies muscular.

  • ADam

    6/144 left.. Makes me die a little inside

    • aluis

      could be worse 10/255…just ask the Angels!

      • ADam

        Still Not as bad as ARODs

        • Mike

          So you would trade A-Rod for Pujols?

  • Monteroisdinero

    ARod could not turn on fbs middle-in and this bodes poorly for him-if he is healthy. He should get plenty of good pitches to hit with the guys behind him in the order.

    • MannyGeee

      We can fix this easily… teach him to bunt!

      Girardi’s Binder

  • Jonathan

    I don’t think it’s a pitch recognition issue at all. When he was healthy at the start of the year he was raking. But when you’re hurt and it causes your bat to slow down you have to start earlier to catch up with the heat making you very susceptible to the breaking stuff. And sometimes you can’t just can’t catch up with good heat inside. As long as he’s not hurting he’s fine. The talent is still there and so is the bat speed. The issue is we all know he’s going to deal with some back/leg/hip issues for 1/2 the year. If he stayed healthy last year I think he would have hit about .300/390/550. But staying healthy at that age with his recent injury issues isn’t happening.

  • Monteroisdinero

    As far as right handed power bats, there’s a new sheriff in town.

    • Gonzo

      They are like the opposite when it comes to splits recently. A-Rod hits righties, and Montero hits lefties.

      • Monteroisdinero

        Looking forward to the reports of the January workouts at Camp ARod.

        • Gonzo

          They can teach each other.

  • Mike R

    Awesome article dude. I absolutely love the graphs and pie charts, spices up the article with a nice visual perspective. Good stuff. Let all us Yankee Fans hope A-Rod returns to that pleatau because I feel like he’s been in a power outage the last two years

  • CJ

    If ARod can’t slug .500, then sign prince before he ends up in Texas or Toronto. My guess is that Toronto was mystery team in pujols hunt.

  • Bill

    There must be a correlation between plate appearances and this issue with pitch recognition when behind in the count. Looking at the statistics you provided in the article, A-Rod’s highest amount of PAs was in 2010 with 595 (not including playoffs). 2009 was next with 535 and 2011 had 428. The number follow that more PAs equal more results. His sOPS and tOPS even went up slightly in 2010 with more PAs.

  • Buick

    Bench Not Priority? Typical Cashman. Well be stuck with Nunez making and error every inning again

  • Adolf Oliver Nipple

    he will. lock the thread!!!

  • NJ_Andy

    Just want to say thanks for the totally unnecessary shout out, and for the rather awesome article. I just wish your research had resulted in a more optimistic outlook.

    Looking at this, and his generally declining power numbers, at what point do you think Alex gets moved off of cleanup?