How A-Rod became the Yankees’ best hitter

Goodbye, baseball. (Photo credit: Kim Klement/Reuters)
Goodbye, baseball. (Photo credit: Kim Klement/Reuters)

There are few people who could have predicted Alex Rodriguez would be the leader or co-leader on the Yankees in batting average, on-base percentage, Wins Above Replacement, OPS, runs, RBI and homers – and arguably the team MVP – after the first two weeks of the season (yes, despite his 0-fer on Monday). Heck, six months ago it seemed like everyone was trying to figure out how the team could release him and recover part of the $61 million he’s still owed over the next three seasons.

Sure, it’s an incredibly small sample. The guy is also almost 40 years old while playing on two surgically-repaired hips, so he’s very likely not going to sustain this incredible pace.

But this scorching hot start is still very real, and nearly unprecedented even in the context of A-Rod‘s career. The last time he had this many homers, RBI and hits in the team’s first 13 games was 2007, the same year he won the AL MVP award.

We know that only a few years ago he was an elite third baseman and his natural hitting skills are off the charts, but these eye-popping numbers are still somewhat shocking for a player that was out of the game for a year and was pretty mediocre the last time we saw him in a baseball uniform.

So what has been the key to A-Rod’s early-season performance? And how much of it can he sustain going forward?

Going, going, going…gone!
One of the reasons to be optimistic about his numbers is the fact that he’s absolutely crushing the ball. We’re talking mammoth, tape-measure homers and really solid bat-to-ball contact — power that few could have predicted at the start of spring training.

His average batted ball distance of 246 feet leads all major league players and his average batted ball velocity of 99.3 mph is the second-highest in MLB (min. 5 at-bats). He also ranks among the top 20 of all players in hard-hit rate – the percentage of at-bats ending in a hard-hit ball, based on video review – according to ESPN’s stat guru Mark Simon.

A-Rod owns the longest home run hit by anybody this season – a 477-foot shot on Friday night – and is the only player with three “no doubt” homers, according to (A no-doubt homer means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet and landed at least 50 feet past the fence.)

A-Rod home run chart

Can he handle the heat?
A key question heading into the season is whether A-Rod’s bat would be able to catch up to fastballs. Pitchers haven’t been shy about challenging A-Rod with the heater, and he’s done a good job so far answering his critics by going 6-for-15 with four homers and a double in at-bats ending in four-seamers.

Of the 11 four-seasm fastballs he’s put into play so far, only one has been a ground ball and four have been classified as line drives. Need more proof? No player has a higher slugging percentage or hit more homers against four-seam fastballs this season than Alex.

Patience is a virtue
Another encouraging sign is the strong place discipline numbers that Rodriguez is showing so far. His walk rate of 18 percent would be a career-high and swing rate at pitches out of the zone (26 percent) is better than the current league average. He clearly has done a good job of working counts and waiting for pitches in his sweetspot, while laying off pitches he can’t demolish.

If there’s one big weakness in his approach at the plate, though, it is his high whiff rate. His contact (63 percent) and strikeout percentages (31 percent) would both be career-worsts and are well-below-average. Pitchers have really exposed A-Rod’s propensity to swing and miss at off-speed and breaking pitches, especially down in the zone, as detailed in the heat map below:

ARod Whiffs per swing

While this lack of contact and tendency to chase soft stuff could be a concern going forward, it’s impact is probably lessened by his patience and good batting eye. As long as he can continue to get ahead in the count, take his walks and force pitchers to throw him hittable pitches, A-Rod should be able to keep up a high on-base percentage and give the Yankees a solid power bat on a consistent basis.

We know that A-Rod is probably not going to hit 40 homers and likely won’t finish with a near-.500 OBP at the end of the season. He is going to regress, but based on what he’s shown in these first few weeks, there is a good chance that he’ll be at least capable of providing above-average production for a team that could really use his power and patience in the lineup.


Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves


3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.

The Summer of A-Rod: Looking At Upcoming Milestones [2015 Season Preview]

As Yankees fans, we’ve been fortunate to see a lot of historic moments over the years. Derek Jeter seemed to pass someone on some all-time list every other game last season. Mariano Rivera rewrote the record book for closers and others like Roger Clemens and Ichiro Suzuki had historic moments while passing through the Bronx.

The 2015 season is shaping up to be a good but not great milestone season for the Yankees. Some players will hit a few nice round numbers but we’re not going to see anything like we did with Jeter and Mariano the last few seasons. Well, that’s not true. The Yankees do have one all-time great close to reaching not one, but three historic milestones. The problem is everyone hates the guy.

As we get closer to wrapping up our season preview series, let’s look at some notable upcoming milestones. We’re only going to focus on the major, somewhat historical milestones though. No one really cares Andrew Miller is ten strikeouts away from 500 for his career, right? Right. Let’s get to it.


The Summer of A-Rod

3,000th hit: 61 away
2,000th RBI: 31 away
660th home run: six away

Now that his suspension is over, Alex Rodriguez is able to continue his pursuit of some seriously historic milestones. With good health, he can become the 29th player in history with 3,000 hits and only the fourth ever with 2,000 RBI this season. He can also tie Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time homer list, triggering the first of his five $6M bonuses. Needless to say, the health part is far from guaranteed. Alex wasn’t particularly durable in the years immediately prior to the suspension, remember.

Here’s the coolest part: A-Rod could reach all three milestones on the same swing. It’s extremely unlikely to happen, but the math suggests it’s possible. One swing … bam. He gets his 3,000th hit, 2,000th RBI, and 660th homer all at once. It would be amazing. Jeter and Wade Boggs are the only players to go deep for their 3,000th hit, which is kinda funny since neither was a home run hitter, and it’s been almost a half-century since a player reached the 2,000th RBI plateau. Hank Aaron was the last to do it in 1972. (Babe Ruth and Cap Anson are the other members of the 2,000 RBI club.)

Should A-Rod reach the three milestones at some point this year, all on one swing or otherwise, I don’t think they’ll come with the usual celebration from fans and the Yankees. Announcers will mention it and writers will write about it, but I don’t think we’ll sit through some kind of massive chase like when Jeter was going after his 3,000th hit. That got non-stop, wall-to-wall coverage. That’s fine. Alex made his own bed and he has to sleep in it. I’m still rooting like hell for him though.

CC Sabathia

3,000th inning: 178.2 away
2,500th strikeout: 63 away


Once upon a time, we would laugh at the idea of Sabathia throwing “only” 178.2 innings in a season. This is a guy who averaged 215 innings a year from 2001-11, which is bonkers. But, between last year’s knee surgery and his natural age-related decline, getting to 178.2 innings is hardly a guarantee for Sabathia. Should he get there, he’d be the 135th pitcher in history to reach 3,000 innings and only the 32nd lefty to do so.

Getting to 2,500 strikeouts is a much bigger deal, historically. Sixty-three more punch outs would move Sabathia into 31st place all-time and make him only the ninth lefty in history with 2,500 strikeouts. That’s not a “stop the game so his teammates can run on the field to congratulate him” type of milestone, but it’s still pretty cool. That kind of longevity and effectiveness is quite an accomplishment.

Carlos Beltran & Mark Teixeira

400th home run: Beltran is 27 away, Teixeira is 37 away

Both of these seem pretty unlikely, though I suppose they aren’t completely impossible. Four hundred dingers is a nice round number and one heck of an accomplishment, but remember, these two are switch-hitters. Only three switch-hitters in history have hit 400+ dingers: Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504), and Chipper Jones (468). Beltran is fourth all-time in homers by a switch-hitter and Teixeira is sixth. (Lance Berkman is fifth with 366.) If they don’t get to 400 this year, hopefully both do it before their contracts expire following next season.


Joe Girardi

1,272nd game managed with Yankees: 138 away
1,340th game managed overall: 44 away

When the Yankees play the Orioles at home on September 9th, Girardi will manage his 1,272nd game with the Yankees, jumping over Ralph Houk and into fifth place on the team’s all-time games managed list. Fifth place! It feels like Girardi was just hired yesterday, doesn’t it? My goodness. He has a long way to go before moving into fourth place — Miller Huggins managed 1,796 games in pinstripes — so after Girardi passes Houk, he’ll sit in fifth place for a few years.

If you’re wondering about wins, Girardi has managed 648 of those with the Yankees, the fifth most in franchise history. Huggins is fourth with 1,067 wins. So yeah, it’ll be a while before Girardi moves up a spot on that list. The Yankees have missed the postseason the last two years and could very well miss the playoffs again this year, though I don’t think Girardi is in danger of being fired. Hal Steinbrenner seems to like him very much and that’s the guy you want in your corner. Besides, I don’t see any reason why Girardi should be on the hot seat. If anything he’s helped prop the team up higher than their true talent level the last two years.

Anyway, Girardi will manage his 1,340th career game overall on May 24th, at home against the Rangers, which will move him into the top 100 on the all-time games managed list. Baseball-Reference says 686 men have managed at least one game in the show — I would have guessed more, though that doesn’t include bench coaches who took over in a particular game after the manager was ejected — and Girardi is close to joining the top 100 in games managed just a few months after his 50th birthday. That’s impressive. Joe’s still got a lot of managing left ahead of him.

With help from A-Rod, Greg Bird has made himself part of the Yankees’ long-term picture


Opinions will vary, but I think most would agree first baseman Greg Bird has been the most impressive young hitter in Yankees camp this year. Jose Pirela has better stats but Bird looks the part of a big leaguer at the plate. He knows the strike zone and he hasn’t looked overwhelmed either by pitchers or the environment. Bird just looks like a hitter. I don’t know how else to explain it. Look at how quick his hands are:

It seems like Bird he was born to hit. He went 5-for-14 (.357) with three doubles and a home run during Grapefruit League play before being reassigned to minor league camp yesterday. Aside from being late to lunch, Bird was extremely impressive in Spring Training. Brian Cashman called him “by far the best hitter in the (farm system)” a few weeks go and Alex Rodriguez has sung his praises as well. From John Harper:

“I mean, when you’ve been around for 20 years, you know who can play and who can’t. You see the way the ball comes off his bat. Then you see his work ethic, and how he watches and asks smart questions, and you know he’s got a great makeup. He’s going to be around for a long time.”

This isn’t Jorge Posada or Jason Giambi calling Phil Hughes the next Roger Clemens or something silly like that. It’s just A-Rod praising Bird for being an intelligent player and a good hitter. There’s no hyperbole. A-Rod is just repeating what a lot of other people have already said about Bird, that’s all.

As it turns out, A-Rod had a small hand in Bird’s development as a hitter. The two first met back in 2013, when Alex spent a few days with Low-A Charleston working his way back from his surgery. A-Rod has always been great with young players and Bird credits him for some advice, not just as a hitter but about being a pro baseball player in general. From Andrew Marchand:

“Some of the things that he told us still is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten as a hitter, just as far as professional baseball went,” Bird, now in his first big-league camp, said the other day.

A-Rod told Bird and the rest of the Single-A Charleston River Dogs that the higher the level you go, the easier the game becomes — the stadiums are nicer, the lights are better, the umpires are more precise, on and on. A-Rod also gave practical advice on hitting, making it simple.

“He is not even worried about (looking for pitches in specific spots),” said Bird, a 22-year-old, 6-foot-3, 215-pound, left-handed first baseman. “You can’t worry about the inner half of the plate because if you do, you give up the outer half. You give up off-speed pitches. Just hearing that out of his mouth that first full season was big. It stuck with me ever since.”

Bird, who turned 22 in November, obviously has a boatload of talent and it all starts there. His talent got him drafted — the Yankees selected Bird in the fifth round of the 2010 draft but paid him first round money ($1.1M bonus) — and is the main reason he’s torn up the minors, but taking advice and using it make the necessary adjustments is often what separates the guys who make it and the guys who don’t. It seems Bird has been able to do that after talking to A-Rod.

The Yankees have made it clear in recent years they have a “type.” They prefer certain kinds of players over others and I’m guessing every organization does as well. The Yankees like pitchers who throw hard but don’t walk everyone in the park — you didn’t think they pulled Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi out of a hat, did you? — and the taller they are, the better. They also like great defensive catchers. And, of course, they like left-handed hitters with power and patience. Guys like Bird. He’s right in their wheelhouse.

This offseason the Yankees shifted gears and focused on getting younger, most notably by trading for Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius. Comments made by Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner this past offseason also make it seem like they will be more willing to give prospects an opportunity going forward, and there’s a clear path to MLB for Bird. Spend this year in Double-A and Triple-A, next year going up and down based on Mark Teixeira‘s health in the final season of his contract, then step into the lineup full-time in 2017. A-Rod helped Bird get here, now Bird has to take the next step and give the Yankees a reason to give him a chance.

The Needed Production of the Unwanted Alex Rodriguez [2015 Season Preview]


After a one-year hiatus, the most uncomfortable marriage in baseball returns in 2015. Alex Rodriguez‘s one-year suspension is over and he has rejoined the Yankees, not too long after suing the team, suing the team doctor, suing MLB, and suing the MLBPA. He sued everyone last year. But then all the lawsuits were dropped, he served his suspension, and now he’s back in pinstripes.

The only reason A-Rod is back with the Yankees is money. He’s owed over $60M the next three years and the Yankees are determined to see if they can get something more than nothing out of that investment. Well, that and they might be able to recoup some of the money through insurance (if A-Rod gets hurt) or another performance-enhancing drug suspension. The team is reportedly confident they can get out of the five $6M home run milestone bonuses, but that’s another matter. The $60M+ isn’t going away that easily.

The Yankees made it clear this offseason they are not counting on Rodriguez at all. They re-signed Chase Headley to be the everyday third baseman and they traded for Garrett Jones to be the regular DH if necessary. They’ve pulled no punches. It’s been made clear that if A-Rod is going to play a major role in 2015, he has to earn it, and to his credit Alex seems to have embraced that reality. He’s trying to win a job this spring.

Yankees Need: Hit Please, Even Just A Little

Here’s a scary thought: A-Rod is the team’s best right-handed hitter right now. It’s either him or Chris Young. The only other righty hitters on the projected Opening Day roster are John Ryan Murphy and Brendan Ryan, and no one has high offensive expectations for those two. A-Rod is important to New York’s righty/lefty lineup balance. And besides, if he doesn’t hit, he’s useless. His defense wasn’t all that good before his most recent hip surgery and long layoff. So please, Alex, be more than a zero at the plate. That’s what the Yankees need from him.

ARod Shrugs Shoulders



Simply put, no one has any idea what A-Rod can do at the plate this year. He wasn’t bad the last time he played — .244/.348/.423 (113 wRC+) with seven homers in 44 games in the second half of 2013 — but that was more than a year ago now, before last season’s suspension. Can Alex do that again in 2015, at age 39 and after not facing live pitching in a more than a year? That’s what we’re going to find out relatively soon.

I am certain the Yankees would take a repeat of Rodriguez’s 2013 performance in 2015. That almost feels like a best case scenario at this point. A-Rod comes into today 5-for-11 with a double, a homer, two walks, and two strikeouts in Grapefruit League play, but that doesn’t tell us much. Even he knows that. “0-for-9, 4-for-9 … It doesn’t really mean anything. I’ve played for a long time. It’s better than 0-for-9, I guess,” he said to Chad Jennings earlier this week. From watching him in camp, the only thing I can say is A-Rod still seems to know the strike zone. He’s taking balls and swinging at strikes. That’s pretty much all we know about Alex offensively at the moment.

Yankees Need: Play The Field More Than Never

Headley is going to be the regular third baseman but the Yankees don’t have an obvious backup. Ryan can do it if necessary, but that’s not an ideal situation. If all goes according to plan A-Rod will be the primary DH and only a part-time third baseman, someone who can fill in when Headley needs a day off. The Yankees have also been working Rodriguez out at first base in Spring Training in hopes of making him a backup option there as well. The team isn’t counting on Alex to play the field regularly at all. They just want to be able to do it on occasion to make his roster spot more functional.

ARod Shrugs Shoulders



Even before the suspension, A-Rod was no longer much of a defender at the hot corner. He was serviceable, making the plays he was supposed to make and occasionally a little more, but that was it. Two hip surgeries and one knee surgery sapped much of his mobility, as did Father Time.

But now, we again have no idea what Alex can provide defensively. He is further away from his various lower body surgeries but is also a year older, and who knows how the year of baseball inactivity will take its toll. A-Rod said it himself the other day, it’s not going to be an Ozzie Smith year, he’s going to make whatever plays he can and that doesn’t figure to be anything beyond the routine.

For what it’s worth, I do think A-Rod would handle first base fine because he’s such a smart and instinctual player. Once he gets a few innings under his belt I think he’ll look like a natural, not like Kelly Johnson or Brian McCann did at first base last year. Either way, hopefully Alex will hold up physically well enough to play the field — either first or third base, anything he can do to help — one or two days a week. Even that little bit will help.

Yankees Need: Ratings & Attendance Boost

Thanks to Derek Jeter‘s farewell tour, YES Network ratings increased 24% last year and attendance at Yankee Stadium increased roughly 4% from 2013-14. That’s all well and good, but ratings reportedly dropped roughly 30% and attendance dropped nearly 9% from 2012-13, so, even with the rebound, 2014 ratings and attendance were below 2012 levels. That’s not good for the #brand. The Yankees will never publicly admit it, but they’re hoping A-Rod’s return leads to a few more eyeballs watching the team in 2015.

A-Rod Can: Hog All The Attention In The Baseball World

People hate A-Rod. They hate him so much they can’t stop talking about him or reading about him or watching him or going to games to boo him. The media has obsessed over Alex this spring and you know why? Because he drives page views the same way he helps drive television ratings and attendance. People hate him so they tune in to see him fail. No player in baseball garners as much attention — mostly negative attention, but attention nonetheless — as Alex. He’s the king.

A-Rod makes Spring Training debut, goes 1-for-2 in first game since 2013

After nearly 18 months since his last game action, Alex Rodriguez returned to the field and made his Spring Training debut this afternoon. He started at DH and batted second, and went 1-for-2 with a single to left, a ground out to short, and a walk in the Yankees’ first home Grapefruit League game. Video of his afternoon is above.

“Yeah, (I was) a little nervous. It’s been a long time since I put on the pinstripes,” said A-Rod to Dan Barbarisi after the game. Joe Girardi was pleased, telling Bryan Hoch that “for this time of spring, they’re pretty good at-bats.” Girardi confirmed Alex will not play in tomorrow’s game. I’m sure he’ll be back in the lineup Friday.

A-Rod’s day got off to an ominous start as he swung through a pair of 91 mph Kevin Slowey sinkers in his first at-bat before hitting that soft line drive single. His third plate appearance was the best even though he didn’t do much besides take some borderline pitches. If nothing else, at least now we know Alex hasn’t gone blind.

From what I could tell, A-Rod’s reception was mostly cheers with some boos mixed in. That has been the case at Yankee Stadium for a few years now and I’m sure it’ll continue. He’ll be booed unmercifully on the road though. Anyway, the first day doesn’t tell us much. A-Rod’s going to need a few weeks to get his timing back, and today was just day one.

Heyman: Yankees are “confident” they can void A-Rod’s home run milestone bonuses

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

As much as they wish they could, the Yankees are unable to avoid the three years and $64M left on Alex Rodriguez‘s contract following last year’s suspension. They are attempting to void the $30M in historic home run milestone bonuses however, and Jon Heyman reports the team is “confident” they will be able to get out of the five $6M bonuses.

Long story short, the wording of the marketing agreement — it’s a marketing agreement, not a player contract, because MLB contracts do not allow bonuses based on stats like homers and RBI — allows the Yankees to say the homers are not be historic due to Alex’s performance-enhancing drug history. Here’s more from Heyman:

Yankees people are said to be confident A-Rod wouldn’t prevail in the expected skirmish over the $30 million, not only because of their belief that his drug missteps have rendered his marketing value nil, but also because of the phrasing in the agreement that requires that the Yankees “designate” the historic home runs as milestones, and perhaps even more importantly, the potential to call him to the stand under oath should he challenge their decision to refuse to pay, as is his right.

The clause, at one point, reads, “The Yankees are under no obligation to exercise its right to designate a historical accomplishment as a milestone provided that its decision is made in good faith and in accordance with the intent of the parties in the covenant.”

Heyman says A-Rod even contacted Scott Boras because he could be a witness in a potential grievance hearing. Boras was Alex’s agent at the time and negotiated the homer bonuses, but he reportedly declined to help Rodriguez even though he would be able to make a commission on the bonuses. (A-Rod fired Boras a few years ago.)

Boras might not back Rodriguez during a potential legal battle, but the union sure would. They legally have to because Alex is a member. It doesn’t matter that he sued them — the suit was eventually dropped, but still — last year as part of his scorched earth tour. Besides, the MLBPA doesn’t want to set any sort of precedent by allowing a team to void an agreement with a player.

Anyway, I’m no lawyer, but it sounds like the Yankees are going to say they decided in good faith the homers are not historic and more or less dare A-Rod to come after them and potentially testify under oath. The bonuses are pretty obviously historic though. The specific milestones (homers 660, 714, 755, 762, 763) in the agreement correlate to tying the four highest homer totals in history and taking over as the home run king. I mean, duh.

In reality, we’re talking about one $6M bonus. A-Rod is six homers away from tying Willie Mays on the all-time list with 660 dingers, but getting to 714 homers to tie Babe Ruth seems like a long shot. Alex would have to hit 60 homers from ages 39-41 after hitting 41 homers from 35-38. Doable? Sure. But it is unlikely at this point of A-Rod’s career. Is it worth the trouble to save $6M? Probably. But proving the milestone homers are not historic sounds like a tall order.