You Won't Catch Barry Like That, A-Rod

Rob Neyer had a post up recently about Alex Rodriguez, noting that he has just 6 home runs on the season. There's more on how it's really not that big of a deal and that A-Rod is still hitting pretty well overall, but that it is of some concern when you consider the money he'll be paid in the out years of his massive contract and the expected production at that point. Back to the home run issue though. Rodriguez's power has been trending downward in recent years, but such a precipitous drop - he's on pace for just about 20 longballs - would be quite a surprise. He hasn't shown so little power in a season since his 0 HR in 59 PA as a 20 year-old for the Mariners in his debut. As soon as I read Neyer's post though, I had a thought as to what the issue might be, based on a recent look at Nick Markakis' similar power drop-off (now up to 3 HR!). I assumed that A-Rod was hitting a lot of balls to center-field, which is the deepest part of most parks, and that's why fewer balls were finding seats.

Lucky guess:

Year

LF

CF

RF

2002

29%

32%

39%

2003

25%

31%

44%

2004

24%

33%

43%

2005

20%

40%

40%

2006

22%

36%

42%

2007

33%

35%

31%

2008

26%

37%

37%

2009

23%

38%

39%

2010

22%

44%

34%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


That's the percent of flyballs hit to each field, derived from FanGraphs' splits. I don't think that completely explains the drop in HR/FB rate from his career 23.4% - and 22.7% as recently as last year - to just 12% this year, but it's a part of it. A-Rod's HR/FB rate is down to all fields individually though; from 50% to left-field (his pull side) last year to 18.2% this year; from 18% to center to 13.6% (not a big decrease); and from 11.5% to right to 5.9%. The 2009 numbers were more or less in line with his career rates. So beyond the overall HF/FB rate being down because of where the balls are being hit, it seems that it's also due to (1) Rodriguez not hitting the ball with as much authority and probably (2) luck.

Another issue with the raw home run total is that A-Rod just isn't hitting quite as many flyballs as usual. His 35.5% flyball rate is the lowest it's been since 2002 (when the earliest stats are available), and a relatively large proportion of those are pop-ups. An infield flyball rate of 14% (pop-ups over all flyballs) is well above his career rate (since 2002) of 10.6%, and the highest mark since '03. Combine those two factors, and A-Rod just isn't hitting enough balls that have even a chance of clearing the fence.

I'm not sure exactly why that is, but it's possible that Rodriguez is working on making better contact instead of hitting for as much power. His contact rate is easily the highest it's been since '02 at 82.4%, and his strike-out rate is way down to just 17.4%. That's why even though there aren't as many home runs boosting it, his batting average sits at .293 (with a .319 BABIP not out of line with his career .320 mark).

Perhaps A-Rod is reinventing himself as a player a little. Or perhaps we're just seeing the product of less than two months of stats, and he'll go on a three-week 11 home run tear at some point and finish with 30+ bombs. I will say that I'm a fair bit less optimistic about him potentially breaking Barry Bonds' all-time home run record though.

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