A-Rod and Clutchness: Part 894

Without a doubt, Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He’s a hall of fame talent with a tremendous career behind him despite only being 32 years old. He’s got a shot at the all time home run record, is the highest paid player in the game, and plays on the biggest stage in baseball every night. However, despite all his ability and his impressive career performances, he’s also become the mainstream poster boy for an “unclutch” player. His disastrous performances in the 2005 and 2006 playoffs have been well documented, and he’s heard about his failures in the clutch for years, even if they weren’t always justified.

Well, if you take a look at the Win Probability leaderboard and sort by clutch performance, you’ll notice a familiar name currently posting the worst performance in high leverage situations of any hitter in baseball. Yep, there he is, again sitting atop a list that he’d rather never hear mentioned again. And, while it’s early, the ten plate appearances he’s had in situations where the LI has been greater than 1.50 show that he’s lived up to the reputation during the first two weeks of the season.

From his play log:

April 12th, Top 8, 2 out, 1st and 2nd, up 4-3: Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging
April 2nd, Bottom 9, 2 out, 1st and 2nd, down 5-2: Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging
April 3rd, Bottom 6, 0 out, 2nd and 3rd, down 2-1: Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging
April 14th, Top 8, 2 out, 1st and 3rd, down 8-7: Alex Rodriguez reached on an FC
April 3rd, Bottom 4, 0 out, 1st, down 1-0: Alex Rodriguez flew out to second base
April 13th, Top 1, 1 out, 1st and 2nd, 0-0: Alex Rodriguez grounded into a double play
April 1st, Bottom 4, 1 out, 1st, 1-1: Alex Rodriguez grounded into a double play
April 7th, Bottom 3, 2 out, 1st and 3rd, up 2-1: Alex Rodriguez reached on an FC
April 8th, Top 3, 0 out, 1st, 2-2: Alex Rodriguez struck out looking
April 1st, Bottom 7, 0 out, no one, 2-2: Alex Rodriguez singled to right field

It’s only ten plate appearances, but it’s ten fairly miserable plate appearances. Four strikeouts, two double plays, a couple of fielders choices, and a lone single. He made 11 outs in these 10 trips to the plate and lowered his team’s chance of winning by a combined 58.4%. So far, this season, Alex Rodriguez has been a problem when he had a chance to help his team the most. This fits right into the narrative that has been told about him for years.

However, I absolutely have to note that this is not a continuation of any real trend. Thanks to the addition of leverage splits on his Baseball Reference player card, we can see that A-Rod has actually performed better in high leverage situations over his career than he has in low or medium leverage situations. Over 1508 plate appearances with an LI of 1.50 or greater, Rodriguez has hit .307/.393/.590, marginally better than his career line of .306/.389/.578. That includes being a monster in high leverage situations last year, posting a .349/.439/.706 mark over 132 plate appearances.

No one should draw any conclusions from the first 10 high leverage at-bats of Alex’s Rodriguez 2008 season, especially in light of his career performances. I had to chuckle, however, when I checked out the clutch ratings this morning and saw a familiar name sitting at the bottom. I’m guessing this will be a moniker he’s going to have to fight his entire career.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

12 Responses to “A-Rod and Clutchness: Part 894”

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  1. Tom Au says:

    As I wrote in a “demo” piece yesterday to David Appelman, “[The Yankees are] a lopsided team whose win expectation comes mainly from its hitting. What’s worse, A-Rod singlehandedly contributed over three-fifths of the team’s 12.64 WPA from hitting in 2007. Take away its bats, as has been the case for early 2008 (A-Rod is a negative WPA contributor so far this year), and you’re talking about a team that struggles to maintain .500.”

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  2. Tom Au says:

    The Yankees’ hitting is out of the doghouse as far as I’m concerned. They’re still nominally below an 0.00 WPA for the year, but had a fantastic night last night with a WPA of .948 (a contribution of almost two “half” games), more than making up for Chien Ming Wang’s -.468 WPA (the equivalent of a lost “half” game). One more good night puts them in the black for the year. One major surprise: the fourth, fifth, and sixth most productive hitters this year (from a WPA standpoint) are rookies Chad Moeller, Jose Molina, and Alberto Gonzalez. A-Rod is still in the hole; at last night’s production rate, he needs about three such nights to break even for the year, four to go ahead.

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  3. jlc says:

    I’m amazed at fan reaction to ARod. Yes, he shoots his mouth off and says stupid things, but he’s hardly alone in that. On the other hand, he’s simply a joy to watch. Seattle still boos him. NY has never really adopted him, but then they think Derek Jeter is the Best Shortstop God Ever Made.

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  4. Librocrat says:

    I’m one of those people that genuinely thought Alex Rodriguez was unclutch, but i only thought that based on his Seattle numbers – not his numbers in general. When watching the games (Albeit at 13-15 years old) he always seemed to get significantly worse in September (when it “mattered”) as well as have problems late in the games. Is there any chance he had terrible “clutch” numbers while in Seattle, and that stigma carried with him throughout Texas and New York, even though he improved?

    Also, I assume September stats aren’t considered “more clutch” than August, etc., but I do recall him doing terrible between 1996 and 1998 in September when the Mariners were ~in the playoff hunt.

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  5. marc w. says:

    What?
    In the 1997 playoffs, A-Rod hit .313/.313/.563.
    He was fine in September in 1998, not bad in 1997 and pretty bad in 1996, but he was coming off an august OPS of 1.233.
    He was brilliant in the 2000 playoffs.

    He was just as ‘clutch’ in Seattle as he’s been elsewhere, but it’s interesting just how much the argument about his clutchness/choke-aptitude (choketitude?) colors the way we remember him.

    His clutch stats in Seattle were great (not uniformly, but the pattern is clear), just like all of his stats.

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  6. feingarden says:

    I’m confused on a couple of your examples… in two cases it appears that A-Rod reached on a fielders choice with 2 out. Are those situations where a play was attempted unsuccessfully at another base? That seems strange with 2 outs.

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  7. marc w. says:

    feingarden,

    That appears to be a glitch in the play descriptions. A-Rod made the last out in both examples – the fielding teams threw to second for the 3rd out of the inning. Technically, since you can’t assume a double play, the PBP thing may be assuming A-Rod ‘reached’ 1B, but he didn’t in any sense that matters.

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