Alex Rodriguez and the Easily Justifiable Decision

It began when Alex Rodriguez was pinch-hit for by Raul Ibanez, with Ibanez instantly turning into a hero. Then Rodriguez was left out of the lineup. Then Rodriguez allegedly flirted with female fans in the middle of a game, then Rodriguez was left out of the lineup again. Then people started talking about Alex Rodriguez getting traded to the Marlins and Bob Nightengale went so far as to say:

This will be the last time you’ll ever see Alex Rodriguez in a New York Yankees uniform.

In a series in which the Yankees trail the Tigers three games to zero, somehow it’s still Rodriguez who’s the story, it’s Rodriguez who seems to be getting the lion’s share of the blame. It was a big deal when Rodriguez was benched for Wednesday’s Game 4 against Max Scherzer. After the game was rained out, it was again a big deal when Rodriguez was benched for Thursday’s Game 4 against Max Scherzer, as if anything had changed, or ought to have changed. It is, without question, an unusual thing to see a player like Alex Rodriguez on the bench.

Brian Cashman’s been saying the right things, and the same goes for Joe Girardi. Neither individual is interested in throwing Rodriguez under the bus or criticizing him to the media. The fact of Rodriguez’s benchings has been explained as a baseball decision, and nothing more than that. The Yankees figure Rodriguez has been struggling against righties, and all of the Tigers’ starters are righties. The Yankees figure Eric Chavez gives them a better chance, at present.

It is obviously not an easy decision to sit Alex Rodriguez is a must-win playoff game. If you can imagine yourself as a manager, you can imagine what it might feel like to leave a name like Rodriguez’s out of the lineup. And that doesn’t even take into consideration issues regarding your personal relationship with Rodriguez, who certainly isn’t thrilled to be sitting out. But while it’s not an easy decision, it is an easily justifiable decision. It doesn’t require a lot of statistical gymnastics to show that, right now, Chavez is probably the better play.

Chavez is a lefty, as you know, and for his career he’s been atrocious against lefties and productive against righties. This season, he slugged .543 against righties over nearly 300 plate appearances. That has to be regressed some, because current Eric Chavez presumably isn’t that good, but Chavez has the platoon advantage and Chavez has always been a lot better with the platoon advantage.

With Rodriguez, the Yankees have talked about his struggles against righties all season long. It’s true that Rodriguez has been more productive against southpaws, but it’s even more true when you split Rodriguez’s season by his DL stint. Toward the end of July, Rodriguez got his hand broken by Felix Hernandez, and we’ve talked about his struggles to make consistent contact since returning to the team. I present to you some splits:

Table 1: Alex Rodriguez, pre-DL

LHP 131 0.277 0.382 0.500 19%
RHP 269 0.275 0.346 0.425 22%

Table 2: Alex Rodriguez, post-DL

LHP 48 0.436 0.521 0.564 17%
RHP 106 0.158 0.226 0.232 34%

I don’t suggest reading much into Rodriguez’s recent success against lefties, because the sample size is so small it’s almost embarrassing. But this much is clear — Rodriguez has unquestionably been in a slump, and it’s not because he hasn’t been hitting southpaws. He’s been a complete disaster against righties — basically a decent-hitting pitcher — and his elevated strikeout rate suggests it isn’t just noise. Some of it is noise, sure, but Rodriguez has had real problems against righties since coming back to the lineup and that has to be weighed against Rodriguez’s modest success against righties earlier in the year. We can’t ignore that Rodriguez hit righties some earlier in 2012, or that he was far better against righties in 2011, or that he has an even career platoon split. We also can’t ignore Rodriguez’s last 106 plate appearances against righties, since they followed a significant injury. Even given everything you know about sample sizes and baseball statistics, if you stripped away the player names, would you really want to start the guy with Rodriguez’s numbers over the guy with Chavez’s numbers, when facing a right-handed pitcher?

As long as Chavez is healthy, Rodriguez should be sitting against righty starters, for however long the Yankees remain alive. If it’s true today, it’s true all days. It’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar, given who Alex Rodriguez is, but this is the time of year that it’s most important to make good baseball decisions, and this is a good baseball decision. As for Rodriguez’s future, I don’t know if he’ll stay with the Yankees or end up somewhere else, but the fact that these struggles have followed an injury gives hope that an offseason of rest and recovery could return Rodriguez to a more productive level in 2013. He had an .806 OPS when he got hurt. By wRC+, he was more or less the hitter he was in 2010 and 2011. Alex Rodriguez is declining, but he might not actually be declining that swiftly.

It’s possible the injury isn’t a good excuse for anything. I don’t know how Rodriguez feels, and I don’t know if his swing has been affected. It’s more convenient than it is provable. That’s a factor when it comes to considering what and where Rodriguez will be down the road. But for now, while Joe Girardi has had to make some difficult calls, starting Eric Chavez over Alex Rodriguez isn’t that tough, relatively speaking. It’s a difficult decision given the people involved, but given the players involved, it’s perfectly sensible.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

41 Responses to “Alex Rodriguez and the Easily Justifiable Decision”

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  1. matt says:

    When you need a home run, Eric Chavez is not the play. Two poor defensive plays in two games leading to runs, and zero hits. Alex can’t do much worse.

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  2. Cus says:

    There is no way Alex’s hand is 100%. Returning from a hand injury is brutally difficult. I think using the splits to justify the decision, as the article mentions, is glossing over the fact that it is hard to swing a major league bat with two healthy hands, let alone with one at less than 100%, and in cooler temperatures, and against better pitchers, etc.

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    • Tom B says:

      I’m not sure why, but in the splits he left out the BB rate, which is basically the only difference in A-Rods pre-injury splits.

      He probably should never have been out there in the playoffs to begin with.

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  3. channelclemente says:

    I wonder what the TV numbers are on this geriatric clown act, known as the NY Yankees.

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  4. Matt says:

    Here’s a statistic… Eric Chavez is 0 For the Entire Playoffs and hasn’t reached base yet and made the error which led to the game winning run in Game 3.

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  5. mwash1983 says:

    Sad in about 3 years we will say the same about Pujols. If you want to sign someone for 10 years, sign them at Trout or Harper’s age if they have a great start.

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    • Cus says:

      Yeah it’s funny that teams are so worried about keeping players cheaply while they are under team control but not that good, and then overpaying for 4 good years and 6 brutal ones. With baseball players generally entering their prime later than other sports (27+), it would make way more sense to overpay early and get value later.

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      • Jon L. says:

        Of course you’re right, but if you’re the one smart team and everyone else is stupid, you’ll never, ever get to sign a quality veteran. Sometimes your only choice may be to pay what the market will bear.

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      • Smallie Biggs says:

        I keep hearing the argument over and over again for young really good players, “they are under team control, so what’s the point of getting a long term contract in place”.

        Well, if you look at Starlin Castro, he’s gonna be Cubs for all the years he’s most likely to be most productive. And at 60 million, it’s a bargain compared to the ridiculous contracts of, say John Lackey.
        Even a very good player like Cole Hamels is a case of Phillies fumbling.

        He’s someone they should’ve tied up to a multi-year deal long time ago.

        The fact that the Angels haven’t already signed Trout to a 10-12 year deal is quite simply absurd.

        He should’ve been signed to a long term contract after his 2-3 first couple of weeks in May. I know hindsight is always 20/20, and Angels have info we’re not privy to, but consider that they have much more scouting done on him, knew much more about his ceiling than what we as general fans did.

        To put it short: MLB clubs should be doing lots more of the Evan Longoria and Starlin Castro kind of contracts. Still high risk/high reward. But they’re not as costly as the Pujols/Arod/Vernon Wells type of albatross deals are.

        I actually think the Joey Votto contract for 225 million is a total bust. He’s 29 years old, and the contract goes through his age 40 season, and that’s in the NL.

        A very good mega contract, the best contract this side on Evan Longoria, is Ryan Brauns. The extension is worth 105 mil for 5 years. He’s signed long term, but “only” until he’s 37. So the last 2-3 years may be slight overpay, but Milwaukee gave out big money, but on reasonably fair terms, and aren’t on the hook with an over the hill player for more than possibly one season. And Braun seems to be very willing to keep in shape…. J/K.

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      • pear1jamten says:

        Yo Smallie Biggs, you make it seem like all the GM has to do is go to this “player under team control” and lay a contract in front of him and he is programmed to sign it.

        Mike Trout knows who he is, he knows that if he plays out his “team control” years he will be filthy rich, he is not going to sign an extension unless it is EXTREMELY lucrative.

        I would back off the big name players if I were you and make an argument more for the players who are below the super star status who can be made to sign these contracts, like you did when you mentioned Castro.

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      • Richard says:

        yeah, pear1jamten is right: who says Cole Hamels wanted to be tied up long ago? we act as though the players lack agency, either their own or through representation

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  6. Doug Dirt says:

    A straight up Billy Hamilton for A-Rod trade would be reasonable and fair for both sides.

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    • Travis L says:

      haha I think I’d quit being a Reds fan if this were to happen. I don’t think A-Rod for a bucket of baseballs would be a reasonable and fair trade, given his contract.

      What do you think he’d get on the open market? 3/30?

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    • Doug Gray says:

      Yanks would get robbed. Hammy would infect the Yanks farm system until every prospect was pure garbage. A-Rod although overpaid, wont ruin the future of that franchise.

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  7. MGL says:

    “I don’t suggest reading much into Rodriguez’s recent success against lefties, because the sample size is so small it’s almost embarrassing.”

    So, 48 PA is embarrassingly small, but 106 PA (versus RHP) is what exactly?

    Is there any independent evidence that when a player breaks a hand that he is significantly less than 100% for some period of time? More importantly, how much less than 100% and for what period of time?

    The logic that the evidence is that he has not performed as well since the injury is circular. And it is a Bayesian problem anyway. What are the chances that a player who breaks a hand will perform x1, x2, x3, etc. (all of those x’s less than we expect from that player when healthy) versus what are the chances that a healthy player would perform as ARod has performed since the injury, by chance alone?

    “and his elevated strikeout rate suggests it isn’t just noise. Some of it is noise, sure, …”

    Some of ALL samples of performance is noise, by definition. The question is how much noise and how much signal, and nothing in your article suggests an answer. The entire article is assertion and assumption with no research or evidence whatsoever. As far as we know, it is as likely as not that ARod’s weak performance since his injury is ALL noise (obviously age always plays a factor for all players well past their peak).

    And this narrative that he is terrible against RHP but great versus LHP since his injury makes no sense to me whatsoever. Where is the evidence or even logic that suggests that a batter coming back from a broken hand is significantly likely to be worse versus same hand pitching but unaffected versus opp hand pitching?

    Arod was .807 (OPS) before injuring himself and .669 afterward. Does anyone think that a true .800 OPS player hitting .669 in any 154 PA stretch is all that unlikely? It’s not. We would need a lot more evidence than that that his true talent has significantly changed due to the injury or anything else for that matter.

    In any case, people like to think of things as binary and they rarely are. As in Arod is terrible now OR he is the same Arod as he was before he got injured. That is not the way it works. Believe it or not, we can actually come up with a credible projection for Arod given that he had a broken hand and given that he batted .699 (OPS) since his injury. It is a Baysian problem, but it is more than doable. My guess is that the result is not going to be all that much different than a normal “to-date” (including the recent .699) projection for ARod. All we would need is our “prior” probability (in Bayesian terms) which would be the distribution of true talent for all players who have come back from a broken hand (and allowed to play for 2 months of course). A mean would suffice.

    I’m not suggesting that ARod should definitely be playing rather than Chavez (although I think he should). Chavez is in fact a decent player versus RHP (and should never be allowed near a LHP, more so than Ibanez) and even with his normal platoon advantage (I don’t for a second think that ARod is especially worse now versus RHP as opposed to LHP), ARod is not THAT good versus RHP at this point in his career. But, I do think that these articles with so many unsupported assertions about ARod are mostly spurious…

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  8. Sleight of Hand Pro says:

    and here i was being told yesterday girardi was managing on emotion…

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  9. Fatbot says:

    As an A’s fan who watched these players once upon a time, I can’t decide which takes more gall — the Yankees thinking they can win with Chavez (who was washed up 5 years ago); or the Giants riding Scutaro to a .360 tune and thinking he’s so good he *should* always hit .360.

    I understand going to the hot hand, but there’s also another school of thought — that at some point ridiculous luck actually does revert to true talent level, and a likely time for that to happen is playoff time against good pitching and good opponents.

    Now Scutaro I can somewhat forgive since he can bring other qualities to help the team, but Chavez as the person you’re gonna bench A-Rod for? Yes, he had a nice lucky little season, but the real Chavez has more chance of batting zero than A-Rod batting zero.

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    • Calvin says:

      They’re not “riding” Scutaro. They’ve been playing him over Theriot (and Burriss, I guess) which is a no-brainer even at Scutaro’s career average numbers. Batting him 2nd is somewhat wrong, but Bochy tends to put a middle IF there and it’s a hell of a lot better than Crawford or Theriot in the 2-slot.

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  10. MGL says:

    “I understand going to the hot hand..”

    As David Cameron says in his article, it is compelling human nature to do so and virtually all baseball insiders do, severely so, but we have much evidence, especially in baseball, that there is virtually no predictive value to a hot or cold hand. Not to tout a particular book or anything, but if anyone is interested in reading some research pertaining to the hot hand in baseball, I highly recommend “The Book,” written by one esteemed prolific blogger, one very smart, not-so-prolific blogger, and one irascible non-blogger…

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    • Tango blog fan says:

      Oh, fuck off, already.

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    • Tomrigid says:

      When the Giants won in 2010 it was obviously their improbably awesome pitching that got them to the end. But given the awfulness of their offense that year, one must forgive Bochy, Sabean, and the rest for believing that pixie grit and team alchemistry were contributing factors. It’s not beyond reason to believe that in 2010 — and this year, by extension — the only thing that really mattered was the day-to-day psychological health of the starters and that, given such an absurd reduction, player-friendly moves like “playing the hot hand” might have helped.

      TLDR: when you win every game 2-1, there’s a whole lotta noise.

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  11. Rippers says:

    The women should have wrote down .111 and sent the ball back to A-Rod to remind him that the only numbers he should be worried about is his postseason batting average.

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  12. Hurtlockertwo says:

    ARod, Pujols, Texieria (there’s a long list) long term contracts will always seem to end in “we pay this guy huge bucks to suck, get him out of here”. Does the player realize that they are just setting themselves up for abuse? We live in a society that always asks what have you done for me lately? Does being stinking rich somehow insulate you from the abuse? (I wouldn’t really know)

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    • Jason B says:

      It’s a fair point, but would you turn down half of $300 million (or whatever) so that people would like you more?

      Yeah, me neither :)

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    • Rageagainstthenarrative says:

      You’d think that fans would eventually stop celebrating like they won the World Series every time they “won” the Albert Pujols/Cliff Lee/Jose Reyes sweepstakes.

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