When Yankeeist last looked at Alex Rodriguez‘s declining power numbers, I (and several others) came to the rather obvious conclusion that his paltry 8.3% HR/FB rate would soon escalate. Alex’s five home runs since that point in time have indeed bumped his rate up, but it’s only sitting at 12.1%, still well below his 23.3% career percentage.
A-Rod has eight home runs on the season to date; the lowest number through 58 games of his career and only the second time he has accumulated less than 10 this deep into a season — in 1997, he had nine through 58 games with the Mariners. So what’s going on with Alex?
The below table shows historical batted ball numbers for A-Rod, his year-to-date home run totals (in this case, through the first 58 games of each season), and his season home run totals (all data c/o Fangraphs and B-Ref):
Despite five big flies, Alex’s fly ball percentage is down from when I last looked at the numbers on May 10. Accordingly, his line drive percentage is also down, to 17.9% (though this is barely off his career rate) and his ground ball percentage is up, to 46.2% (pretty well above his 42% career rate).
As you can see, Alex has never had a Fly Ball % this low in a full season for as long as Fangraphs has recorded this data, which partially explains why his HR/FB rate has only risen by 3.8 points — he’s just not hitting as many fly balls as he usually does. Assuming his Fly Ball % normalizes to his career rate, we should see a corresponding uptick in the HR/FB percentage.
Pitchers are obviously aware that A-Rod isn’t hurting the baseball as much as he usually does, as they are challenging him with more fastballs than ever before. Correspondingly he’s seeing less of every other pitch type since May 10, with the exception of a slight increase in changeups and split-fingered fastballs. Looks like the book on ‘Rod remains challenging him with the heater, which means he’s going to have to make some adjustments to his approach, as there’s no reason Alex shouldn’t be able to adequately handle a steady diet of fastballs.
Since I last conducted this analysis, Alex is swinging at even more pitches out of the zone (25.8%) but making less contact with them (60.1%), and also swinging at more pitches in the zone (65.7%) and making less contact with those as well (91.8%, down from a crazy high of 97.3%). His overall contact percentage is 81.4%, still a good deal higher than his career rate of 75.5%.
It would appear Alex’s biggest problem is that he’s trying to make too many things happen with the bat right now — swinging at pitches out of the zone has contributed to an above-average (for Alex) contact rate, which is resulting in more balls being pounded into the ground than lofted into the air (hence the career-low Fly Ball %).
Alex has also eschewed his trademark patience during the past month. He had 19 walks through 31 games, but has only walked seven times since then over his last 27 games. His OBP has dropped from .381 on May 10 to .360.
While A-Rod still has time to improve his numbers, and ZIPS ROS projection has him hitting a robust .284/.378/.512, .392 wOBA and 18 home runs the rest of the way, that would still only get A-Rod to a full season line of .285/.371/.499 with a .381 wOBA and 26 bombs, which would mark his lowest SLG, home run total and wOBA since 1997.
Basically, A-Rod needs to stop swinging at bad pitches, take a few more walks and show pitchers he can still punish the fastball if we’re going to see significant improvements in the Fly Ball % and HR/FB rate and get his numbers anywhere near his career line of .304/.389/.573. I realize that’s a rather obvious conclusion that probably didn’t require a comprehensive statistical analysis, but it’s nice to see that the numbers support it.
Larry Koestler eats, drinks, sleeps and breathes the Yankees at his blog, Yankeeist.