Evaluating the A-Rod experiment

Alex Rodriguez is making just about as much news this postseason as he made this past preseason. Between the PED revelations and his injury, which carried a somewhat undefined timeline, when to draft A-Rod was a big question back in March.

I was a huge proponent of drafting A-Rod anytime around picks 20-25. I thought there were a fair amount of question marks creeping around the top 20, and figured that anywhere between 400 and 500 ABs from A-Rod, along with 75 to 150 from a replacement would very likely produce top 15 value. I made a firm commitment to myself that I would much rather order the A-Rod combination special than draft somebody like Carlos Quentin, counting on a repeat performance. I also figured A-Rod plus his replacement would, at worst, only be outproduced by three 3Bs: David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, and Evan Longoria. If Aramis Ramirez was even remotely on my radar screen while A-Rod was still available, I was going to pounce.

I was able to nab Rodriguez in two of four straight draft leagues. Let’s see how the experiment turned out. To establish a basis of comparison, Cabrera finished the season as the highest ranked 3B-eligible player, at 18th overall according to Yahoo. His numbers were:

R: 96
HR: 34
RBI: 103
SB: 6
AVG: .324 (198/611)

Let’s look at the composite of A-Rod and his replacement in four different leagues. I’ve looked back at team logs and tried my best to put together the main replacement players used for A-Rod and put together the stats. I’d venture that they are close, but probably not entirely accurate, as line-ups were shuffled here and there, and so forth.

League 1: (A-Rod drafted 17th overall)
Replacements: Melvin Mora and Josh Fields

R: 95
HR: 32
RBI: 111
SB: 16
AVG: .275 (171/621)

This was the highest A-Rod was picked in any of the leagues. This is a draft/keeper league, so that makes sense. Cabrera went fifth overall in this draft. The A-Rod owner did not spend high picks on either replacement. In fact, I believe he didn’t even draft Mora. He simply waited for the draft to end, placed A-Rod on the DL and used that extra spot to pick Mora off waivers.

Some may say that the hidden cost of drafting A-Rod is the opportunity cost, meaning that if you need to draft a replacement, you also lose the production you would otherwise get from the player you would have otherwise drafted in the round you drafted A-Rod’s handcuff. Theoretically, you could miss out on a sleeper who pays off. For two reasons, I don’t think this is a major concern.

First, more of those picks bust than boom, so the odds aren’t on your side to begin with. Surely, you want to maximize your opportunities, but when you’re trying to quantify sunk cost, you can only put down on the ledger that which you’re confident you can account for.

Second, when you draft a player who is on the DL, you get a free roster spot. So, the opportunity cost of the handcuff pick is mitigated by the fact that you have an extra roster spot and first pick of all non-drafted players to occupy that slot. That player can be a breakout too.

All things considered, it looked like A-Rod and his replacement seemed like they were a fine value here.

Cabrera was drafted fifth overall in this league.

League 2: (A-Rod drafted 24th overall, by me)
Replacements: Hank Blalock, Hanley Ramirez

R: 99
HR: 31
RBI: 110
SB: 18
AVG: .290 (164/565)

I’m sure the placement of Ramirez as my replacement raised eyebrows. I’ll get to that in a second.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

First, what I loved about this draft was that it gave me the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. I wanted A-Rod, and I thought Blalock was definitely worth a late flier and thought he might even play himself into having some trade value.

Here’s how it played out for me: I drafted Blalock as A-Rod’s replacement and played him until A-Rod came back. Once A-Rod returned, I began receiving trade offers for A-Rod from the team who had Han-Ram, but those offers didn’t include him. I wasn’t prepared to give up A-Rod for anybody but Ramirez or Pujols. (If I wanted your third-round pick, I would have picked him when I picked A-Rod, you dolt!).

Blalock had gotten going around the time A-Rod returned and he was actually accruing some trade value. I had also taken a chance on David Ortiz in that draft, so I took the opportunity to bench the struggling Papi and inserted Blalock at my utility spot. Once Papi started picking it up a bit, I offered Blalock and A-Rod for Hanley, and the other owner took it. (I only included Blalock’s production from the start of the season through May 7 in my composite figures above). This whole orchestration would look even better if I tried to estimate the composite production of Blalock and Ortiz at the utility spot, as I got the best part of Blalock’s season there and then traded him in time for Papi to have a very good second half. Blalock’s value plummeted not so long after I shipped him off.

I’m extremely proud of my choreography here; this was one of those instances in which everything goes right. My first- and fifth-round picks in this league were Jose Reyes and Brandon Webb, and yet I was able to win this league for the third time in the four years I’ve played it. (First place and third were separated by two total points at season’s end.) My execution of this strategy may very well have won me the championship.

Cabrera was drafted seventh overall in this league.

League 3: (A-Rod drafted 26th overall, by me)
Replacements: Adrian Beltre, Emilio Bonafacio

R: 99
HR: 30
RBI: 114
SB: 19
AVG .265 (162/612)

This was the worst composite production of the four. Still, it was somewhat mitigated by the fact that this is also the latest Rodriguez was selected in any of the drafts. The subpar batting average makes this composite line a little weak for the 26th overall pick.

This foray left a bit to be desired mainly because my replacements did not produce. I thought Beltre would produce well and that he’d potentially be worth holding on to when A-Rod returned or even play well enough to have some trade value. But, he stunk and he was hurt. I then jumped ship after somebody who had ridden the early Bonafiacio wave dumped him during a cold spell. I hoped for a Bonfacio resurgence, or maybe one of those six stolen base weeks. But, it was not to be.

Cabrera went sixth overall in this draft.

League 4: (A-Rod drafted 21st overall)
Replacement: Ian Stewart

R: 99
HR: 34
RBI: 112
SB: 16
AVG: .279 (140/502)

Stewart was a very nice surprise this year. Unfortunately, in April his playing time was inconsistent and his production was not stellar. I presume this owner had another replacement who put in a few dozen ABs in A-Rod’s absence as well. But, I was not able to determine who that was from his team records.

Cabrera went fifth overall in this draft.

Taking a step back, I think the A-Rod experiment was a rousing success. He played well enough upon return to accrue a good chunk of value on his own, and when paired with a suitable replacement, the returns were similar to the top-ranked 3B, who was often drafted more than 15 picks ahead of Rodriguez. Further, between injuries and poor production there were a high number of underperformers and full-on busts at 3B.

Wright, Garrett Atkins, Chris Davis, and Aramis Ramirez were all premium picks. All besides Wright were total busts, while Wright was merely a substantial disappointment. So, unless you scooped up Ryan Zimmerman or were wise enough to grab Mark Reynolds, it was pretty difficult to have gotten better value out of your 3B spot than A-Rod plus a replacement.

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Derek Carty
Derek Carty

Love the strategy, Derek.  It’s actually one I championed for Chase Utley in February (before his injury status was clear).  Same reasoning.


This is a strategy I still think many will overlook in 2010 and one that all readers should take careful note of.