A couple days ago I posted the equivalent of War & Peace on why the transition from the Yankees as Derek Jeter’s team to A-Rod’s team is so difficult compared to other major star-transitions in Yankee history. All that verbiage boiled down to this: every other transition (Ruth/Gehrig, Gehrig/DiMaggio, DiMaggio/Mantle, Munson/Jackson) led to immediate post-season success. Ruth and Gehrig won it all in 6 of the 10 full seasons during which they were both starters and the other three pairings won the World Series in every single season in which they played the entire season together (Gehrig/DiMaggio 3 times, DiMaggio/Mantle once, and Munson/Jackson twice). A-Rod’s arrival has not brought similar success, so no matter how many records he may break, many die-hard YFs will never be comfortable admitting that he is more important to the Yankees than Derek Jeter no matter how ludicrous the stats may make that sound. That sentiment – and that post – was all about championships. This is all about hitting – in the clutch, and not.
In 2008 Alex Rodriguez is once again putting up huge numbers. He is first in the AL in BA (.322); third in OBP (.402); first in SLG (.599); second in OPS (1.004); and fifth in HR (24). Yet in every one of his seasons as a Yankee other than 2007 he seems to not come through in the clutch, and certainly in every post-season other than the 2004 ALDS. Is this a fair assessment?
His 2008 numbers with RISP are .275 BA; .532 OBP; .375 SLG; .907 OPS. In other words, he is not a black hole – that OBP is impressive – but neither would you guess from those numbers that he is one of the greatest sluggers of his generation let alone of all time. With RISP and 2 outs he is significantly better (.313 BA; .621 OBP; .500 SLG; 1.121 OPS) and as someone who watches every game those number frankly surprise me a bit as I would have guessed he is worse in such situations. But the numbers do bear out one of the most widely-held perceptions of A-Rod among YFs – that he compiles his numbers mostly when the game is not on the line.
If you look at A-Rod’s 2008 numbers in tie games, when the Yankees are within 1, 2, 3, or 4 runs, his averages shoot up as the game gets more out of hand:
- Tie game: .265 BA; .410 OBP; .429 SLG; .838 OPS
- Within 1 R: .296 BA; .447 OBP; .420 SLG; .866 OPS
- Within 2 R: .340 BA; .473 OBP; .476 SLG; .949 OPS
- Within 3 R: .339 BA; .458 OBP; .517 SLG; .975 OPS
- Within 4 R: .354 BA; .465 OBP; .562 SLG; 1.072 OPS
Now the last figure does not disaggregate for when the Yankees are down by 4 (in which case his monster numbers are most welcome) vs. when they are up by 4, but in late & close situations (7th inning or later with the game tied or within one run), his numbers are especially anemic: .278 BA; .435 OBP; .333 SLG; .768 OPS. These are the sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat-and-pray-that-A-Rod-puts-a-charge-into-one moments and YFs are getting used to slumping back in our chairs disappointingly when they pass.
In his exceptional MVP 2007 season, his late & close numbers were gawdy (.357 BA; .439 OBP; .686 SLG; 1.125 OPS) and from week one he racked up game-winning hits at an Ortizian rate. It certainly raised hopes that whatever mental issues might have hindered his performance on the big NY stage since his arrival might have finally been washed away. But 2007 was to be an opt-out year and his numbers this year in tight spots are more reflective of his pre-07 numbers in pinstripes (check out the difference between "Late and Close" and "Larger than a 4-run gap" situations in 2005 and 2006):
- RISP: .248 BA; .346 OBP; .439 SLG; .785 OPS
- RISP & 2 out: .206 BA; .308 OBP; .456 SLG; .764 OPS
- Late & Close: .275 BA; .359 OBP; .438 SLG; .796 OPS
- Larger than a 4-run gap: .277 BA; .343 OBP; .500 SLG; .843 OPS
In 2005 (MVP year):
- RISP: .290 BA; .410 OBP; .484 SLG; .894 OPS
- RISP & 2 out: .302 BA; .429 OBP; .512 SLG; .940 OPS
- Late & Close: .293; .418; .520 SLG; .938 OPS
- Larger than a 4-run gap: .354; .456; .646 SLG; 1.102
- RISP: .302 BA; .431 OBP; .508 SLG; .939 OPS
- RISP & 2 out: .313 BA; .495 OBP; .475 SLG; .970 OPS
- Late & Close: .237 BA; .326 OBP; .368 SLG; .694 OPS
- Larger than a 4-run gap: .351 BA; .429 OBP; .619 SLG; 1.047 OPS
And A-Rod’s cumulative post-season stats as a Yankee over 5 separate October series are terrible for the clean-up hitter on what is perenially one of the best offenses in the league:
Post-season as a Yankee:
- 24 games; .244 BA; .342 OBP; .436 SLG; .778 OPS
In the end, the 2007 A-Rod may have been the real anomaly, and it may be that a version of the 2004-2006 A-Rod is what we YFs are likely to be watching for the next decade: huge stats getting posted, seemingly unassailable records falling, but not necessarily when the team most needs them. By comparison, a brief perusal of Derek Jeter’s or David Ortiz’s numbers over the past 5 years reflects quite the opposite: incredibly steady and high performance regardless of the game situation or extraordinarily heightened performace in clutch situations. I’ll enjoy watching the former as a spectacle and I’ll cheer on A-Rod’s record-breaking as a fan of baseball. But as a fan of the Yankees, I sure would like to see more of the latter out of A-Rod. Especially since his next contract year doesn’t get here until 2017.