The Yankees have problems. They’re not going to make the playoffs. The two young guns who are supposed to anchor the rotation for years, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, have alternated between bad and injured. Their defense up the middle is crap. Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera both regressed this season. And Jeter seems to be in decline.

But that’s not what’s keeping the Yankees brass up at night. SI’s Jon Heyman reported last week that “club higherups are concerned” about A-Rod and “they are even wondering aloud whether his off-field distractions are affecting his play.”

Says Heyman:

He may be partially a victim of high standards, his otherworldy 2007 season and his second gargantuan contract, this one for $275 guaranteed plus $30 million in makeable incentives. But A-Rod is batting only .244 with runners in scoring position, so that stat line of .309, 28 homers and 78 RBIs isn’t quite what it seems.

Actually, as of Tuesday afternoon, A-Rod is hitting .250 with runners in scoring position. That’s nothing to brag about, for sure. But just how bad is it?

It’s a heck of a lot better than Jason Giambi’s .205 AVG with RISP, or Melky Cabrera’s .204 line.

It’s not nearly as good as Ian Kinsler’s .413 AVG with RISP.

It’s a little better than Evan Longoria and Jack Cust, and a little worse than Ichiro, Carlos Pena and Jermaine Dye.

It’s bad. But it’s not historically bad.

Of course, batting average with runners in scoring position is not the only measure of a hitter’s clutchness. The Hardball Times has developed a stat that looks at Bill James’s Runs Created formula and factors in the impact of a batter’s batting average with runners in scoring position and the number of home runs with runners on. They call the stat “clutch.”

(The specific formula is Hits with RISP minus overall BA times at bats with RISP, plus HR with runners on minus (all HR/AB) times at bats with runners on.)

Who, according to this stat, is 2008’s most clutch player? Melvin “Freaking” Mora. And who is the least clutch? Alex Rodriguez – and it’s not close.

That’s no surprise, right? A-Rod has always been unclutch. He’s a choker. The anti-Jeter. Even before Madonna, Rodriguez shrank in the biggest situations.

But wait! Last year, A-Rod was the fourth most clutch player in baseball. He hit .330 with RISP. And, while that still wasn’t as good as Jeter’s .354 AVG with RISP, it’s still very good. In 2006, A-Rod hit a respectable .302 with RISP and his clutchness rating was middle of the pack, better than Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez, but not nearly as good as Carl Crawford or Michael Young.

So A-Rod, while he’s no Jeter, is kinda clutch, provided you adhere to the Hardball Times’ definition. Of course, the problem with clutchness is that nobody can agree on exactly what it means. Who’s to say that RISP is the be-all-end-all? Why not look at a player’s ability to hit in games where the score is close after seven innings? Why not look at a hitter’s ability to produce with runners in scoring position and two outs.

I was talking to Paul about A-Rod’s clutchness and he pointed out that most hitters have slightly better numbers with RISP than otherwise. For one, sacrifice flies with runners on third don’t count against your batting average.

But A-Rod’s numbers with runners in scoring position are slightly worse than his overall numbers. From 2005-2008, here are his numbers overall:

BA: .308

OBP: .409

SLG: .591

AB/SO: 4.41

AB/HR: 13.21

And here’s what he did over that span with RISP:

BA: .296

OBP: .426

SLG: .526

AB/SO: 3.64

AB/HR: 16.19

It’s not a big difference, but it’s enough to suggest that A-Rod doesn’t thrive with runners in scoring position (though maybe the reason his OBP went up and his slugging and average went down is because he doesn’t see as many strikes in tight situations?).

Regardless, there’s no debating that A-Rod has been unclutch this year. That may be Madonna’s fault. But the Yankees’ third baseman isn’t historially unclutch. And least not enough to worry about. And he certainly isn’t the biggest reason the Yankees are going to miss the playoffs this season. Not even close.

3 Responses to “The clutchness of A-Rod”

  1. There’s actually a mildly amusing explanation regarding the OBP disparity in RISP and overall numbers for A-Rod. Between 2005-2008, A-Rod came to the plate 2603 times and was hit by the pitch 58 times. That’s once every 44.88 plate appearances. But with RISP, A-Rod got plunked 27 times in 870 PAs. That’s once every 32.22 PAs, which is a pretty big difference.

    So this can go either way in terms of justification of A-Rod. Are pitchers unnerved pitching to him with RISP and lose control? Or is A-Rod afraid of failing in those situations and leans into inside pitches to let himself off the hook? Depends on whether or not you like the guy.

  2. I think the boat shoes are the real problem here.

    watching the Yankees self-destruct and turn on eachother should be officially our 5th professional sport.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    The issue, Paul, is that every pitcher has been told from childhood to come inside against A-Rod. So if they’re not intentionally walking him, they end up plunking him.

    Another thing to think about when evaluating the ever-subjective sense of a hitter’s “clutchness” is when in the season those big hits are coming. Last year, remember, Alex hit some huge bombs in April. Whoop de freakin’ do—it was April. But he was ice cold in October, and he’s had only one homer in the past three years of Yankee ALDS defeats.

    A-Rod’s career batting average in September and October is .286, compared with an overall career BA of 306. In fact, statistically speaking, September/October are A-Rod’s worst months, while April is one of his best. That’s not going to feed a perception of clutchness. That’s going to feed a perception of selfishness and lamenesss.

    (Odd footnote: if you look at his career month splits, the only month even better than April is August. How infuriating for Yankee fans when A-Rod tantalizingly catches fire in August, only to fizzle in September. Such a tease!)

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