CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Weekly Planner: Week 1... (07/13)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Overthinking It: The B... (07/10)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Overthinking It: PECOT... (07/17)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Making... (07/13)

July 13, 2012

Overthinking It

The Rapid Aging of A-Rod

by Ben Lindbergh

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

When Major League Baseball’s All-Stars convened in Kansas City earlier this week, one notable name was nowhere to be found: Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been an All-Star 14 times, more than any other active player. He leads all active players in career value, according to traditional stats (HR, R, RBI) and advanced stats (WARP) alike. Only a handful of players in history have done as much to help their teams win. But career accomplishments mean only so much. To be considered one of the best players in baseball, you have to continue to play like one. And lately, A-Rod hasn’t looked a lot like an All-Star.

Rodriguez won his third AL MVP award in 2007. Since then, his performance has declined in five straight seasons. Most players can expect to see their numbers take a tumble after an MVP season, but A-Rod’s decline goes beyond routine regression. He’s not coming back down to earth. He’s falling off the face of it.

A-Rod’s Declining Performance and Playing Time, 2008-12

Year

PA

TAv

2007

708

.349

2008

594

.324

2009

535

.308

2010

595

.297

2011

428

.286

2012

350

.278

Since 2007, Rodriguez has lost an average of 14 points of True Average per season. Not only is he not playing as well, he’s not playing as often: after making more than 700 plate appearances for the sixth time in ’07, he has yet to reach 600 in any season since. That combination of increasing infirmity and faltering offense culminated in a career-low 2.8 WARP in 2011.

There’s nothing unusual about the fact that A-Rod isn’t as dangerous or as durable at 36 as he was at 31. What is unusual is how fast and how far he’s fallen.

When the Yankees re-signed Rodriguez to a 10-year, $275 million deal in December 2007 that would take him through his age-41 season, they knew his play probably wouldn’t be worth an annual salary of $20 million or more toward the end of the contract. Their hope was that he’d be playable for the duration of the deal, do well enough early on to make the total expenditure tolerable, and rewrite the record books along the way. It’s still conceivable that their hope could come true. But to borrow a line from Yogi Berra, it’s getting late early for A-Rod.

The following graph shows the TAv trajectory by year for average players, Hall of Fame-eligible players, Hall of Famers, and “inner-circle” Hall of Famers, along with a best-fit curve for A-Rod based on his performance so far. All five curves have been re-baselined to be equal at age 27, allowing us to compare their trajectories more easily. What’s important isn’t the TAv of each, but the decline in the TAv of each from year to year.

What we see is that the performance of HoF-eligible hitters (those who play for at least 10 seasons) tends to decline more gradually than that of average hitters. But even though A-Rod is a member of that HoF-eligible group, he’s not declining like one. His aging curve places his rate of decline roughly halfway between that of the HoF-eligible players and that of the average ones.

Interestingly, both average Hall of Fame hitters and “inner-circle” Hall of Fame age at roughly the same rate as players who are eligible for the Hall but aren’t inducted. But because those inner-circle Hall members have such high peaks, they tend to remain productive well into their late-30s (and sometimes beyond). The same hasn’t held true for Rodriguez.

Age-36 True Averages of Hitters with at Least 100 WARP Since 1950

Name

TAv

Barry Bonds

.428

Hank Aaron

.334

Mickey Mantle

.324

Frank Robinson

.319

Mike Schmidt

.319

Rickey Henderson

.306

Willie Mays

.305

Alex Rodriguez (YTD)

.278

If A-Rod’s offense continues to decline along the path predicted by the curve, it won’t be long before he’s a liability. PECOTA projects his TAv to bounce back to .306 in the second half. Let’s say it does: in that case, he’d finish 2012 with a .290 mark. Even in that relatively rosy scenario, Rodriguez projects to be a significantly below-average hitter for at least the last two years of his contract. And if he can’t continue to play third, his bat will be even less valuable.

A-Rod’s Projected True Averages, Ages 36-41

Year

Age

TAv

2012

36

.290

2013

37

.283

2014

38

.274

2015

39

.265

2016

40

.255

2017

41

.244

A-Rod’s health—which may have caused some of his struggles—is an equally serious problem. From 2001-2007, he avoided the disabled list entirely. From 2008-2012, he’s been on the DL four times and had surgeries on his hip and knee. Last winter, Rodriguez traveled to Germany to undergo an experimental Orthokine procedure on his knee and shoulder, and he’s played in all but three of the Yankees’ games this season. But the larger trend is disturbing.

Almost from the start, A-Rod made many more trips to the plate than the average major leaguer his age. But over the past few seasons, the gap has almost disappeared. The average player makes 18 percent fewer annual plate appearances from ages 32-35 than he does from ages 25-29. Rodriguez’s average annual plate appearances over that period declined by 25 percent.

Some might attribute A-Rod’s seemingly accelerated aging to his admitted use of steroids, but any connection is purely speculative. Rodriguez claims to have been clean since 2003. Since then, he has two more MVP awards than he does failed drug tests. It’s impossible to prove that his past PED use is unrelated to his recent performance, but he’s hardly the first player to decline more quickly than expected. Before blaming A-Rod’s history for his present problems, consider that clean-living anti-steroid crusader Dale Murphy, a Hall-of-Fame caliber player in his prime, was essentially finished at age 32. Player aging isn’t completely predictable, and there are no absolutes. We know when most players reach their peaks and start to decline, but not every player follows the typical pattern.

Regardless of the reason for his atypical aging, A-Rod’s recent play has hurt his chances of making history (and the additional $30 million he stands to make in milestone incentives). From 2010-2012, Rodriguez has hit 59 home runs in 1200 at-bats, or roughly one every 20. He remains 120 home runs behind Barry Bonds on the all-time list. Even assuming A-Rod suffers no further performance decline and continues to hit home runs at the same rate he has since 2010—an iffy assumption to make—he’d need over 2450 at-bats to pass Bonds. If he stays healthy, he could make that mark by the time he turns 40. But if he averages 462 at-bats per season, as he did from 2008-11, he won’t get to 2450 until the final weeks of his age-41 season, the last of his current contract. That sounds like the perfect set-up for a storybook ending—an ancient A-Rod limping around the bases and becoming baseball’s home run king just before the book closes on his contract—but it’s more likely to be fiction than fact.

The Yankees are the one team that could afford to give A-Rod his current contract, and they’re the one team that can continue to compete even after it becomes a burden. But they couldn’t have expected it to become a burden so soon.


Dan Turkenkopf and Colin Wyers provided research assistance for this story.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Lespaul1

Has A-Rod become much more of a "dead pull" type hitter? I remember in his elite years he would take pitches on the outer half of the plate and just easily stroke them into the right-center gap for stand up doubles. You rarely see that anymore - he only has TEN doubles this year, very low for a guy with his strength. I certainly wouldn't expect huge HR totals again, but I did expect him to adjust better than this.

Jul 12, 2012 13:44 PM
rating: 0
 
Shaun P.
(676)

Aren't doubles, and for that matter power overall, down across the league?

I haven't watched the Yanks closely enough to say that A-Rod has become more of a dead pull hitter. And his power numbers have declined much more than I expected. However, if everyone's doubles are down, that might not be a sign of A-Rod's declining power as much as a consequence of a lower scoring/tougher offensive environment across the board. In other words, it might say more about the league than about A-Rod.

Checking b-r.com's yearly league totals:
2009 AL: 4131 doubles, 87538 PA (0.0472 2B/PA)
2010 AL: 4016 doubles, 86744 PA (0.0463 2B/PA)
2011 AL: 4005 doubles, 86482 PA (0.0463 2B/PA)
2012 AL: 2043 doubles, 45588 PA (0.0448 2B/PA)

So, at the moment at least, it does seem that doubles are down league wide. It will be interesting to see what the end of year totals look like . . .

Jul 13, 2012 07:26 AM
rating: 1
 
Schere

why smooth A-Rod's TAV curve? It may be the best fit, but it's not a very good one. He's almost off the chart at ages 29 & 31 and falling far more than is "typical" since then.

Jul 12, 2012 13:47 PM
rating: 1
 
jj0501

I'd like to see a similar analysis of Ichiro.

Jul 12, 2012 16:42 PM
rating: 2
 
BillJohnson

That low rumble you readers in southern California just felt wasn't the San Andreas Fault twitching, it was Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto synchronously quaking in their boots when they read this.

Jul 12, 2012 17:35 PM
rating: 9
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

It might be speculative to suggest ARod's decline is because of the lack of vitamins but it's a very very strong speculation that he cannot escape. It's exceedingly obvious he is smaller, physically, and the timing of his decline is actually quite accurate. Anyone who has taken strong supplements for weight lifting knows that after you stop taking them, there is a lengthy, slow, steady decline in your muscle-mass and muscle strength. With someone like ARod, he has access to everything else that is legal which would also slow the loss of strength from coming down from steriods/whatever he took. His decline is similar to so many others who were on and suddenly their skills rapidly declined(Brett Boone, Eric Gagne, John Rocker, etc.)

ARod's a very good player who became elite because he used then-legal PED's. End of story.

Jul 12, 2012 18:04 PM
rating: -14
 
rcrary

See, your first paragraph is a reasonable speculation, I think.

Your second is bullshit, in the technical sense of the term.

Jul 13, 2012 07:01 AM
rating: 10
 
Manprin

"When the Yankees re-signed Rodriguez to a 10-year, $27.5 million deal in December 2007..." I am not sure the numbers are correct there.

Jul 12, 2012 18:59 PM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

fixed, thanks!

Jul 13, 2012 14:59 PM
 
colt45s

Doubles (or a lack of them) is a reliable indicator of a player's overall effectiveness at the plate. Dave Kingman hit lots of homers but very few doubles. Tony Gwynn, Pete Rose and Wade Boggs hit few homers, but lots of doubles. Check the declining doubles numbers for veterans at the end of their careers.

Jul 13, 2012 06:55 AM
rating: 1
 
tullythomas

Not sure how the "average" players can start out at age 18 with higher TAv's than the hall of fame set. In fact, by definition, the average ML player is in college or low A ball.

Jul 13, 2012 07:14 AM
rating: 1
 
thegeneral13

They don't. The curves were all shifted vertically to intersect at age 27 to show the different trajectories in the decline phase. That red curve would probably start at .240 or so if shown on a raw basis.

Jul 13, 2012 09:17 AM
rating: 1
 
Pat Folz

There's a wrinkle on Alex Rodriguez's health issues that I think merits further investigation. Before the 2009, ARod, Chase Utley, and Mike Lowell each had arthroscopic hip surgery on torn hip labrums. My understanding is this procedure was relatively new to baseball players at the time. Also, it's worth noting that Utley and Lowell had the same surgeon (Dr. Bryan Kelly).

All three of them had relatively strong 2009 seasons (after returning from rehab), and then saw precipitous declines in both their production and playing time thereafter. Lowell actually retired after putting up a .238 TAv in 2010, and Utley might not be long for the majors either (.256 TAv in a handful of at-bats since missing the first half). ARod is doing fairly well, by comparison.

Those three are kind of linked in my mind because they're on playoff teams and their injuries happened around the same time. Others who had similar surgery around that time are Alex Gordon, Carlos Delgado, and Brett Myers. Gordon actually improved thereafter, Delgado had a strong last ~100 ABs then retired, and Myers has been kind of stinky since with no discernible trend (granted, his issues are numerous).

So of the 6, the four guys who had the surgery at age 30 or older saw enormous declines in both durability and production and/or retired. It's a teeny tiny sample, but I think it's worth wondering if the effects of this particular surgery makes it less suitable for baseball players, for people past their physical primes (say over age 30), and/or if the particular rehab procedures to get the hip back in baseball shape were/are not sufficiently developed yet.

Maybe Corey Dawkins can shed some light?

Jul 13, 2012 11:10 AM
rating: 8
 
rcrary

That's interesting speculation. But regarding Utley, saying anything about his handful of at bats so far this season is surely a bad idea. And he's missed time the last couple of seasons because of his knees, the kind of condition that wouldn't seem to be related to his hip problem.

Jul 13, 2012 11:41 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Corey Dawkins
BP staff

You raised good points and hopefully I can clear some things up.

One of the biggest things is their age at the time of surgery. Rodriguez was 34 and Lowell was also 34 but Delgado was 37, Alex Gordon was 25, Utley was 30, and Myers was 29.

Lowell was already on the decline in the years prior to surgery, although his standout 2007 seems to be a little bit of an outlier. Delgado was on his way out of baseball anyways and like you said, Myers has many issues. Utley, of course has suffered multiple injuries to his knee and thumb since.

The problem isn't necessarily the surgery so to speak, it's a combination of damage present, how much needed to be done to correct it, age, and overall talent level.

So summing up your questions/points:

1. The surgery itself likely helps baseball players since the alternative (progressively worsening pain/arthritis) prolong their careers even at a lower production level. The decline in production likely would be faster if not treated surgically.
2. The more damage there is going in, the harder it will be for the player to return to his previous level of production. A torn labrum without significant arthritis or bony abnormalities is more likely to return to his previous levels if not improving.
3. Age certainly plays a role in that younger players tend to heal faster and stronger with all injuries.
4. The rehab likely does not factor in production other than getting the players back out on the field.
5. Previous talent levels play a role. HOF level players are more likely to be able to make adjustments to new mechanics while lower level players might not be able to adjust.

Hope this helps.

Jul 13, 2012 12:05 PM
 
Pat Folz

Great info, thanks for the response!

I have another question. We've heard about "cascade injuries" where altering one's motion to compensate for an injury in one area leads to another injury somewhere else on the body. Both ARod and Utley (as rcrary notes) have had knee problems as well, is there any reason to think that they might be related to the hip injuries/surgeries? (maybe reduced range of motion in the hip causes them to put more stress on the knee when running, or something?)

Jul 13, 2012 12:42 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Corey Dawkins
BP staff

That is something that occurs quite often, although less often at the professional levels. Hip injuries or tightness certainly has an effect on the knees and usually leads to patellofemoral issues more so than meniscus related issues. So, Utley's surgery may have had a greater role in his knee problems than Rodriguez's.

Theoretically though, the improved motion in the hip should have led to improvements in the knee. If either developed secondary muscular tightness, knee, ankle, back, and lower core injuries could develop.

Jul 13, 2012 12:54 PM
 
BP staff member Corey Dawkins
BP staff

My stubby thumbs got in the way again. Point #1 should read:

1. The surgery itself likely helps baseball players prolong their careers, even at a lower production level, since the alternative (progressively worsening pain/arthritis) would lead to a faster decline in production.

Jul 13, 2012 12:22 PM
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Fantasy Article Weekly Planner: Week 1... (07/13)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Overthinking It: The B... (07/10)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Overthinking It: PECOT... (07/17)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Making... (07/13)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Friday, April 24
Premium Article Daisy Cutter: Carlos Rodon and the White Sox...
Eyewitness Accounts: April 24, 2015
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: Of Signals and Sausages
Raising Aces: Debut Ante: Raisel Iglesias
Painting the Black: No D In Desmond?
BP Bronx

MORE FROM JULY 13, 2012
The Stats Go Marching In: Catching Up with C...
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Making the Most of Mike Fier...
Fantasy Article Weekly Planner: Week 15
Fantasy Article Value Picks: Starting Pitching for 7/13/12
Premium Article Collateral Damage Daily: Friday, July 13
What You Need to Know: Friday, July 13
The BP Wayback Machine: A Good Deal... but N...

MORE BY BEN LINDBERGH
2012-07-18 - BP Daily Podcast: Effectively Wild: The Dail...
2012-07-17 - Premium Article Overthinking It: PECOTA's First-Half Hits an...
2012-07-14 - BP Unfiltered: Francisco Liriano's Unconvinc...
2012-07-13 - Premium Article Overthinking It: The Rapid Aging of A-Rod
2012-07-12 - BP Unfiltered: MVPs Who Weren't All-Stars
2012-07-10 - Premium Article Overthinking It: The Brief Wondrous Life of ...
2012-07-06 - Overthinking It: A Prospect Named Shaq, a St...
More...

MORE OVERTHINKING IT
2012-07-26 - Premium Article Overthinking It: Upgrading From Nothing
2012-07-19 - Premium Article Overthinking It: Did Boston Trade Youkilis T...
2012-07-17 - Premium Article Overthinking It: PECOTA's First-Half Hits an...
2012-07-13 - Premium Article Overthinking It: The Rapid Aging of A-Rod
2012-07-10 - Premium Article Overthinking It: The Brief Wondrous Life of ...
2012-07-06 - Overthinking It: A Prospect Named Shaq, a St...
2012-07-05 - Premium Article Overthinking It: Second-Half Risers and Fall...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2014-03-28 - Transaction Analysis: To Keep Miguel Cabrera...
2012-12-03 - BP Unfiltered: Alex Rodriguez is Injured Aga...
2012-10-08 - Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: ALDS Game One Recap: Yan...
2012-08-10 - What You Need to Know: Friday, August 10