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November 2, 2009

Prospectus Today

A-Rodemption?

by Joe Sheehan

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Maybe this will be the stake in the heart, the straw that breaks the camel's back, the end of an era. Maybe the RBI double that tore up a thousand game stories will wreak its havoc on millions more to come. Maybe, just maybe, Alex Rodriguez did not only himself a favor, but did one for hundreds upon hundreds of baseball players to follow him.

With a late-night, two-out line drive to left field, Rodriguez broke a ninth-inning tie in Game Four of the World Series. His overall statistics in the Series remain poor-.143/.333/.429-but he's made his hits count, with a two-run home run that turned Game Three around and his game-winning double last night. The overall postseason line remains staggering, .348/.483/.804 with six home runs. It's not just that he's put up statistics; Rodriguez has had big hit after big hit in this postseason, so many that there's no longer any way to argue that he has some ineffable quality that makes him a great player for six months and a poor one after that. He is a great player all the time.

This has always been obvious to anyone willing to take a reasoned look at Rodriguez's work in the playoffs or, for that matter, to anyone sensible enough to understand baseball's complexity. We can train all the cameras we want on a playoff game, but it's still baseball. Failure is more common than success, at least for hitters. Outcomes swing wildly over the span of a few games, and just as players do in the regular season, they have good stretches and bad in the postseason. Few get enough opportunities for their postseason statistics to acquire significance, so we inflate or deflate the reputations of some based on tiny amounts of evidence; not enough evidence, just data, data that doesn't carry nearly enough weight for the conclusions reached from it. Sometimes, and this is the insidious part, data gets carved up to reach preconceived notions. Both contributed to the narrative of Alex Rodriguez.

Through October 16, 2004, Rodriguez had played in 22 postseason games, stretching back to some cameos with the 1995 Mariners and through Game Three of the 2004 ALCS. In those games, he batted 94 times, hitting .372/.419/.640. This included a monster series in the 2000 ALCS against the Yankees, and a carry-the-team performance, clutch hits included in the 2004 ALDS against the Twins. In his next 15 postseason games, from the Yankees' collapse in the ALCS that year through the first two games of the 2007 Division Series, Rodriguez batted 67 times and was awful: .096/.299/.173. Most famously, he was 1-for-14 against the Tigers in the 2006 Division Series and was dropped by Joe Torre to the eighth slot in the batting order for the fourth game. It was in this period that the legend of Rodriguez was formed but, in fact, that legend was the product of variance and viciousness. His performance, while terrible, and was out of context not just with his career, but his postseason career. To decide that Alex Rodriguez had a fatal flaw, you had to ignore 60 percent of his postseason plate appearances, including a series-dominating performance in 2004 against the Twins. You had to want it.

By the end of that second stretch, Rodriguez had 161 career plate appearances, about a quarter of a season, and a line of .268/.369/.464. That's below his career numbers, of course, but given top postseason competition well within a reasonable range of performance.

Starting with the last two games of the 2007 Division Series, Rodriguez has gone crazy, batting .364/.478/.800 in 69 plate appearances. His career postseason line now stands at .295/.400/.560 in 230 plate appearances. Compare that to his regular season rates of .305/.390/.576, adjust for competition and weather, and realize that Rodriguez, on the whole, has perhaps been a better player in the playoffs than he has in the regular season. He now has 163 appearances outside of the 15-game slump in which he's hit like Babe Ruth's little brother, and those appearances count for about 70 percent of his postseason career. Broken down by series, and tossing 1995 (two PAs in two rounds), you find that Rodriguez has had four great series, three good ones, four middling ones, and that disastrous ALDS in 2006. That's a track record any player would take.

It's not enough, though, for the story around Rodriguez to change. The lesson here shouldn't be that maybe people were wrong to destroy Rodriguez for having 15 bad games at the wrong time. (Not that it will be; the narrative is now about how he's changed, relaxed, matured. God love the mainstream media.) No, the lesson here should be that it's wrong to reach conclusions about a person's character based on their postseason performance. Hits are clutch. Pitches are clutch. Great double-play turns are clutch. Baseball players are just people, and they're subject to the ups and downs of a baseball season even when, maybe especially when, they get to play into October. A three- or four-game stretch in which a player does nothing-or does everything-isn't that unusual in any season. It happens, in fact, all the time without notice. The problem when a player does the very baseball thing in October isn't him; it's the observers, desperate to divine meaning, airtime, column inches from something that is actually quite mundane.

The lesson of the 2009 postseason isn't that Alex Rodriguez really is clutch. It's that over a week or two or three of baseball, performance varies so wildly that the results tell you nothing about the players. Given enough time, Alex Rodriguez has played in the postseason as he does during the regular season. For any of these guys, given enough playing time, they'll perform in the postseason as they do in the regular season. That's the takeaway.

I hope.

--

  • Remember the movie Superman, when Lois Lane is clinging to a helicopter dangling from a rooftop, and Superman flies through the air to catch her just as she loses her grip and begins to plummet to her death?

    That was what Rodriguez did for Girardi last night. Girardi's use of Mariano Rivera has been one of the only redeeming qualities of an otherwise poorly managed postseason, but the manager lost an eighth-inning lead last night without getting either of his best two relievers into the game. With four outs standing between him and a step-on-their-throats 3-1 Series lead over the Phillies, Girardi went with Joba Chamberlain rather than Rivera or Phil Hughes, continuing his month-long infatuation with using Chamberlain to do Hughes' job. That's beside the point, however; the point is that Girardi had a one-run lead, Mariano Rivera at his disposal, and didn't use him. It was managerial failure on an epic scale, and but for a miraculous rescue by Rodriguez, Girardi could be getting absolutely destroyed today. Winning, not sunshine, is the best disinfectant, and Girardi's charges are winning so frequently that he comes out squeaky clean.

    There is no justification for holding back Rivera. He'd thrown just a handful of pitches the night before, and if overwork is a concern, you address that the next night, when you're facing a guy who may make the use of Rivera a non-issue anyway. You address it up 3-1, not up 2-1 with some outs left to get. What's worse is that If the Yankees had failed to score in the top of the ninth, Girardi was going to use Phil Coke, rather than Rivera, so Rodriguez not only erased one egregious mistake, he saved Girardi from making a second.

    I'll say it again: the Yankees are one win away from a title in spite of their manager.

  • I'll cop to this: when I saw Johnny Damon break for third in the ninth inning, having stolen second base and spotted an undefended bag in front of him, I thought he'd lost his mind. I even exclaimed, which is something of a no-no when you're wearing a lanyard and sitting in section 235. I never saw the undefended bag. Damon did, and he immediately figured out that not only would no one beat him there, but that Pedro Feliz couldn't catch him if he ran for it. It was fantastic baseball awareness, but also took an enormous amount of courage; no one was going to criticize Damon if he hadn't gone, but if he goes and gets caught, if he falls down or gets beaten to the bag by Lidge or if he doesn't but gets called out because, well, it's the 2009 postseason, he's going to wear that for a long time.

    Damon's nine-pitch at-bat ending in a single and the subsequent baserunning adventure will be remembered now more than his defense was. He got a terrible jump on Shane Victorino's "double" in the first, and his terrible arm allowed Ryan Howard to score in the fourth, tying the game. For a player who still has good wheels, Damon is a pretty bad outfielder, a flaw that limits his attractiveness as a free agent. Even in left field, his arm cripples you, and he still occasionally takes poor routes to the ball. We'll be seeing that break for third base for a long time, but teams evaluating Damon need to be realistic about what he actually brings as a free agent.

  • It wasn't terribly surprising to see Brad Lidge allow runs. Although he's posted a clean sheet in the playoffs, it was only his final couple of outings that were actually impressive. He's still got the same location issues that plagued him throughout the season, and they bit him badly last night.

    Charlie Manuel may have misused his pen to get to that situation. Perhaps he's being careful with Chan Ho Park and not using him for multiple innings, but taking out Ryan Madson after just one frame in a tied game was wasteful. Manuel went through the two pitchers without needing to hit for either, and by chance had the Phillies gotten through the ninth unscathed, they would have been hitting for Lidge to start the inning and perhaps heading into extras with Chad Durbin or Brett Myers. Down one and then tied, Madson was the right call for a two-inning appearance.

  • I think Joe Blanton has slimmed down considerably from when he was in Oakland. Not only does he just look thinner, he's pretty mobile, getting to first base from the mound with ease when necessary. His stats last night aren't great, but he was victimized by a number of balls that found holes. His approach was solid: pound the strike zone to take walks away, and make the Yankees beat him by swinging. The Yankees countered by going after him the way they went after Cole Hamels in the fourth and fifth innings, and while they didn't hit Blanton nearly as hard, they had some good fortune.

  • Speaking of slimming down, Ryan Howard is now making his biggest contributions on the bases and in the field. He stole a base that led directly to a run last night, and showed improved speed scoring-if not exactly touching the plate-on Pedro Feliz' single. He also made a number of plays in the field that I'm not sure he would have made before this season. It's been impressive to see him develop as a player, which bodes well for him arresting his deficiencies against southpaws-ones killing him in this Series-next year and beyond.

  • Phillies fans were criticizing Yankee fans for their early departures from Game One. It should be noted that once the Yankees scored their sixth and seventh runs last night, people at Citizens Bank Park started streaming for the exits, an exodus that continued throughout the very quick bottom of the ninth.

Tune in for my chat at 3 p.m., a pre-game Unfiltered, Roundtable all night, and in-game updates via Twitter. All World Series, all the time.

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

Related Content:  Alex Rodriguez,  Postseason

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

BP Comment Quick Links

Vilica

I think Manuel's mistake in putting in Lidge for Madson was waaaaay worse than what Girardi did. Madson is the Phillies' best reliever, Lidge their worst, and the pitchers' spot was leading off the next inning. If Manuel hadn't used Madson to preserve a two-run deficit the night before, he could have kept him in for two innings, and arguably should have anyway. The difference between Madson and Lidge this year is much larger than the difference between Chamberlain and Hughes.

Nov 02, 2009 11:26 AM
rating: 4
 
Mike W
(830)

Maybe the announcers, talk radio guys, studio talking heads, make up silly narratives, keep bringing up steroids, Brett Favre, etc., because they don't really like sports that much. Is it really because they think we want to hear that crap? Can they be in such a massive cocoon? I'm sure that's part of it, but I also think they're just not very imaginative, or passionate about their sports.

Nov 02, 2009 11:35 AM
rating: 2
 
kantsipr

I think it's just that it's hard to say something intelligent on the spot after every play. When it's hard to fill time, it's a lot easier if you have some narrative to fall back on.

Nov 02, 2009 14:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Rob_in_CT

Joba got two tough outs and then missed badly with a fastball and gave up a HR to the weakest non-pitcher in the lineup. You can't predict baseball, Suzyn...

Girardi needed 6 outs. You can't second guess his decision to use Joba there and say "4 outs away." No, it was 6. Joba got 2 of them before giving up the tying HR, and then got the third after. Mo would have had to pitch two full innings. Not using Mo in the 8th was probably a consequence of being overly jumpy and using him in game 3. That, if anything, was the mistake in Mo-useage, and game 4 follows from that.

I agree re: Phil Coke. When it looked like Lidge was going to get through the top of the 9th, I was very worried.

Something you didn't mention: letting CC hit for himself in the 7th was a mistake, I thought. I think you pinch hit there and start the bottom of the inning with Marte.

Nov 02, 2009 11:42 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I was fine with letting Sabathia hit, because I figured it set up the bullpen better. Up two, you can play it that way.

I also thought Mo was going two innings, though, and still think that's what should have happened. Four outs is where the game got blown, but six is where I would have hit "repeat" on the G2 plan.

Mo went five pitches plus warmup in G3. If that's really keeping him from going six outs in G4--when there's a higher-than-usual chance he'll have G5 off--it's wrong.

But I'm not 27 outs from jewelry.

Nov 02, 2009 12:05 PM
 
frampton
(870)

Things that drive me crazy about McCarver, #n+1: Saying what a great play it was for Melky to run through Thompson's stop sign. The throw had him beat, if Ruiz catches it Melky is out even if he misses the tag (because Melky missed the plate). Luck was the only reason they got that run, and without that luck the game might have been different.

Nov 02, 2009 11:44 AM
rating: 3
 
Rob_in_CT

Yeah, bad baserunning there by Melky. He got lucky.

Nov 02, 2009 11:48 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

This is all true.

Nov 02, 2009 12:00 PM
 
kantsipr

_That_ is what drives you crazy about McCarver?! The one that got me was, in the ALCS, when he said something like, "If C.C. Sabathia starts in game 1 of the World Series, Yankee fans will know the Yankees beat the Angels."

I didn't even get angry for several minutes. It took a while for me to get past the he-couldn't-possibly-have-said-that stage.

Nov 02, 2009 14:12 PM
rating: 2
 
elm
(41)

Amen. I've been having fun with that McCarverism for awhile now. He said something almost as stupid about the Angels right before that (This was the "Tools for the Game" segment or some such nonsense) but I have mercifully blanked it from my memory.

Nov 02, 2009 15:24 PM
rating: 0
 
ClubberLang

Damon makes a lot of sense for the White Sox, considering everything you said about Damon's defense could be applied in equal force to Podsednik, and Damon's a much better hitter in every way.

Nov 02, 2009 11:53 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

If "clutch/unclutch" does exist in post-season play, I'm of the closed opinion that it's both very rare and explains little anyway.

But you guys should stop pretending you've amassed evidence showing there's no such critter. You've amassed no such thing, as you've not systematically studied the issue. You just cite things anecdotally to support your opinion contrary to the popular TV guys opinion.

Which would be fine, so long as you're open about that being what you're doing. Which openness you don't always exhibit.

Nov 02, 2009 12:31 PM
rating: -13
 
pbconnection

It has been systematically studied. The results are essentially random...

The burden of evidence is on the wild claim that there's a quality that allows players to succeed by personality when we know that players get hot and cold all the time for no apparent reason.

Nov 02, 2009 13:31 PM
rating: 1
 
eighteen

Dozens of studies have been done on this topic. They have all concluded there is no such thing as the ability to perform above one's level at will or because the situation demands it.

There is no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, and no Clutch. Get over it.

Nov 02, 2009 15:16 PM
rating: 0
 
hessshaun

Second guessing = what makes baseball fun.

Anyhow, was that not the worst implementation of a strike zone that you have ever seen in your life? Anyone? I read seven Arod articles and six Damon articles, none of which mentioned the zone. I think that it was consistently horrid for both teams, but I was just amazed at how bad the zone was.

Nov 02, 2009 12:53 PM
rating: 1
 
Tank
(989)

It could be no one's writing about it because, sadly, it's become the norm.

Nov 02, 2009 13:16 PM
rating: 1
 
amazin_mess
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Personally, I'm sick of this whole issue. BP can stop now. There's no such thing as clutch. MOVE ON.

Nov 02, 2009 13:06 PM
rating: -11
 
dcarroll

I was stunned when Damon took third. My first thought was that I could not remember the last time I saw a third baseman catch the ball on an attempted steal. My second thought was, if the defense chooses to play Tex this way all the time (even with a fast runner at first), why hasn't the runner taken third more often?

Nov 02, 2009 13:13 PM
rating: 0
 
SoxOsPhils

I don't know if Madson would have kept the Yankees off the board if he pitched the 9th instead of Lidge, but as a Phillies fan this loss is a killer, because if the game stayed tied, we were looking at facing a non-Rivera reliever in the bottom of the inning and I think the Phillies would have had a solid chance at walking off with the win.

Obviously we can still win (however remote the chances), but that half inning was just awful for Phillies fans - everything from Damon's at bat and steal to hitting Texeira - I think it was the half inning that turned or changed the series.

Nov 02, 2009 13:22 PM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

I felt bad for Phillies fans because as soon as Damon singled to left after fighting off several 2-strike deliveries, you just KNEW he would score. When Manuel insists on playing with flammable materials, even the tiniest spark will ignite the whole bundle.

This isn't even meant as criticism of Lidge. He's been an excellent reliever for years, but this season isn't one of them. A prudent manager wouldn't keep sending him out there to get embarrassed.

Managers would rather march to their doom on the Bob Brenly Green Mile rather than cover for a weak bullpen with the blueprint Jack McKeon used successfully in 2003. Why? Fear of answering questions from the media. That alone is what's paralyzing this industry and stifling innovation.

Nov 02, 2009 14:35 PM
rating: 2
 
mglick0718

Re use of Mo: the problem was Girardi panicking and using him for no good reason in game 3, when Hughes would have been fine protecting an 8-5 lead with 1 out in the 9th. (Had Hughes given up a single instead of solo HR, which are equivalent events in the bottom of the 9th, no way Girardi would have pulled him.) Only 5 pitches, but with warmu-up clearly enough to have Girardi decide he was only using Mo 1 inning, thus compounding his mistake. Had Damon/ARod not come through, excellent chance he would've lost with Phil Coke. Thus repeating almost exactly the strategy Joe Torre employed in 2003: overuse Rivera in low leverage innings in game 3, then lose with your 10th or 11th best pitcher in game 4 while holding Rivera for the save situation that never materializes.

Nov 02, 2009 14:01 PM
rating: 0
 
RayDiPerna

"Maybe, just maybe, Alex Rodriguez did not only himself a favor, but did one for hundreds upon hundreds of baseball players to follow him."

Doubtful, unfortunately. We saw with Bonds's 2002 postseason that, while they stopped writing it about Bonds, it didn't prevent them from applying the silliness to ARod.

ARod's bad first two games of the WS had already started the silliness creeping back. The game-winning double last night probably saves him until his next postseason, but since the 2004-2009 stories were irrational I don't see why we shouldn't expect more irrationality.

It's like expecting an insane dictator or Charlie Manson or someone to behave rationally.

Nov 02, 2009 14:24 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Don't forget the opposite of it too. Many assumed David Ortiz would have a great postseason even though he had a horrible regular season. Not only wasn't he productive in 2009's postseason, but his numbers were barely pedestrian in 2008's postseason.

Nov 02, 2009 18:11 PM
rating: 1
 
kcboomer

Arod will take the "no clutch" to his grave. Statheads can rant all they want but he has been branded. Just like Jeter will be "Mr. Clutch" forever. It is one of those goofy times when perception is reality.

Nov 03, 2009 07:16 AM
rating: -2
 
mkegross

Joe:

Stress impacts human performance. Human performance varies under, and because of, stress.
I cannot imagine less controversial statements. That the variance can't be quantified has nothing to do with whether it exists.

This is, or should be, obvious to anyone who's ever tried to get a date, learned to drive a car, made a speech, interviewed for a job, had sex, written a newspaper story on deadline, acted in a play, etc,. etc, etc. Equally obvious: Ability to handle stress can change with time, with experience and even physiological factors (aging, etc.).

Of course clutch hitting exists. Clutch sportswriting exists. I've done it, and utterly failed to, and I bet you have, too.

Of course different people, even at the highest levels of any field, have varying abilities to deal with stress, and of course those abilities can develop or atrophy.

Yes, the way this general topic is discussed in the media and among many fans is ridiculously simplistic and stupid. To say that A-rod's (or anyone's) past performance proves he's a choker is absurd. But to say what A-rod's done the past couple weeks is proof he's never choked is exactly equally absurd.

Whether you mean to or not, you create the impression that if something can't be objectively measured it can't exist. That impression may hinder acceptance of sabermetric (for lack of a better term) thought with the mainstream media and public.

I like your work and BP a lot, and with all due respect I wish you'd get over this.


Nov 03, 2009 09:22 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

You've got to think about the relative stress though. Is a generic World Series at-bat more stressful than the first at-bat of his pro career? His first appearance at the plate with a runner on base? His first at-bat after signing with the Rangers or being traded to the Yankees? His first at-bat after the steroids revelation?

I'm not saying that the World Series doesn't add some element of stress, but life itself is generally stressful, especially for a high profile player like A-Rod, and he seems to have hit quite well throughout his career.

Nov 03, 2009 10:15 AM
rating: -1
 
ScottyB

Take all people. Put them on a big stage. Measure the differences in how much nervousness affects them. Probably a HUGE variance.

Take all Tony-award winning actors. Put them on a big stage. Measure the differences in how much nervousness affects them. Probably very little.

Nov 03, 2009 14:11 PM
rating: 2
 
brucegilsen
(999)

I always assumed that athletes who could not handle stress got filtered out way before they ever got to the World Series.

Nov 07, 2009 08:39 AM
rating: 1
 
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