Monday, October 5, 2009

A-Rod's Turbulent But Taciturn 2009

Good morning, Fackers. The Yankees and A-Rod in particular closed out the regular season with a bang yesterday.

This year will be remembered for a lot of things done by individual players. The debuts of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, the emergence of Nick Swisher, the defensive re-invention of Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano's rebound, Jorge Posada's ability to contribute despite his shoulder and hamstring injuries, Johnny Damon's power surge, Chien Ming Wang's fall from grace, Phil Hughes' transition to the bullpen, Brett Gardner's first season in The Bigs, Mariano Rivera's continued excellence, Joba Chamberlain's innings limit, and the swan song of Hideki Matsui.

Am I missing anything? Oh yeah, A-Rod.

A-Rod endured what was certainly the most tumultuous offseason a player has had since Game of Shadows essentially convicted Barry Bonds of doing steroids in the court of public opinion before the 2006 season to have a pretty damn good year in 2009.

It started with Joe Torre's book, exploded with his admissions of steroid use, got worse with his interview with Peter Gammons and even more ugly with his press conference in Tampa. Adding still more fuel to the fire was the time he left the park with his disgraced cousin, the Details magazine photo shoot and the revelations that he was involved in a relationship with the madame of a whorehouse.

Those events were really just bad P.R. and weren't going to have much of an impact on his on-field production. Then came the news of his hip injury and the impending surgery which ultimately cost him the first month of the season. What was already a disastrous offseason got tangibly, inarguably a whole lot worse. At least it seemed pretty terrible at the time. (Click through that one for one of my finer photoshops)

But at a certain point when he was hiding out and rehabbing in Colorado, things started to change. The details of Selena Roberts's book began to leak and some had the potential to be very damning, but the tide began to turn. Craig from Shysterball was among the first to question the motives and level of objectivity Roberts used in writing her exposé and fairly swiftly, we all grew tired of the never ending stream of A-Rod's exploits.

Then of course he rejoined the team in a moment a movie studio would have rejected because it was too unrealistic; a three run shot on the very first pitch he saw. Although he struggled early on in his return, the back to back days off he got off in Florida seemed to turn his season around.

Since his return the Yankees went 88-44 and climbed from 4.5 games behind the Red Sox to achieve the best record in baseball by 6 games. Since his two day hiatus they are 62-28. He was probably given too much credit for turning Mark Teixeira's season around, but it's hard to understate the importance of swapping replacement-level guys like Angel Berroa and Cody Ransom for one of the 5 best hitters in the game.

We've heard a lot about the fact that A-Rod has flown under the radar this year. Joel Sherman recently talked about his newfound ability to blend in with the team. Yesterday, Marc Carig dubbed him the "Quietest Yankee". Even our pal PeteAbe, who has never been too fond of the slugger, gave him credit for his ability to "blend in [and] stay out of the news".

Did anyone see this coming? I'll be the first to admit that I did not. One the posts I wrote before the season started and liked above was entitled "This Is Never Going To End" and another was "Hurricane A-Rod". I put up another one comparing him to an actual Albatross. At the time it looked like he was spiraling out of control and I think we should be very thankful that he did not.

It's not just that he eclipsed the 30 home run and 100 RBI marks for the 13th straight season, miraculously breaking a record he previously shared with Jimmie Foxx and Manny Ramirez. A-Rod actually had a higher on-base percentage than in 2008 despite batting 16 points lower. He changed his approach at the plate and as a result struck out in 18.2% of his plate appearances, down from 19.6% in 2008.

Fifty-one of his 100 RBIs tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead (although that didn't stop a certain insufferably bitter Yankee blogger who didn't even watch yesterday's game from dismissing the homers because they came in "garbage time"). He stole 14 bases and got caught only twice. He gave the Yankees more production than they could have reasonably expected given the injury he was coming off of.

I'm not going to fall into the trap of saying any of this makes him more likely to have a great postseason. I thought his ridiculous MVP campaign in 2007 set him up to break out of his October slump but it most definitely did not. The reality is that a 5 game series is a tiny, tiny sample and there is no guarantee that he will get the big hit or hits that he is seemingly due for.

I'm sure as hell hoping it happens, though. A-Rod is a power hitter with holes in his swing, who seems to alter his approach when the pressure elevates, neither of which portend profound postseason production. But as he's demonstrated time and time again, he can carry a team when he finds his groove. Maybe this is the year he finally gets hot in the postseason, and maybe it's not. If it is though, the other teams standing in the Yankees' way had better watch out.


  1. Great article. Don't think I read anything I disagreed with.

  2. @Dan - Seconded. Aside from maybe the use of "Taciturn" in the title to refer to something other than a person's temperament.