Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Time for a Shakeup

Apparently, I am not alone. Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews of ESPN agree with me. I'm guessing many Yankee fans do too. Alex Rodriguez does not belong in the middle of the Yankee batting order, especially in the playoffs. Mind you, A-Rod does lead the team in a significant category this post-season.

While Curtis Granderson has left a disappointing six teammates stranded on the base paths, A-Rod has stranded seven – hard to top that in just two games. 

I remember watching an NBC broadcast in the ’80s and a broadcast colleague told Tony Kubek that he belonged in the all-time Yankee starting lineup. Well, at that time, pre-Derek Jeter, the comment made sense. The other top-notch Yankee shortstop to that point had been Phil Rizzuto. The Scooter is in Hall of Fame because he was the sparkplug of so many great Yankee teams of the ’40s and ’50s, but he was not that great a player. His lifetime average was just .273 (he hit .300 twice) and he had mediocre range at short. So maybe Kubek was the best before Jeter. But I digress. The reason I tell this story is because of Kubek's response to the compliment. He said, "Sure, somebody would have to make the outs (at the plate – not in the field) or the games would never end." Good line.

That is what I would now say about Alex Rodriguez batting in the heart of the Yankee order. With Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki hitting so well in the 1 and 2 slots and Cano in the 4 slot, somebody has to make the outs and bravo to A-Rod for handling that job so very effectively. 

The problem for me is that pre-2011 Rodriguez deserves to bat third or fourth. But not the new A-Rod. In fact, although he hit 30 home runs in each of 2009 and 2010 (still well short of his average before that of course), he really hasn't been all that wonderful since 2007. 

His WAR (Wins Against Replacement) numbers are as follows. 2004 - 7.3, 2005 - 9.1, 2006 - 4.2, 2007 - 9.2, 2008 - 6.5, 2009 - 3.9. 2010 - 3.7, and 2012 - 2.0.  His OPS used to be around 1.000. The last two seasons it's been .823 and .783. I'm not sure he should be in the middle of any team's batting order now, but certainly not the Yankees, who are so strong they actually had Suzuki batting ninth for a while.

Would the team prefer having Eric Chavez, who's terrific defensively and no slouch at the plate, in the lineup?  I suspect so, but maybe it's just me. But if Joe Girardi thinks A-Rod's big assets are his ability to strike fear  in opposing pitchers and the way he protects the hitters around him…well he just doesn't have those assets anymore. Though he hit the ball pretty hard his first two times last night his strikeout in the ninth, albeit against Johnson (who was his old self again) arguably cost the Yankkes the game and wasted a very good effort by Andy Pettitte.

George Steinbrenner called high priced Dave Winfield "Mr. May", a reference to the superior playoff clutch hitting of Reggie Jackson, "Mr. October." Winfield hit .283 lifetime with 465 home runs but just .182 and .239 in his two playoff years, with just two homers and six doubles in 101 at bats. 

Rodriguez has had a couple of very good playoffs. He hit .320 with three jacks in 2004 and .365 with six home runs and 18 RBIs in 2009. But that's it. 

Here are his other years.

                         AB         HR       RBI          Avg.         OBP           Sl.Avg          OPS
    2005              15            0          0           .133           .435             .200            .635
    2006              14            0          0           .071           .133             .071            .205
    2007              15            1          1           .267           .353             .467            .820
    2010              32            0          3           .219           .316             .281            .597
    2011              18            0          3           .111           .261             .111            .372

Maybe it doesn't matter whether Rodriguez is popular with his teammates or not, and I know it's tougher to put up good numbers in the playoffs because in every game you're facing one of the best pitchers in the league, but come on. It's hard to inspire or intimidate anybody with one home run, seven RBIs, and an .074 average in 94 at bats in five playoff years.

The two guys best suited to bat before or after Robinson Cano are Mark Teixeira, who is hitting .500 in the playoffs, and Curtis Granderson, who – as noted above – is struggling (1 for 7). But it would be hard for anybody to do much worse than A-Rod. While I'm tinkering with the lineup…it's also time to reverse Jeter and Suzuki, who is much more of a threat to steal and motors around the bases a lot faster than Jeter.

My lineup would be: 

1 – Suzuki, 2 – Jeter, 3 – Cano, 4 – Granderson, 5 – Teixeira, 6 – Swisher, 7 – Chavez, 8 – Martin, 9 – (DH) Ibanez or Nunez

If I were a pitcher I would not like to face that lineup.

Post-Script: I'm no great fan of the Atlanta Braves, but they got robbed in the Sudden Death playoff game by umpire Sam Holbrook, who obviously does not understand the Infield Fly rule. There are two parts to it. First is the ability of an infielder to (easily) catch the ball whether it's in the infield or the outfield. Well the shortstop (Pete Kozma) could have caught the fly (though he didn't) but it was pretty deep. The depth can't be the only criterion though. What if you had a speedy infielder (there are lots) who raced to the warning track and easily caught a ball, is that an infield fly? Babe Ruth used to routinely hit towering pop ups that landed in a glove on the warning track or in the deep outfield after what seemed like an hour. The catcher (defined as an infielder in the rule) would have had plenty of time to get under them. Were they infield flies?

But the other, very important part of the Infield Fly rule is the reason for the rule in the first place. It is designed to prevent players near a base from purposely dropping a ball and then doubling up base runners who expected the ball to be caught. But how the heck was Kozma going to tag anybody out from the middle of the outfield! The other umps and Joe Torre defended the call but that doesn't mean it wasn't costly and stupid.

No comments: