Why the New York Yankees Have to Face Facts and Bench Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez's brewing incompetence—a chief source of concern among Yankee fans for the past month—finally came to a crest on Wednesday night.
After an 0-for-3, two strikeout performance dropped Rodriguez's ALDS series average to .083, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi made the signature managerial move of these 2012 playoffs, benching his superstar slugger with the Bombers down one in the bottom of the ninth.
As you probably know by now, it worked out pretty well. Pinch hitter and certified E.T.-lookalike Raul Ibanez belted a game-tying home run followed by a second decibel-busting bomb in the twelfth, this one for the win.
It was as if the fates were screaming, "BENCH ALEX RODRIGUEZ AND GOOD THINGS WILL HAPPEN!"
And you know, the fates might be right. At the risk of looking like a pack of alarmist clowns, the Yankees ought to seriously consider removing Alex Rodriguez (and his 647 regular season home runs and his $29 million yearly salary) from their everyday lineup. Really.
Now the fact that Rodriguez's understudy turned in a legendary playoff performance shouldn't really contribute to this argument. It's not as if A-Rod's benching magically accounts for a ninth-inning substitute hitting more home runs on Wednesday night than the rest of the Yankees combined in this series.
Nothing accounts for that, except maybe the Illuminati.
No, this argument is bigger than one night, and it rests on a growing pile of statistical evidence that says the Yankees are a better team sans A-Rod.
Let's start with Rodriguez's slash line against right-handed pitching this year compared to his most likely replacement at DH, Ibanez.
Rodriguez.256/.356/.391 (356 PAs)
Ibanez: .248/.319/.492 (360 PAs)
Keeping with the theme, let's look at what Eric Chavez, Rodriguez's backup at third base, did to righties in 2012.
Chavez: .298/.365/.543 (274 PAs)
Now consider that the Orioles might start hard-throwing righty Chris Tillman in Thursday's Game 4.
If we took name and reputation out of the equation, which pair of hitters would you rather have? OPS tells us that Ibanez/Chavez is the optimal choice. Comprehensive hitting metrics like wRC+ and wOBA sing a similar song, not to mention that Chavez is widely regarded as the better fielder.
Of course there's the possibility that Buck Showalter gives the ball to veteran southpaw Joe Saunders, in which case the evidence against A-Rod grows substantially thinner.
Even in his waning years, Rodriguez continues to mash lefties. In 2012, he posted a .308/.410/.514 slash against southpaws, a line that included eight of his 18 home runs. Ibanez, by comparison, hit just .197 off lefties in a mere 65 plate appearances. Chavez was even worse.
But here's where perhaps you play a hunch.
Eduardo Nunez is a career .298 hitter against lefties with a respectable .768 OPS to boot. Pencil him in at third.
At DH, Joe Girardi can call on Ibanez, citing the hot-hand precedent, or even Brett Gardner, who has always swung the bat relatively well against lefties and gives the Bombers much-needed speed on the bases (this is, of course, assuming that Gardner is available to hit). Heck, throw Jayson Nix into the equation if you must, really anything to keep Rodriguez out of the lineup.
I say that with no particular malice toward A-Rod. I say it because the man some consider the best hitting infielder of all-time has been in a tailspin since coming off the disabled list in early September.
Over the last month of the season, Rodriguez slugged a pitiful .369. So far this postseason, he's been even worse. The potential causes are legion—from the lingering effects of a fractured hand to old geezer syndrome—but at this point cause is secondary.
The Alex Rodriguez of October 11, 2012 isn't a good enough baseball player to validate his place in the starting lineup. And that's the only Alex Rodriguez New York has right now.
From a psychological standpoint, the move is begging to be made. The numbers even say its prudent, especially if you add proper weight to Rodriguez's post-injury production.
And the best part of all of this is that Girardi can now make the switch with considerably less blowback than if he'd made the call on Wednesday morning. Ibanez's heroics combined with A-Rod's continued decline give the skipper all the leash he needs, particularly among those with short memories.
So Joe, what's it going to be?
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