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Alex Rodriguez: Is He MLB's Best Player?

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Alex Rodriguez: Is He MLB's Best Player?

Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is making more money this year than the entire Florida Marlins team. This is an astounding fact in itself, especially considering the Marlins currently have a better record than the Yankees, but it is even more disturbing if you consider the value A-Rod actually adds to the Yankees.

Of course he is widely considered the best player in the league, and he is on pace to break every offensive record ever set as long as he stays healthy. But how much has he really improved the teams he has played for?

Each player on a team, in some way contributes to the success of that team and, intuitively it seems, individual success for a player should imply positive contributions to team success. However, Alex Rodriguez is a perfect contradiction to this hypothesis.

To analyze A-Rod’s contribution to his team throughout his career, I did a simple before-and-after comparison of consecutive seasons where he switched teams.

He began his career in 1994 with the Seattle Mariners; however he did not earn significant playing time until 1996. In 2001 A-Rod signed with the Texas Rangers, where he stayed three seasons until joining he was traded to the New York Yankees in 2004.

Following the hypothesis that A-Rod should provide positive value to his team, and assuming all other factors to be equal: A-Rod leaving a team should cause that team to be worse the next season and A-Rod joining a team should likewise bring improvement.

Here is a table showing how the involved teams fared after before and after A-Rod joined the team.

Teams Losing & Gaining Alex Rodriguez

Team

Last Year w/

A-Rod

Year After

A-Rod

Team

First Year w/ A-Rod

Year Before A-Rod

2000 Mariners

91-71

116-46

2001 Rangers

73-89

71-91

2003 Rangers

71-91

89-73

2004 Yankees

101-61

101-61


The pattern is largely the opposite of what we expect. The year after Rodriguez left the Mariners, they raised their win total by 25 games, tying the Major League record for most regular season wins in the process. One year after A-Rod departed the Rangers, Texas upped their win total by 18 games. They went from win totals in the low 70’s for all of A-Rod’s tenure to just barely missing the playoffs.

There is no real jump present for the Rangers or Yankees to indicate improvement after A-Rod has joined a team either. Texas won two more games with A-Rod than without, and the Yankees win total stayed exactly the same.

A little more analysis shows the Rangers and Yankees actually performed worse once Rodriguez joined. The Rangers were a division powerhouse prior to his arrival (see table below). They won 95 games two years before adding A-Rod, and won at least 88 games in three of the last five years without him.

Texas Rangers 1996-2003

Year

Record

 


1996

90-72-1

 


1997

77-85

 


1998

88-74

 


1999

95-67

 


2000

71-91

 


2001

73-89

* A-ROD

2002

72-90

* A-ROD

2003

71-91

* A-ROD

The chart below shows the effect of Rodriguez on the Yankees is even more intriguing. In the eight years prior to acquiring A-Rod, the Yankees played in six World Series and won four of them. In the five years that he has been a part of their team, the Yankees have played in, and won, ZERO World Series.

The Yankees winning percentage in the regular season has remained constant, but the playoff success has clearly not been the same after acquiring A-Rod. Also note that the first year Alex was a member of the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, won the World Series since 1918.

Major League Baseball World Series: 1996-2007

Year

Champion

Runner-Up

 


1996

Yankees

Braves

 


1997

Marlins

Indians

 


1998

Yankees

Padres

 


1999

Yankees

Braves

 


2000

Yankees

Mets

 


2001

Diamondbacks

Yankees

 


2002

Angels

Giants

 


2003

Marlins

Yankees

 


2004

Red Sox

Cardinals

*A-ROD

2005

White Sox

Astros

*A-ROD

2006

Cardinals

Tigers

*A-ROD

2007

Red Sox

Rockies

*A-ROD

The evidence appears very strong, but does not seem to make sense. How could A-Rod possibly make teams worse? I decided to look more into this.

The change in team success can only be attributed to A-Rod if the make-up of the team remains generally the same with and without him. I looked at individual player’s who played on the team both successive year’s around an A-Rod arrival or departure.

I assumed the only players that A-Rod might actually have an effect on were position players. This is because, as a position player, he would have no real need for interaction with pitchers and very little need for interaction with designated hitters, since hitting is such an individual piece of baseball. In addition, I was only interested in players who received significant playing time, because A-Rod would not interact as much with bench players.

I set an arbitrary cutoff at a minimum of 200 at bats for players, with players needing to have the minimum in both years of comparison (and for the same team).

Finally, I excluded players that were new to the league. The assumption here is that a change in performance would more likely be due to growing accustomed to the league (or the league growing accustomed to them) rather than any "A-Rod effect". I disallowed players if the two years used for comparison were the first two years that the player was in the Major Leagues.

Here is the list of qualified players, along with their batting averages, that were part of a team that Rodriguez left.

A-ROD LEAVING: Batting Average Comparison

Player

Team

Last Season w/

A-Rod

Season After

Improvement

David Bell

Mariners

.247

.260

.013

Mike Cameron

Mariners

.267

.267

.000

Carlos Guillen

Mariners

.257

.259

.002

Stan Javier

Mariners

.275

.292

.017

Mark McLemore

Mariners

.245

.286

.041

John Olerud

Mariners

.285

.302

.017

Dan Wilson

Mariners

.235

.265

.030

Hank Blalock

Rangers

.300

.276

-.024

Michael Young

Rangers

.306

.313

.007


Here is the same list for players that were part of a team that Rodriguez joined:

A-ROD JOINING: Batting Average Comparison

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Player

Team

Season Before

First Season w/ A-Rod

Improvement

Frank Catalanatto

Rangers

.291

.330

.039

Rusty Greer

Rangers

.297

.273

-.024

Gabe Kapler

Rangers

.302

.267

-.035

Ricky Ledee

Rangers*

.236

.231

-.005

Rafael Palmeiro

Rangers

.288

.273

-.015

Ivan Rodriguez

Rangers

.347

.308

-.039

Jason Giambi

Yankees

.250