MLB: New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians

Alex Rodriguez gets a visit from the BABIP dragon

It’s no secret that Alex Rodriguez is scuffling a bit right now. At least I hope it isn’t, I don’t want to be in the business of spilling secrets willy-nilly.

Assuming you knew that already, you may not have known the extent of his struggles. Over the last 14 days he’s hit .130/.231/.280 and since the All-Star Break he’s hit a respectable but un-A-Rod-like .213/.326/.451. When trying to explain why something like this might be happening there are a few bunches of low hanging fruit.

Rodriguez is old and therefore we might assume he’s wearing down later in the season. Additionally, his start to the season was so torrid that perhaps this is just what a little old-fashioned regression to the mean looks like. There’s also the always popular “this is a small sample so whatever/meh/ ¯\_(ツ)_/¯”.

There’s nothing in there that can be dismissed outright and there is  truth to each statement. However, it’s not an insightful truth and it’s not a fun truth and more than anything else insight and fun is what Baseball Prospectus is about.

So, with that in mind what is it that’s eating Alex Rodriguez since the All-Star break? There isn’t anything in his underlying numbers that suggest his skills at the plate are eroding in a meaningful way.

Split BB% K% BB/K ISO
First Half 13.2% 21.0% 0.63 .237
Second Half 14.6% 23.6% 0.62 .238

Unfortunately this leaves the most mundane possible explanation for his struggles: an attack by the BABIP dragon. Pre-All Star Break Rodriguez managed a .307 BABIP and he’s only posted a .222 mark since.

Once again, one can let that be the whole explanation. It covers things in an overall sense, but it’s lazy to leave it at that. The question of why Rodriguez has seen his BABIP drop is one worth asking and the answer lies in how he’s hit the ball. A-Rod’s second-half spray chart gives some insight into his recent issues.

Alex Rodriguez

One thing that stands out here is the number of pulled ground balls, but the pertinent change here is in pop ups. That’s what’s radically changed in Rodriguez’s batted ball profile.

Split Ground Ball% Fly Ball% Line Drive% Infield Fly Ball%
First Half 43.5% 35.9% 20.6% 1.3%
Second Half 41.6% 41.6% 16.9% 16.2%

There are a couple of subtle shifts and one major change. A-Rod has hit more fly balls and fewer line drives, but the real issue has been pop ups. In the first half Rodriguez avoided the infield flies like Joey Votto and so far in the second half he looks more like Jose Reyes.

While it’s fair to assume he’ll settle in somewhere in between from here on out this is something worth monitoring. Pop ups are less luck-driven than most batted balls in the sense that the vast majority of them wind up as outs. They are so automatic that there is an argument to made that they should be included in FIP.

Chances are that Rodriguez will recapture his stroke and be a crucial cog in the Yankees lineup down the stretch. Neither his power nor his discipline has abandoned him and those skills are his calling cards. But this pop up tendency bears watching and if I were an opposing pitcher I would be filling the top of the zone with fastballs to see if it’s a weakness or a blip.

Right now the safer bet is on a blip, but there’s no such thing as a safe bet.

(Photo: Ken Blaze-USA Today Sports)

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