MLB: Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees

Alex Rodriguez feasts on a steady diet of four-seamers

Alex Rodriguez is and will likely always be a fascinating writing subject. The 40-year-old is one of the greatest baseball talents to walk this earth, and a rather perplexing human being to boot.

This year A-Rod showed Father Time that he’s got a couple of more rounds left in him with an improbable comeback that would have been celebrated across the land had his absence in 2014 been due to injury rather than suspension.

It’s hard to nitpick too much about something extraordinary but Rodriguez’ 2015 was not without its flaws, the most obvious of which was his second-half swoon. Although his ability to hit the ball over the fence was consistent all year, his line-drive rate suffered down the stretch which begot his BABIP and batting average to sink significantly. In the great scheme of things it was a minor footnote on the majesty of his season, but it also showed he wasn’t quite invincible.

A less publicized weak point of A-Rod’s year was his reliance on hitting four-seam fastballs. This likely sounds like a bigger flaw than it is because if you are only going to hit one pitch especially well that’s the one to choose. You see it the most often, it comes up in hitters’ counts and it generally moves the least. So in a sense Rodriguez should be commended for his choice, but it’s still better to hit all pitches well, which he most certainly did not do in 2015.  The chart below gives a sense of how much he leaned on hitting four-seamers, especially when it came to his power production.

Pitch Percentage of Pitches Percentage of 1B Percentage of 2B Percentage of HR Percentage of Total Hits
Four-Seam Fastball 34.3% 32.0% 45.5% 60.6% 41.2%
Other 65.8% 68.0% 54.5% 39.4% 58.8%

He was able to hit other pitches for a fair percentage of his singles, but everything else was geared towards four-seam fastballs, especially home runs. Put into more traditional baseball numbers the split looks like this:

Pitch At-Bats Home Runs Total Bases Batting AVG Slugging
Four-Seam Fastball 173 20 144 .312 .717
Other 350 13 110 .220 .314

It’s not atypical to see a hitter do the most damage on fastballs, but these splits are massive and likely help account for the fact Rodriguez saw his lowest percentage of four-seamers in the PITCHf/x era in 2015. If I were pitching to A-Rod in the future I would definitely shy away from the hard stuff whenever possible. While these numbers reflect the ends of at-bats as opposed to their entirety, it’s very clear which pitches he drives the best.

What’s interesting about this is that it doesn’t necessarily gel with our understanding of how hitters age. One of the first things to go is normally bat speed and the youngest hitters tend to be fastball-reliant while older guys have a more advanced feel for offspeed stuff even if they can’t catch the high heat like they used to. Those principles may be true in a general sense, but every hitter is his own beautiful multi-millionaire snowflake; especially Rodriguez.

There has never been a time where A-Rod performed like a normal mortal man on the field or acted like one off of it. As a result it would be downright foolish for us to expect him to age like one.

Not only is he defying the fourth dimension by continuing to be an elite power hitter, he’s also hitting like a much younger man by feasting on four-seamers almost exclusively.

 (Photo: Adam Hunger-USA Today Sports)

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