In everyday life we most commonly think of human bodies holistically. Walking down the street we tend to see the fine folk in our path as people instead of limbs, torsos, rib cages and facial features.
Things are a little different when evaluating athletes. In baseball, arms, shoulders, elbows, legs, and hands are commonly scrutinized intently by scouts, fans and front office personnel alike. It doesn’t take much for a human being to simply become a collection of puzzle pieces in our eyes.
If something goes wrong with one piece, we fix it, put it back in its place and everything is back to normal. Unfortunately for the New York Yankees that hasn’t been how things have worked with Alex Rodriguez lately.
On May 3 Rodriguez strained his right hamstring running to first base. This is the sort of thing that happens to 40-year-olds whether they play at the major-league level or rec softball.
Just 23 days later A-Rod was back, except he wasn’t himself.
Since his return on May 26 he’s hit just .235/.247/.370. Considering his job requires that he hit and do virtually nothing else, this is not the type of line the Yankees would like to see.
The numbers lend themselves a relatively easy narrative. Rodriguez came back quickly and his leg still doesn’t feel right. He’s unable to use his lower body well to supplement his power and has been punchless as a result. Some of that may be true, but certainly not all of it.
It appears that the problem doesn’t reside exclusively in his legs, but rather in his eyes. Hitting the ball with authority hasn’t been the bulk of the issue. His three home runs and .136 since coming back are far from spectacular, but they aren’t disastrous. He’s even posted an uncharacteristically high .302 BABIP.
What’s been ruinous for A-Rod has been his plate discipline. Since his injury he’s struck out 27 times and walked twice, resulting in an MLB-worst BB/K ratio (0.07) during that period. He’s swung outside the zone 42.7 percent of the time, ninth worst among 197 hitters with 80 plus plate appearances. That’s Corey Dickerson and Alcides Escobar country.
Coming off a season where he had a tidy 13.5 percent walk rate to his name, this is a peculiar development, even in a small sample. As A-Rod enters his forties it’s reasonable to assume he will see his durability, reflexes and strength diminish. Approach isn’t usually the thing to go.
From an anatomically point of view, we know that one’s hamstrings and one’s eyes aren’t close in proximity or function. However, when looking at Rodriguez’s recent numbers it seems likely they’re interconnected somehow in this case.
His approach right now is so out of character that it’s hard to attribute to luck and sequencing. On the surface it’s also hard to attribute to a hamstring strain. That said, there are roundabout ways for two seemingly unrelated events to affect each other.
Perhaps Rodriguez’s timing has been compromised from time off. Perhaps he’s in pain that’s affecting his focus. Maybe being more immobile makes him want to swing for the fences to compensate.
There is no definitive answer.
What we do know is that Rodriguez has an absolutely terrible approach right now. Although it’s impossible to prove, his May injury is likely influencing it somehow.
Hamstrings and eyes aren’t thought of as being connected. Certainly no one is going to write a song about it. Neither word is catchy and the crutch of ending every line with the word “bone” to achieve a cheap rhyme is unavailable.
Even so, in Alex Rodriguez’s case they appear to be. He is not simply a collection of parts, but a whole. Right now that whole is in trouble at the plate.
Photo: Anthony Grupposo / USA Today Sports