It's Too Soon to Say Alex Rodriguez Has Lost a Step

A-Rod's first month after hip surgery gets put through wringer

It is articles like the one Carl Bialik writes for the Wall Street Journal that feed the notion that Alex Rodriguez could never do enough to satisfy people's expectations of him. Bialik poses the question of whether Rodriguez has lost a step, a fair one seeing that he's coming off of hip surgery, and makes good use of evidence to argue that he's slowed down.

Thing is, there's plenty of evidence that he hasn't. Bialik points out that A-Rod has a speed score of 0.3, which is catcher territory, and that his Ultimate Zone Rating is down considerably. Baserunning and fielding are two areas that are going to suffer the most from an injury, however, and there's a flaw in each metric that limits its crediblility.

One of speed score's components is runs scored as a percentage of times on base. A-Rod has a .406 on-base percentage and has scored 13 runs while hitting seven home runs. That means his failure to score more runs, and a portion of his lowly speed score, falls on the shoulders on several of his teammates. 

As for UZR, there's definitely signs that A-Rod's work in the field has slipped in May, but his -27.3 mark is out of whack with career norms and based on a tiny sample size, so it is probably better to give it more time before drawing a grand conclusion. Furthermore, Yankee pitchers are giving up fewer groundballs this season, which means fewer chances and reduced range statistics for all Yankee infielders. UZR also ranks Mark Teixeira as below average, which any knowledgable baseball watcher knows is bogus.

That may seem like a stretch, but no more of one than Bialik using A-Rod's .222 batting average on balls in play to speak to his decline. That's well below anyone's average, which usually means bad luck and A-Rod's numbers speak to that conclusion. His line drive, ground ball and fly ball percentages are all in line with his established levels, with an elevated infield fly number the only thing out of line. That's much more likely to be a blip with only a month of data.  

The low BABIP leaves him with a lowish batting average, but that hardly means he's not a highly effective offensive player. He's getting on base at a high clip, driving the ball with power and has actually greatly cut down on his strikeouts. Bialik takes note of all these things, yet still reaches a different conclusion. 

A-Rod may, in fact, have lost a step, but, at this point, it appears more likely that he's coping with the realities of hip surgery. It's hard to imagine that too many other players in their first month back from surgery would be accused of losing something while posting a 953 OPS. If the fielding and speed remain problems all season, it's worth revisiting, but right now it just seems like a convenient excuse to take a few shots at baseball's favorite target.

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