Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Maximizing A-Rod In 2012 And Beyond

(The A-Horse swingeth)

After his fourth straight season of injury problems and declining production, this year's batch of injuries preventing him from even playing in 100 games, it appears that Alex Rodriguez is now moving towards the twilight of his career.  Unfortunately for the Yankees, that transition is going to be a long one as he still has 6 years and $143 million left on the contract he signed after the 2007 season.  Looking at the downward trend in his production and the upward trend in DL time over the past four seasons, we could be in for some ugliness before the sun finally sets on The Horse's baseball career.  Knowing that, it makes sense to re-evaluate expectations for A-Rod moving forward and consider a more conservative approach to managing him as he declines in the interest of keeping him healthy.  EJ started to touch on this point yesterday with his idea that A-Rod's health is what drives his production, and I want to take it a step further.  Starting this year and moving forward, the Yankees need to focus on keeping Alex healthy and need to manage him in a way that allows him to stay healthy.

Since his 2007 MVP season, A-Rod has averaged just 124.5 Games Played and 538 PA per season over the past four thanks to his various injuries, and has seen his elite-level production fall as well.  When he's healthy and on the field there's no doubt that The Horse can still produce at a high level, as evidenced by his April and June months in 2011 when he put up OPS values in the high .900s-low 1.000s and wOBA values in the low .420s.  But once he starts getting banged up, that production suffers, both as a result of him modifying his approach and swing to compensate for his injuries and then due to the large chunks of time spent on the DL when the injuries become too much.  The projections for 2012 all create a similar expectation for him to miss significant time next season and for his production to continue to suffer as a result:
  • 2012 ZiPS: .264/.350/.474, 115 OPS+, 108 G, 456 PA
  • 2012 CAIRO: .273/.363/.474, .351 wOBA, 106 G, 459 PA
  • 2012 Bill James: .277/.373/.497, .376 wOBA, 134 G, 579 PA
The Bill James projection is the most favorable, both in terms of performance and playing time.  The other 2 projections, drawing heavily from the last couple years, expect A-Rod to only slightly improve on his playing time totals from 2011 (99 G, 428 PA) while continuing the downward trend in production that he's had over the last two seasons.  But if we can agree and accept that A-Rod's production should be declining some at his age and agree that the injury problems seem to be accelerating that decline, then we can agree that the first thing the Yankees need to address in 2012 is how to keep him healthy and in the lineup as much as possible.

Once again this year we are being treated to reports on A-Rod's new offseason workout program that will keep him healthy and productive.  But at age 36 it would be unreasonable for us or the Yankees to expect a healthy full season from A-Rod in 2012 regardless of what that workout plan is, especially if he continues to be used the way he has over the past four seasons.  Joe has finally started to make a conscious effort to give A-Rod more time at DH in order to keep him healthy, but that approach has usually come after A-Rod has already been hurt.  This upcoming season should be the first where regular DH time and scheduled off days becomes a staple of his playing schedule.  Implementing a strict plan that guarantees Rodriguez regular DH time and regular rest from Day 1 should help lessen the wear and tear his body accumulates through the 162-game season and keep him producing at a high level.

But how to go about creating this plan?  And how many games should the Yankees be looking to get out of A-Rod?  Using the 124.5 average from the past 4 years, 130 games seems like a reasonable number to use as a starting point, with 140+ as a goal if he is healthy enough.  Without getting too deep into the hypothetical scenarios, I'll just state that I think 15-20% of those games should be played at DH.  If that's the case, then it's a foregone conclusion that there would be more to consider when developing this plan than just A-Rod.  The Yankees would also have to consider the effects of his DH time on Jesus Montero, who will likely be the everyday DH for the majority of the games next season, and Russell Martin, who needs his regular time off behind the plate.  Then there are the days that are going to have to be kept aside for Teixeira, Jeter, and maybe other guys to DH to consider as well.

Attempting to schedule A-Rod's DH days around Martin's off days could help keep the lineup deep by simply slotting Montero into the C spot on those days.  That would lessen any negative impact of having Eduardo Nunez or somebody else at third and also would lessen the amount of lineup juggling that Joe would have to do.  On days where he is truly out of the lineup, the team takes a hit on paper and there's no changing that. But by committing to those days and designated DH days regularly, the Yankees stand a better chance of having A-Rod for at least 130 games and stand a better chance of having a healthy (or least healthier) A-Rod for those games.

History has shown that a healthy A-Rod is still a very productive A-Rod, so logic would dictate that the healthier he is the better his numbers are going to be.  If the Yankees can start working towards getting those 130 healthy games, there's a good chance A-Rod's talent starts to shine through again and we see a 2012 line closer to .290-.300 BA/.380-.400 OBP/.500-.525 SLG instead of the .260ish/.360ish/.480ish projections we're seeing right now. Those numbers still wouldn't be worth what he's being paid, but they're a helluva lot better than what we've seen the last two years.

He could shock us all and come back this year and play 155 games at his 2007 MVP level, but given the last four years that possibility seems highly unlikely.  130-140 games of healthy A-Rod is a lot better than 70-90 where he's 100% and another 30-40 where he's some percentage less, and that's what we as fans and the Yankees should start looking for from him and accepting if that number can be reached.  With the years and money the Yankees still have invested in him, the best thing to do is figure out a way to maximize what they can get out of A-Rod every season.  Starting this coming season, a regular schedule of DH days and off days needs to be implemented to keep him healthy.

No comments: