(Hasn't been a lot of kick from The Horse in a while. Courtesy of Getty Images)
I was legitimately shocked to hear about Alex Rodriguez's 83-plate appearance/67-at bat extra base hitless streak when I watched game 162 the other night. I clearly had not been following the numbers closely enough because even though I was well aware that his power has been greatly diminished this year, I thought surely a hitter of his caliber had snuck a double down the left field line or into the right field gap somewhere in those 83 PA. Thinking about Alex Rodriguez going that long without an XBH, even an aging, breaking down, power-sapped Alex Rodriguez, is just incomprehensible to me, and the fact that he did go that long gets me thinking about his place in the batting order and if 3rd is the proper spot for him.
The statistical profile this season, traditional or sabermetric, does not paint A-Rod as an ideal run producer worthy of hitting in an important run-producing spot in the lineup. Once again he hit fewer than 20 HR, and his 57 RBI were even lower than his 2011 output (62) in over 100 more PA. His SLG (.430), ISO (.158), and wOBA (.346) were all new career lows, and thinking back to the team's constant struggles with RISP this season A-Rod is probably the first name that comes to mind when thinking about all the hits the team did get in those situations that didn't produce runs. When your offensive output is heavy on singles and sac flies that's going to happen, but it's not something that should from the 3-spot in the batting order.
So where should A-Rod hit? I've felt on more than occasion this year that the #2 spot behind Jeter would be good for him, and with the way other guys in the lineup are hitting right now I think this could be another good opportunity for that plan. A-Rod can still draw walks at a decent clip, even if his 9.4% BB rate is also down, and just his mere presence as a potential power bat behind Derek Jeter gives pitchers something to think about right from the first pitch of the game. His higher OBP than Ichiro (.353 to .340) could mean more potential for runners on base for the super-hot Robinson Cano behind him, and if he does start swinging with some power those runners could be farther along the basepaths when Cano does come up. The argument could also be made that 7th is a more appropriate spot for Rodriguez, as moving him down would allow all the other more powerful middle-of-the-order bats to move up one.
The problem with moving The Horse to 2nd is two-fold. One, moving Ichiro Suzuki out of the 2-spot behind Jeter wouldn't be a smart move with the way he's hitting right now. While the overall numbers show A-Rod as having an advantage in some categories, the recent performance in terms of getting on base and creating scoring opportunities favors Ichiro. Since the start of September, Ichiro has hit .362/.376/.486 (.382 wOBA) to A-Rod's .261/.341/.369 (.315 wOBA), and while some of Ichiro's success has likely been BABIP-aided (.379 in September), Joe will live with that in small sample sizes as long as it creates scoring chances. Knowing how Joe operates, he's going to ride Ichiro's hot hand for as long as he can, and with as hot as Ichiro is right now moving him down in the order for A-Rod would generate only a marginal improvement at best.
The other problem that moving A-Rod to the 2nd spot would cause is shortening the lineup. Ichiro's presence as a threat at the top has allowed the Yankees to lengthen that lineup significantly since Mark Teixeira came off the DL. They were a little thin on the back end before, but now teams will have the displeasure of having to face Curtis Granderson and his 43 HR in the 7th spot and Russell Martin and his 20 9th. Fair to say that those 2 players, low batting averages and all, are the 2 best 7th and 9th hitters in any lineup in the postseason. Moving A-Rod down to 7th would create the same situation, so perhaps that option is the way to go, but a batting order with Ichiro 2nd, A-Rod 3rd, and a 7-9 of C-Grand, Raul Ibanez, and Martin is much deeper and stronger than one with A-Rod 2nd and a 7-9 of Ibanez, Ichiro, and Martin.
The Horse is in a bit of a tough spot right now. He isn't hitting well enough to merit a spot in the batting order as a lead run producer, but there are too many guys hitting well around him right now to justify moving A-Rod to a spot that is more appropriate for him at the expense of the lineup's overall effectiveness. 7th might very well be the spot where he belongs right now, but I don't see Joe moving him that far down again and shining the bright light of the media on that distracting situation. The fact remains that Rodriguez is still a presence in the order, and with Cano as hot as he is heading into Sunday's division series Rodriguez is going to get plenty to hit in front of him. Maybe the best move to start is to see how the opposing team approaches A-Rod and hope that he finds his power swing. If he doesn't, though, it might be time to go back to the drawing board and bump him down.