Alex Rodriguez is one of the most talked about people in all of baseball. While he consistently puts up nice numbers, most of the chatter surrounds his ridiculous paycheck and failures on the field. Of all the non-steroid suspected players, no one is viewed more negatively than A-Rod.
It’s entirely possible Rodriguez brought most of this onto himself. Not just by signing a $252 million contract, but also by the way he carries himself. Constantly worried about what others think, no beat writer has ever left an A-Rod interview thinking they received anything other than PC answers. While it’s difficult to ever truly know an athlete, Rodriguez is so self-conscious it has created the exact opposite effect he originally intended. The perfect guy act eventually grew old.
A-Rod the baseball player, just like his personality, is an enigma. He’s the youngest player in the history of the game to reach 450 homers – the youngest by nearly an entire year by the way. The 450th homer was also his 2,000th career hit already. He’s won two MVP awards, including last year, when he led the AL in homers, runs, slugging and OPS. He was second in batting average and OBP and fourth in RBI. He's durable and has led the AL in homers four times in five years. Rodriguez also hit more home runs in a season than any previous Yankee right-handed hitter, supplanting Joe DiMaggio and Gary Sheffield.
Sure, the guy can hit, and no one disputes that. It’s when he gets his hits is the problem. A-Rod is viewed as one of the most unclutch hitters out there, and everyone’s heard this. I won’t argue whether “clutch” even truly exists, after all, is a run in the first inning worth less than a run in the ninth? I will, however, argue against A-Rod’s apparent inability to hit when it matters most. He’s driven in 72 RBI in 96 games this season. Two-thirds of his 21 homers have come with runners on base. He’s batting .296 with nine homers in 115 at-bats with RISP. His OPS is .987 with RISP and .807 with the bases empty.
Admittedly, those numbers were reversed last year, but are remarkably similar for his career (.943 OPS with bases empty vs. .951 OPS with RISP). Rodriguez's weak reputation in the clutch was fueled last year by his 2-for-15 performance in the ALDS against the Angels. Still, Rodriguez has hit .305/.393/.534 with six homers in 31 career postseason games. He almost single-handedly led the Yankees over the Twins in the 2004 ALDS, batting .421 and slugging .737.
Derek Jeter, comparatively speaking, has an .824 OPS with RISP and an .856 OPS with the bases empty for his career. Mr. Clutch himself, David Ortiz, also sees his career OPS fall 35 points when there are RISP. As of last week, Ortiz had the most RBI opportunities in baseball, having batted with 347 runners on base, and he'd only knocked in 16.7 percent of them. That's not even among the top-30 for hitters with at least 200 plate appearances.
Rodriguez has been more susceptible than his teammates to criticism because he has never played for a championship team. While I can throw good RISP stats at you, I cannot prove that his hits come in the later innings more than most, which people seem to hold in great account.
Recently, he’s been better known as E-Rod, as he committed five errors in a five-game span last week and led the American League with 18 going into Monday. Not much I can argue here, but it is ironic, considering defense was the main reason he took the MVP trophy from Big Papi last year. As for his huge salary, Yankee fans should probably look elsewhere to complain, given that they're paying him just $15 million a year - Texas picks up the rest of his salary - he's a relative bargain in Yankee-land. In fact, A-Rod is only the fourth-highest paid Yankee.
Bottom line, A-Rod doesn’t deserve nearly the criticism he receives. Once someone gets a reputation, it often follows him forever. In A-Rod’s case, his is both unfounded and false. While he may be fun to root against, there's no denying his ability to rake.