A-Rod and Clutchness: Part 894

Without a doubt, Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He’s a hall of fame talent with a tremendous career behind him despite only being 32 years old. He’s got a shot at the all time home run record, is the highest paid player in the game, and plays on the biggest stage in baseball every night. However, despite all his ability and his impressive career performances, he’s also become the mainstream poster boy for an “unclutch” player. His disastrous performances in the 2005 and 2006 playoffs have been well documented, and he’s heard about his failures in the clutch for years, even if they weren’t always justified.

Well, if you take a look at the Win Probability leaderboard and sort by clutch performance, you’ll notice a familiar name currently posting the worst performance in high leverage situations of any hitter in baseball. Yep, there he is, again sitting atop a list that he’d rather never hear mentioned again. And, while it’s early, the ten plate appearances he’s had in situations where the LI has been greater than 1.50 show that he’s lived up to the reputation during the first two weeks of the season.

From his play log:

April 12th, Top 8, 2 out, 1st and 2nd, up 4-3: Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging
April 2nd, Bottom 9, 2 out, 1st and 2nd, down 5-2: Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging
April 3rd, Bottom 6, 0 out, 2nd and 3rd, down 2-1: Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging
April 14th, Top 8, 2 out, 1st and 3rd, down 8-7: Alex Rodriguez reached on an FC
April 3rd, Bottom 4, 0 out, 1st, down 1-0: Alex Rodriguez flew out to second base
April 13th, Top 1, 1 out, 1st and 2nd, 0-0: Alex Rodriguez grounded into a double play
April 1st, Bottom 4, 1 out, 1st, 1-1: Alex Rodriguez grounded into a double play
April 7th, Bottom 3, 2 out, 1st and 3rd, up 2-1: Alex Rodriguez reached on an FC
April 8th, Top 3, 0 out, 1st, 2-2: Alex Rodriguez struck out looking
April 1st, Bottom 7, 0 out, no one, 2-2: Alex Rodriguez singled to right field

It’s only ten plate appearances, but it’s ten fairly miserable plate appearances. Four strikeouts, two double plays, a couple of fielders choices, and a lone single. He made 11 outs in these 10 trips to the plate and lowered his team’s chance of winning by a combined 58.4%. So far, this season, Alex Rodriguez has been a problem when he had a chance to help his team the most. This fits right into the narrative that has been told about him for years.

However, I absolutely have to note that this is not a continuation of any real trend. Thanks to the addition of leverage splits on his Baseball Reference player card, we can see that A-Rod has actually performed better in high leverage situations over his career than he has in low or medium leverage situations. Over 1508 plate appearances with an LI of 1.50 or greater, Rodriguez has hit .307/.393/.590, marginally better than his career line of .306/.389/.578. That includes being a monster in high leverage situations last year, posting a .349/.439/.706 mark over 132 plate appearances.

No one should draw any conclusions from the first 10 high leverage at-bats of Alex’s Rodriguez 2008 season, especially in light of his career performances. I had to chuckle, however, when I checked out the clutch ratings this morning and saw a familiar name sitting at the bottom. I’m guessing this will be a moniker he’s going to have to fight his entire career.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Tom Au
16 years ago

As I wrote in a “demo” piece yesterday to David Appelman, “[The Yankees are] a lopsided team whose win expectation comes mainly from its hitting. What’s worse, A-Rod singlehandedly contributed over three-fifths of the team’s 12.64 WPA from hitting in 2007. Take away its bats, as has been the case for early 2008 (A-Rod is a negative WPA contributor so far this year), and you’re talking about a team that struggles to maintain .500.”