Jon Williams on Alex Rodriguez

Advanced Fantasy Baseball: Surgery to Cost at Least 10 weeks

I get a feed of fantasy baseball stories, and this is one that just came over. I knew A-Rod was thinking about having surgery tomorrow, but this was the first I’d heard he’d decided to go ahead. It does seem he’s come up with a compromise, which might get him back on the field sooner this year, at the cost of further surgery next winter. All of which, as Jon Williams suggests, you need to know.

But I refer to this story here because Williams calls A-Rod a “renowned wuss” and talks about how he expected him to have a bad year this year because of all the attention focused on him following his PED admissions. Big Jon says, “I was leaning toward predicting a bad season for A-Rod because of the pressure on him to perform under the close eye of the media while enduring the boos of fans. He has responded poorly to this in the past and it will be increased by a factor of at least ten this season.”

Are these two things true?

The only reference I could find to A-Rod being a wuss was a story about how he fainted when his wife gave birth to their first child. This story came up last spring, as the couple hurtled toward divorce. A-Rod missed the birth of the second child, last May, when his plane got in just a little late, so we don’t know if he’s toughened up or not. In any case, I always thought wuss meant you were injury prone and didn’t play with little hurts. Rodriguez played with hip pain last season, apparently, and showed no signs of jaking. He’s had injuries over the years, but hasn’t lingered on the DL that I recall, and doesn’t have a reputation as injury prone. I wouldn’t make any decisions about A-Rod based on him not trying.

As for his clutchness, he really was horrible last year. But clutch performance is always measured through the filter of the small sample. Take a look at his Clutch Stats last year and you see that he was about the same Late and Close, 2 outs with runners in scoring position, and with the game within four runs, with about a .875 OPS. The one exception came Late and Close, where he was a weak .790. The issue here is that he had only 83 PA Late and Close. He also only had 74 PA with a greater than four run lead. In those at bats his OPS was 1.241! What a bum.

But everyone knows that 74 PA or 83 PA doesn’t tell you anything about a player. How has A-Rod performed throughout his career (I’m assuming that you don’t grow less clutch as you get older) in clutch and non clutch situations? His low OPS came in 2 Out with Runner in Scoring Position (.889). His high OPS came in one run games (.981). What I learn from this is that A-Rod is okay in the clutch, that he doesn’t so much fold under pressure as look a little less comfortable facing it, and so his effort looks like much less than his results. Would he have folded this year if he wasn’t hurt? 

I would suggest that A-Rod played under intense pressure last year, after the contract fiasco, the revelations about his private life, the breakup of his marriage, an apparent dalliance with an older woman who was also a celebrity, plus the pain in his hips. He’s never looked clutch, I have to admit, and was particularly unclutch last year, but it’s hard to draw a hard lesson from that experience. I’m happier saying that A-Rod is a great hitter who doesn’t always look like he enjoys being the man. That disconnect, it seems to me, is going to exaggerate his shortcomings. 

Oh, as for this year and next, what’s in store for A-Rod? If the doctors are right he’s going to miss about six weeks of the season to post-surgery rehab, and probably another few weeks to extended spring training getting game ready. A mid-June return seems reasonable, and as Jon Williams correctly says, this isn’t the whole fix, it’s a patch job, so he probably won’t be 100 percent if all goes well.

My advice on these sorts of things is to be conservative, if you’re in a good position, and take a chance if you’re in a weak one. In keeper leagues, it’s easy to figure this out, because you can judge everyone’s keeper lists. If you have a good keeper list you don’t want A-Rod unless his price drops below $20, and even then it might be a mistake. The cost to you if he fails isn’t worth the risk. In the software I’m going to cut his output nearly in half. 

As a startup draft/auction strategy it gets a little tougher. A rule of thumb might be, if you end up with Johan Santana in your mixed league draft, target A-Rod many rounds later. But it doesn’t have to be Santana. He’s just going to be the most expensive of the risky guys and the first one to go. Look for other cheap but big upside players and make a team of them. Emphasis on cheap. 

The flaws in A-Rod’s personality are obvious, and it’s hard not to pay attention to them. But the obvious evidence of his talent and work ethic seems way more important. He’s hurt and we have to deal with it, but we’ll do a better job of that if we don’t overamp A-Rod’s demons. He’s worth the risk for the right teams this year and next.