Alex Rodriguez made his 75th plate appearance of the year today, which gives enough of a sample to indicate the kind of player he will be for the rest of the year. The outlook is not bleak but it's hardly reassuring.
With today's pinch-hit single in the 10th, Rodriguez is batting .273/.360/.754, down from his lifetime averages of .300/.384/.943. His WAR is 0.2, which pales in comparison to his career high of 10.3 (2000) and last year's 2.3. He has two home runs and six RBIs.
He still has a good eye and makes contact but the ball no longer jumps off his bat and his long-ball power is missing in action. This could be due to age, the lingering effects of his hip injury, the lack of PEDs or a lack of self-confidence caused by all of the above. Many of his basehits have been groundballs or bloops.
This year, his ratio of walks to plate appearances is .093, comparable to his career average of .109. His ratio of strikeouts to at-bats is .258, again comparable to his career ratio of .211. His power numbers, however, have dropped considerably. His ratio of home runs to at-bats is .030, compared to a career average of .067. His ratio of doubles to at-bats is also .030, compared to his career average of .053. His slugging percentage is .394, down from his career average of .559.
While these numbers show that Rodriguez is no longer the A-Rod of old, he is still a considerable improvement over the players who tried to replace him. Moreover, his high on-base percentage still makes him a valuable player. One might be tempted to suggest that he be moved in the batting order, but that raises a whole host of other problems.
Rodriguez no longer seems to have the power needed for the fifth slot. His slugging percentage trails even Melky Mesa's(.538), Brennan Boesch's (.529), Francisco Cervelli's (.500) and Brett Gardner's (.403). Of the current regulars, his on-base percentage trails only Curtis Granderson's (.387) and Robinson Cano's (.386).
While Rodriguez's on-base percentage suggests that he lead off or bat second, Gardner is firmly entrenched in the lead-off spot and Derek Jeter is set to return to his accustomed No. 2 spot this week. Moving him down farther in the order may not be feasible either. Even a diminished Rodriguez may provide better protection for Cano and Alfonso Soriano than anyone else who could move into the fifth slot. This year's roster contains few options for productive power bats.
Rodriguez's on-base percentage may also drop soon if teams believe that his power is gone for good. Pitchers will challenge him, which may drive down his number of walks. Outfielders may play him shallower and catch some of the bloops that have been falling in.
As with so many other issues with this year's Yankees, there are no simple answers.