At this point in the season last year, Alex Rodriguez was a revelation for the New York Yankees. Having started the year with almost no expectations, Rodriguez surprised the baseball world by returning from suspension as a highly productive offensive player.
It would be hard for this season to be much different than last. By July 1, 2015, Rodriguez had hit 15 home runs. In May, he had a 153 wRC+ and in June, he had a 139wRC+. So far this season, Rodriguez has 8 home runs, and had a 35 wRC+ in May, and a 62 wRC+ in June. By looking at a few key statistics, we might be able to find out what’s going on with Rodriguez and why he is struggling so much this season. All of the statistics are from FanGraphs.
The first statistic that sticks out is that Rodriguez is swinging at more pitches than he ever has before. Throughout his career, Rodriguez has swung at 43.9% of pitches that he’s seen. So far this season, he is swinging at a career-high 48% of pitches, much higher than the 44.2% swing rate that he had in 2015. Swinging at more pitches than normal isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the hitter is seeing more strikes than normal, but this isn’t the case for Rodriguez. 47.9% of pitches thrown to Rodriguez have been strikes, which isn’t much different than his career average of 47.4%.
Furthering the case that Rodriguez is struggling with plate discipline, his O-Swing% (percentage of swings at pitches outside the zone) is at a career worst 32.3%. In the past, Rodriguez has been a much more selective hitter, owning a 22.6 O-Swing% career average.
Especially compared to last year, Rodriguez has struggled with swinging at pitches outside of the zone. Rodriguez has walked in just 4.7% of his plate appearances, compared to 13.5% last year, which was the second highest of his career. Rodriguez also has his highest strikeout rate since being called up in 1994, striking out in 28.6% of his plate appearances. Lastly, Rodriguez is swinging and missing at 13.3% of pitches this year, another career worst.
Is there any light at the end of the tunnel for Rodriguez? I think so. The plate discipline statistics from above help paint a picture of a batter’s approach to hitting. A batter’s approach is mental and can be adjusted. Rodriguez can immediately increase his offensive production by laying off pitches outside the zone and walking more. Even if Rodriguez has lost some bat speed from last season, he can still be a selective hitter that walks. Given his contract and his production from last season, the Yankees will most likely stick with Rodriguez the rest of the season, betting that he can overcome his current struggles at the plate. If Rodriguez starts to walk more in July, it will be a good sign he has turned the corner.