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March 13, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Alex Rodriguez
by SG

After winning the MVP in 2005, Alex Rodriguez had what was a down year for him in 2006. It's a testament to Rodriguez's ability and talent that a 35 HR, .290/.392/.523 season would be considered disappointing, but that's the price of being the highest paid player in the game on a team that did not achieve its stated goal in 2006.

I've already run through the numbers about whether or not Rodriguez has been clutch, so I'm not going to rehash that stuff here. It's a fact that he has been horrible in the postseason as a Yankee recently, but he's not the only player on the team who has been. Hopefully he gets a chance to redeem himself this year.

Unsurprisingly, Rodriguez projects to be the best 3B in the AL in 2007.

Those projections make Rodriguez worth about four wins above the average 3B, and six wins above a replacement level 3B. To put that in perspective, here are the other 3B who project better for 2007.

Miguel Cabrera
David Wright

I'm not worried about Rodriguez's offense. I am worried about his defense, which has been lousy after an outstanding 2004.

Here's a graph showing how Rodriguez's Zone Rating compared with the AL average over the course of the year. As you can see, he fell off pretty significantly from mid-June on for whatever reason.

Rodriguez lost about 15 pounds this offseason in an attempt to regain some of his agility. Hopefully it can help his defense.

For those who can't see the embedded tables above, you can use this link instead.

Since I looked at Rodriguez's play by play batting splits fairly extensively in the post I linked near the top, I'm going to do a little something different and look at how many errors he made behind each pitcher on the Yankees in 2006.

That couldn't have sat well with Mike Mussina.

Lastly, here's how Rodriguez's errors as a Yankee break down vs opponents.

I won't get into the soap opera that surrounds Rodriguez, because honestly I feel it's boring. We're going to be hearing and reading about his opt-out option all year. The same people that are going to be bringing it up constantly are the ones trying to run him out of town, at which point they can criticize him for leaving, instead of criticizing him for staying and wanting to get rid of him. I'd ask the people who want to dump Rodriguez one simple question. Who do you replace him with? You're not getting Miguel Cabrera or David Wright to fill that hole.

All I care about is if Rodriguez helps the Yankees win games. That's all any fans should really care about. My one concession is the A-Rod cover counter on the left, where we'll be keeping track of his back page appearances all season. Let's hope it's mainly for game-winning hits.

I feel like I should write more to defend Rodriguez, but instead, I'm going to quote from an article on ESPN. I basically avoid ESPN like I avoid 2004 ALCS "highlights", but I saw a very fair piece on Rodriguez linked at High and Tight from Yankee-basher Jim Caple.

I mean, what has he ever done that is so bad? Despite his best efforts at living a clean, responsible life, he has a worse reputation than Terrell Owens. I know I've mocked him as much as anyone, but now I mostly feel sorry for him. He's one of the best players in the game, and people act as if he's Bubba Crosby. Enough is enough. Forget the soap operas that stem from his silly insecurities -- any day now I expect him to shave his head -- I'm going to root for A-Rod this season. No more cheap shots, no more easy punch lines … from now on, I'm his No. 1 fan. Not quite like Kathy Bates in "Misery," but I'm pulling for him all the way.

And here's why you should root for him as well.

Root for A-Rod because years from now, you'll be bragging to your children and grandchildren that you saw one of the greatest players who ever took the field. You'll be able to say, "I saw Rodriguez hit .358 with 36 home runs and 123 RBIs in his first full season. I saw him hit 409 home runs by the time he was 30. I saw him win an MVP at shortstop for a last-place team one year and then win an MVP at third base for a first-place team two years later. I saw him hit .315 with four home runs in three American League Championship Series. I saw him play in 10 All-Star games his first 11 seasons."

It may not sound as sweet as telling your kids, "I saw A-Rod hit a World Series-winning home run in the bottom of the 10th inning," but it certainly sounds much better than telling them, "I threw fake dollar bills and garbage at A-Rod because he signed a contract that I would have killed to get."

Root for A-Rod because if you don't like Barry Bonds challenging Hank Aaron's home run record, just wait -- Rodriguez might wind up passing Bonds in a decade. A-Rod hasn't testified before a grand jury that he "unknowingly" took steroids, but he has hit 464 home runs, which is a total Aaron didn't reach until he was two years older than Rodriguez is now and a total Bonds didn't reach until he was almost four years older. Trust me, if A-Rod does set the home run record, you'll not only be rooting for him then, the commissioner will show up to see it.

Root for A-Rod because despite all you hear about him choking in the playoffs (and yes, he has stunk the past two Octobers) he still has nearly as high a career postseason OPS as Jeter (.847 to .863). A-Rod also hit for a higher average and produced more runs in the 2004 postseason than Jeter did. In fact, Jeter has played in 24 postseason series and hit .233 or less in nearly one-third of them. That's not to knock Jeter, but only to point out that if you play enough postseason series, you're going to shine in some and stink in others. Give A-Rod another chance this fall, and he will rise to the occasion. Especially if he feels as if fans would rather see him succeed than bitch about his failures.

Root for A-Rod because, other than saying stupid things, he never does anything to embarrass his team or the game. He never gives less than his best. He never approaches the game with anything less than complete professionalism. So what if he can't help himself from making ridiculous statements in an attempt to please everyone at all times? There are far worse crimes for an athlete -- and we complain about them all the time.

But mostly, root for A-Rod because if he has another MVP season and shines in October, all those obnoxious Yankees fans will have to shut up and quit blaming him for everything that ever goes wrong with a team that has needed better pitching ever since it let Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte go.

I agree with Caple completely.