Before the 2009 post season, Alex Rodriguez was frequently vilified for his alleged inability to get a hit when it really mattered. Following a historic clutch performance that October, which included three game tying homeruns in the seventh inning or later, many of the skeptics were quieted. Since then, however, some of the doubters have gradually started to re-emerge, with many emboldened by Arod’s extended slump earlier this season.
The debate over Arod’s “clutchability” has involved a countless number of hours over the last eight years, so perhaps it’s time to settle the issue once and for all? Off the bat, let’s circle back to Win Probability Added (WPA), and see what that metric says about Arod’s context-based contribution to victory.
Note: Data as of May 31, 2011.
Since Arod joined the team in 2004, he has easily been the Yankees’ most productive player in terms of WPA. In fact, his total of 25.6 wins added is not only greater than the next two closest Yankees combined, but also fifth best among all major leaguers. So, if Arod really has been a failure in the clutch, his production in low leverage situations would have to be off the charts.
Because there isn’t one statistic* that can help us settle the debate, we have no choice but to take a closer look at every HR and RBI Arod has accumulated as a Yankee.
*There is a WPA-based stat called “clutch”, but it is a relative metric that essentially penalizes a player for performing well in lower leverage situations. Therefore, it isn’t useful for our purposes (click here for a more detailed explanation of “clutch”).
Arod’s HR and RBI Breakdown, 2004-2011
Note: Data as of May 31, 2011. Outer circle displays RBIs; inner circle displays HRs. Colors get lighter as score differential increases.
The donut chart above helps to dispel that myth that Arod does most of his damage “when the team has a 10-run lead” (he only has six home runs when the Yankees have been ahead or behind by 10 runs). In fact, almost 50% of his HRs and RBIs have come with the score either tied or within one run, rates that are not only above the team average during Arod’s tenure, but either in line with or better than a selection of comps from the recent dynasty era.
|Derek Jeter||61.0%||Jason Giambi||53%|
|Jorge Posada||46.4%||Derek Jeter||45%|
|Hideki Matsui||43.6%||Hideki Matsui||43%|
|Robinson Cano||41.3%||Robinson Cano||41%|
Note: Data as of May 31, 2011.
A tie game in the first inning isn’t quite the same as a knotted score in the ninth, so another way we can break down Arod’s performance is by leverage. Based on this comparison, Rodriguez once again compares favorably to both the team average during his time in pinstripes as well as our select group of Yankees’ standouts.
Leverage can be an abstract concept, so perhaps the misconception about Arod stems from a lack of high profile moments? Once again, however, that theory fails when confronted by facts. Since 2004, the Yankees’ have hit 58 homeruns in the ninth inning or later that either tied the game or gave the team a lead/walk off. Of that total, Arod has accounted for 15, or over one-quarter. Not only is that twice as many as Jason Giambi’s seven over the same span, but it’s also the fourth highest amount in franchise history since 1950. What’s more, the Yankees have hit 20 such home runs in their post season history and Arod has two of them (both occurring in 2009).
Clutch HRs/Hits in the Ninth Inning or Later, Since 1950
|Yogi Berra||19||7086||Yogi Berra||35||7086|
|Graig Nettles||18||6247||Graig Nettles||30||6247|
|Alex Rodriguez||15||4727||Bernie Williams||28||9053|
|Bernie Williams||11||9053||Don Mattingly||26||7721|
|Don Mattingly||11||7721||Elston Howard||24||5485|
|Jason Giambi||11||3693||Bobby Murcer||24||4997|
|Elston Howard||8||5485||Alex Rodriguez||20||4727|
|Bobby Murcer||8||4997||Roy White||19||7735|
|Jorge Posada||8||6921||Dave Winfield||17||5021|
Note: Data as of May 31, 2011. Includes all HRs/hits that either tied the game or gave the Yankees a lead/walkoff.
Over the last eight years, so many great Yankee moments have been punctuated by Alex Rodriguez. However, because of the expectations inspired by both his immense talent and enormous contract, the myth about Arod’s inability to hit in clutch will likely persist. Although the debate can be grating, it really doesn’t matter anyway. Those with a firmer grasp of reality know full well just how potent Rodriguez has been in pinstripes. Everyone else is just clutching at straws.