January is traditionally a slow month for baseball news. So for the second year in a row, we will showcase other blogs with a series of pinch hitters.
Next up is Travis from Pinstripe Alley.
A Yankee fan living in Philly, Travis been writing for Pinstripe Alley since August. The World Series victory for the Phillies only made him want another title for the Yanks even more. The unabridged version of this article can be found on his blog.
Here is his post:
Can the Yankees win with Alex Rodriguez? He’s been criticized as a “me-first” player who destroys team chemistry since he left Seattle for Texas in the 2000-01 offseason. The evidence often used is threefold: the Mariners won 25 more games the year after A-Rod left (2001); the Rangers won 18 more games the year after Arod left (2004); and after Arod joined the Yankees, they’ve ended each year progressively worse. In 2003 (one year before A-Rod), the Yankees won the pennant and lost the World Series in six games. The downward spiral began when he joined, starting with a seven-game loss to Boston in the League Championship Series, followed by a Division Series loss to Anaheim in five games, an LDS loss to Detroit in four games, an LDS loss to Cleveland in four games and then 2008, when the Yankees missed the playoffs entirely.
I went into this study not sure what to find. First, I looked at the lineups of each teams, to see who replaced A-Rod after he departed. The 2000 Mariners (A-Rod’s last year with Seattle) had a team OPS+ of 107.
The 2001 team had a considerably better 118 OPS+. What was the difference? The largest improvement was at second-base, where Bret Boone posted a 153 OPS+, replacing Mark McLemore’s 76. Not to be overlooked is the addition of Ichiro Suzuki, who won the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. These differences improved Seattle from fourth in runs scored to first, despite moving to pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. The pitching also improved (negligibly) from second to first (in the AL).
A-Rod bolted from Seattle to Texas, and after his time there, he departed to the Yankees and the Rangers won 18 more games. How? Pitching. Texas’ ERA ranked dead last in 2003, but through signings, trades and the maturation of young players, posted the fifth-best ERA in 2004. In fact, they allowed 180 fewer runs. So while the offense was nearly identical after A-Rod departed (96 vs. 97 OPS+), the difference was drastically improved pitching.
The current Yankee ERA has resulted in a worse result each year. The 2003 Yankees were a very good all-around team, ranking third in runs scored and third in ERA. The ’04 Yanks took a step back in terms of pitching, dropping to sixth in ERA (and not one starter went over 200 innings while four topped it in ’03). The pitching declined even further in 2005, dropping to ninth. Including last year, the Yankees haven’t finished in the top five in ERA since 2003 (sixth, ninth, sixth, eighth and eighth respectively since then).
As for A-Rod being a ‘bad seed’, we know he doesn’t have sleepovers with Derek Jeter any more, but does that make him a bad teammate? Teams have won with far worse “seeds”, namely Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, just to name a few.
Final verdict: Alex Rodriguez is not at fault for the relative lack of success of his teams. Despite his prodigious offense, pitching is still crucial, and teams seem to forget that after acquiring A-Rod.
Good post, Travis. But as Elaine once said of George, “Trust me. He’s a bad seed. He’s a horrible seed. He’s one of the worst seeds I’ve ever seen.”
Just kidding. Well, not so much.
Coming tomorrow: Drew from My Pinstripes.