Alex Rodriguez finally hit his 600th, but his owners have noticed that there was something wonky going on before the race to the benchmark ever started. A look at Jack Moore’s piece on the moment gives you a hint, but just look at the Rodriguez and his ISO over his career and it comes into sharp focus:
His offense has been declining for some time now, and power seems to be the reason. His flyball percentage is not the culprit, as it has stayed remarkably steady. Even though his HR/FB percentage has hit a career low this year, it was within his career range before this year, so that seems to be a lagging indicator. Is there an indicator out in front that might have been a harbinger of this power slump?
His hit tracker information is interesting. Using HitTrackerOnline, we can see that the average speed on his home runs has not been the same since 2008:
Of course, that was about the same time that Rodriguez started having hip troubles that has led to surgery and soreness since. In the spring of 2009, the news dropped and he hasn’t been the same since. Fanhouse scout Frankie Pilliere had something interesting scouting things to say, that also centered on the hips. It’s About the Money Stupid spotted this great piece:
Essentially, it all comes down to his lower half. When he’s right, no hitter has the balance and strength in the lower half that he does.
The swing we see from Rodriguez now is one more reliant on his upper body, with far less explosive torque and his hips following his stride.
Without creating that coiled spring effect before he releases his hands and with less drive of the hips toward the baseball, bat speed is going to suffer. And while there is no official measurement of actual bat speed available, we’ve seen Rodriguez get beat more often by the fastball without that powerful base from which to hit. It’s just not possible to produce the same bat speed.
If you’re an optimistic person, and expect the Rodriguez of old to return, what you’ll see is a smaller, abbreviated leg kick where he has very little movement in his lower half before he drives his hips at the ball. You’ll also see his head stay much more centered over the middle of his body and far less upper body involvement. If he can accomplish all that, we’ll see his bat speed return and the more prolific home run numbers will follow.
It looks like the numbers and the scouting facts align: Alex Rodriguez does not have the same juice in his hips that he used to. It’s hard for the average fan to notice, but watching the leg kick and his hips is one key. But, as we fantasy fans know, it’s much easier to watch the speed off his bat and trust the numbers once they turn around. Until they do, we’ll have to assume we are watching the decline of a great hitter.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.