Thursday, September 15, 2011

Winning Without A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez has missed 58 games for the New York Yankees this season. That's a significant loss of playing time. And yet, with the exception of deep inside the bowels of the Yankee blog universe, the story has been nearly invisible. And even in that Yankee blog universe, the usual story about A-Rod's missed time is that the team has a .577 winning percentage when A-Rod plays and a .655 winning percentage when A-Rod doesn't play. But if anyone thinks that the Yankees are a better team without Alex Rodriguez, they have been visiting the medical marijuana facility far too often.

Perhaps this has been such a non-story because the Yankees have the best record in the American League. Who cares if A-Rod has been missing? The Yankees haven't missed a beat. You could even make a case that the offense hasn't suffered at all with his absence. The Yankees have scored 5.41 runs a game in games A-Rod played and 5.36 runs a game when he hasn't. That is such a small statistical difference that it would seem it matters little if at all whether he plays or not.

But it does matter and it will matter heading into the post season. Perhaps we shouldn't be looking at how the team has performed without or with A-Rod. That could be the biggest point that is missing in looking at such grand statistical claims. A Yankee win or loss depends on a lot of factors including pitching, hitting and defense of not only every Yankee who participates in the game but also the opposing team's pitching, hitting and defense. In other words, one player a winning percentage doesn't make. Instead, you have to look at who plays third, either A-Rod or others and how they have performed at that position when they play.

Let's start with fielding. Uh oh. We're in trouble already because everyone knows that fielding metrics aren't an exact science (yet) and we shouldn't look at one year's UZR to gauge a player's fielding. But we'll push all that aside and look at one year anyway. A-Rod has played 703 innings at third base. In those 703 innings, he's posted a UZR of 10.8. All other Yankees have played 625 innings at third base (A-Rod has DHed quite a bit due to his ailments) and have compiled a combined -4.8 UZR. That's a 15.6 run difference. And since ten runs generally lead to a win, A-Rod's play at third is a 1.5 win difference over other third basemen just in fielding alone.

Then there is batting. Alex Rodriguez has added 15.5 batting runs to the Yankees' line up. Again, that's the equivalent of a win and a half. All others that have played third base for the Yankees have a total of -11.8 batting runs. That's almost a three win difference between A-Rod's batting and anybody else the Yankees have employed at third.

Then there are the stats you can get your hands on easily. A-Rod has an .842 OPS. Eduardo Nunez is sitting at .667 and Eric Chavez at .694. A-Rod's on base percentage is .367. Nunez sits at .301 and Chavez at .331. A-Rod has thirteen go-ahead hits (hits that put his team in the lead). Nunez and Chavez have had eight combined.  A-Rod has a wOBA of .369 while Nunez and Chavez are at .299 and .301 respectively.

Don't let the win-loss records and runs scored per game fool you when it comes to if Alex Rodriguez plays or doesn't play. Despite only playing 90 games, Fangraphs rates A-Rod as the fourth most valuable third baseman in baseball this season. The Yankees are a much better team with A-Rod in the line up and fielding his position at third base. If A-Rod can be healthy and in the line up during the post season, the Yankees will have a greater chance of winning than if he isn't.

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