Alex Rodriguez homered in the first inning of yesterday’s 10-8 loss versus the Angels, and the crowd cheered. With the winning run on first base in the bottom of the ninth, he popped out to end the game. This time, the crowd let out a smattering of boos. Welcome to Arod’s world.
The Yankees’ fan base likes to pride itself on being knowledgeable, but too many from among the team’s legion of followers are unworthy of that distinction. Those are the fans who incessantly boo Alex Rodriguez. Although just about every player has been treated harshly by the home crowd at some point in their career, the abuse of Arod by some Yankees’ fans has gone well beyond the point of being rational. Not only does a very vocal component of the Yankees’ Universe seem almost eager to boo Rodriguez when he fails to get a big hit, but there is also a palpable sense of enjoyment in the derisive response.
Before the 2009 World Series, the boos were predicated upon Arod’s “lack of rings” and the lingering myth that he wasn’t “clutch”. Well, the unclutch argument was never supported by facts (click here and here), and Rodriguez not only now has a championship under his belt, but his contribution was instrumental in attaining it. You’d think that would be enough to put Arod in the good graces of the even the most irrational and fickle portion of the Yankees’ fan base? Guess again.
Arod’s Salary versus Value, 2004 to 2012
Note: Value is a WAR-based calculation. Salary from 2004 to 2007 represents only that portion paid by the Yankees.
*2012 value is pro-rated over the rest of the season.
Source: fangraphs.com and Cot’s Contracts
The new justification for booing Arod is his contract, which will pay the third baseman over $100 million between 2013 and 2017. Granted, Arod probably won’t come close to providing value commensurate with that hefty sum, but why is that his fault? Should he have volunteered to take less? Besides, when the three-time MVP was being grossly underpaid by the billion-dollar Yankees, the same fans didn’t seem as concerned by that inequity.
For nine seasons, Alex Rodriguez has been one of the most prolific players in Yankees’ history. Among Bronx Bomber position players with at least 4,000 plate appearances, Arod ranks sixth in both OPS+ and AvgWAR/PA. Because of the historic levels of his production, Arod has been worth every penny to the Yankees and then some. Of course, many fans would argue that’s what Rodriguez was. So, let’s take a look at what he is.
Top-10 Yankees in Terms of OPS+ and Average WAR/PA
Note: Minimum 4,000 plate appearances. Average WAR is the average of bWAR and fWAR.
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com
According to both versions of WAR, Arod ranks fourth on the Yankees, just behind Curtis Granderson. Compared to American League 3B, he ranks sixth in fWAR. Although neither comparison is befitting the perennial MVP candidate that Arod used to be, he continues to be a well above average player. In addition, when you consider that Arod has hit .353/.417/.529 in 100 plate appearances as a DH, there is reason to believe his offensive levels could improve with less wear and tear from playing the field (granted, his inability to play 3B would lower his overall value, but the net impact of improved offense might be greater).
Even the most optimistic Yankees’ fan and ardent Arod supporter would have to admit that the third baseman will not produce to the level of his contract over his final five seasons in pinstripes. However, considering his past production, Arod will still wind up returning a reasonable amount of value compared to his salary based on regular season performance alone (marketing and postseason contributions only tilt the balance in his favor even further). So, who cares if he winds up being overpaid in his waning years? Because of baseball’s economic system, that’s what happens with most veteran superstars anyway.
There are too many Yankees’ fans who will never be rational when it comes to Arod. Instead of giving him credit for a decade of excellence, they’d rather worry about how much he’ll be overpaid at the end of his career. Granted, some of that concern is based on the Yankees’ new found philosophy of fiscal restraint. However, if the team really does intend to lower its payroll below the luxury tax threshold, and finds its hands tied because of Arod’s contract, the fans’ ire should be directed at Hal Steinbrenner’s desire to increase profits, not Rodriguez inability to hold off father time. Unfortunately, it’s just much easier to boo Arod. It always has been, and will likely continue to be for the next five years.