Before I saw the replay of Felix Hernandez’s inside off-speed ball that smashed off Alex Rodriguez’s left hand and fractured his left fifth metacarpal, I was prepared to rain fire and brimstone on King Felix and the Mariners. A day after the Yankees pick up Ichiro from Seattle for minor league table scraps, three Yankees get hit and one gets buzzed in a two-inning stretch? BUSH LEAGUE, I was ready to thunder. Sour grapes from a sour, bottom-feeding ballclub.
Then I saw the HBP, and I calmed down. Hernandez threw a changeup that tailed inside at chest level, and A-Rod simply didn’t pick up the tailing movement until the ball was nearly on him. A-Rod’s fault more than Felix’s, to be sure, and a function of his increasingly diminished plate skills.
In the same vein, losing A-Rod for 6-8 weeks (most likely eight given the intricacy of recuperating such a small but important bone) is not something to get hysterical over. A-Rod had been settling into something resembling a zone in July, going .315/.367/.493 with two home runs and 20 runs produced** this month. But that followed an atrocious .232/.327/.463 line in June, and despite his recent hot stretch the Yankee third basemen’s OPS+ is just 114, a career low. Given the reasonable offensive production of Eric Chavez (110 OPS+ in 173 plate appearances), A-Rod’s absence in the lineup will mainly be felt against left-handed pitching, which accounts for less than one-third of the Yankees’ plate appearances.
**Runs produced = runs + RBI. A team-dependent statistic for sure, but a good way of measuring a player’s effect on his team’s offensive production.
A-Rod’s absence may be felt more keenly in the field, where Chavez is a creaky liability and fellow utility player Jayson Nix is a disaster. Barring another trade for a formerly great player (Chipper Jones! Just kidding), the Yankees may call up Eduardo Nunez from the minors to give major league-level fielding another try. Nuni’s coming off a thumb injury and just began rehab appearances in Single A ball, but it’s reasonable to expect that he could be called up in a couple of weeks. The Yankees have already called up Ramiro Pena, who can field and run but struggles mightily at the plate.
Given the Yankees current position in the AL East race, A-Rod’s absence should not prevent the team from capturing a division title with relative ease. The rub will be his availability for the postseason, a scant 10 weeks away. If A-Rod can get back by mid-September and get 7-10 games under his belt before the playoffs, the Yankees should be able to care of themselves until then.
I was more upset by the Yankees’ 4-2 loss to Seattle last night than by A-Rod’s injury. The team’s Achilles Heel — atrocious clutch hitting — surface once again, as the Bombers went 2-10 with RISP. The difference between winning and losing can be summed up with a breakdown of the Yankees’ three potential big innings:
4TH: Runners on first and third w/ no outs (and bases loaded w/ one out), no runs. Key at-bats: Cano pops out with first and third and none out, Ibanez strikes out with the bases full and one out.
7TH: Ichiro on second w/ no outs, no runs. Key at-bat: Stewart flies out to center for first out, doesn’t advance Ichiro.
8TH: Bases loaded, one out, one run (which just cut the Seattle lead to 3-2). Key at-bat: Ibanez strikes out w/ tying run on second and two outs.
The Mariners also had two hits with RISP, but did so in just three at-bats. In a related story, they won and the Yankees lost.