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Alex Rodriguez off to strange start

4/23/2012

Watching New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez struggle with Boston Red Sox left-hander Felix Doubront on Saturday, I was struck by how the future Hall of Famer -- and it's not Doubront -- didn't have great at-bats. He grounded out in the first and fourth innings and struck out swinging in the sixth. Of course, Rodriguez's teammates weren't exactly pounding Doubront, either. That came later against the beleaguered Boston bullpen.

Still, without looking closer at Rodriguez's numbers, it was easy to presume he was off to a slow start this season because he used to feast on southpaw pitching. While a slow start isn't validated by fantasy owners complaining about him -- and they are -- it did seem to me that a closer look was warranted. So, I took a look and wow, even in a small sample size, these splits are quite interesting.

Rodriguez enters Monday's game against Derek Holland and the Texas Rangers hitless on the season against left-handed pitching. OK, so it's only 17 at-bats, but even against the right-handed relief pitchers that follow the lefty starters in those games, Rodriguez is 0-for-26 on the season there. Basically, he's not having good performances at the plate when a lefty starts, even when a right-hander comes in later. That's stunning. Is A-Rod really off to a bad start or is this simply a crazy sampling of numbers used to prove a point? A-Rod is a career .301 hitter with a .951 OPS overall, and against left-handed pitching he's about the same (.287/.939 OPS).

Of course, the other side of this topic is what Rodriguez is doing when a right-handed pitcher starts; he is hitting .341 with a .950 OPS, with obviously both of his home runs and doubles. Against right-handed starting pitchers, he's hitting a cool .438 with an 1.188 OPS! I'm guessing most fantasy owners don't know these splits and probably don't care. Well, if it continues long-term they should, because those in daily leagues would want no part of Rodriguez this week with the lefty Holland up Monday and Detroit Tigers rookie southpaw Drew Smyly scheduled to start later in the week.

These splits can't continue, which is why those who own Rodriguez in a fantasy league should be feeling pretty good so far. There are many other hitters struggling far worse, with little signs of hope. Rodriguez is not off to a slow start, despite a .241 batting average and only two home runs. His BABIP is a bit low but this is just bad luck. He's taking walks and not striking out, he's stolen a few bases and ... even in the Doubront at-bats, it's not like he was overwhelmed. His teammates did nothing against Doubront, as well.

Rodriguez has faced a few of the toughest left-handers in baseball (David Price, C.J. Wilson) but also a few others not known for greatness (Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Maloney, the struggling Francisco Liriano), but this looks like a clear case of something unexplainable. It's tougher for a right-handed hitter, especially if you question his bat speed, to hit a right-hander than a lefty. A-Rod is torching the right-handers, which is a great sign. He will hit the lefties.

For the record, Rodriguez isn't the only player in baseball hitless against left-handed pitching so far. Minnesota Twins first baseman/designated hitter Justin Morneau is 0-for-13. Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes is 0-for-14. And Houston Astros first baseman/outfielder Carlos Lee is 0-for-12. None of that will continue, either, though I wouldn't bet on Barmes doing much against right-handers. While it's true Rodriguez didn't exactly pound lefties a year ago, hitting only two of his 16 home runs against them, this remains nothing to worry about.

Statistics can tell a story and in this case, I think a legendary player being a bit underrated -- when have we ever said that about Rodriguez before? -- is likely to start seeing better luck as soon as Monday night, so if you've got A-Rod on your team, don't sit him. If you can make a reasonable trade for him -- he is, after all, 36 and not durable -- then go for it. I see a return to 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a .280 batting average coming. When A-Rod has a multihit night against Holland, you can feel safe in the knowledge a slow start that really isn't slow at all will get better.