Saturday, June 6, 2015

Rodriguez's RBI

A familiar sight over the years: A-Rod greeting teammates at home (ABC News)
There is only one man in baseball history who has compiled more official RBI than Alex Rodriguez, and his name is Hank Aaron. While no longer the home run king, Aaron is still the king of counting stats in many regards. Just look at his player page on Baseball-Reference--it's really quite impressive.

The same can be said about Rodriguez's, especially when you consider that he was a shortstop for the first half of his career and a third baseman for the remainder (though he's now a full-time DH, as most 39 year-olds are). His resume is so well-rounded, and like Aaron, he neglected to have a down season for the longest time. Even his numbers from recent years, when he was old and hurt, are still pretty good.

That's what it takes to be one of the top RBI men of all-time. You have to be in the lineup everyday, driving in runs, year after year after year. Rodriguez has racked up 1,997 to this point in his career, which means he had to average 100 ribbies for 20 years. Most times, if a guy does it for 10 he's a Hall of Famer. It's crazy to think that A-Rod knocked in his first run in 1994--21 years ago--and had his first 100 RBI season in 1996. He's been around a long time.

More importantly, he's been consistently outstanding during the bulk of those seasons. He's the only player in history to top 100 RBI 14 times, and one of just three (Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx are the others) to eclipse the century mark in 13 straight seasons. He may have company in both those categories soon, as Miguel Cabrera is working on a string of 11 straight 100 RBI seasons and is on pace for a 12th here in 2015. Given that he just turned 32 and his eight-year contract extension doesn't begin until next year, Cabrera will have plenty of time to catch Rodriguez and perhaps Aaron atop the all-time leaderboards.

Albert Pujols is also a threat, with a dozen 100 RBI seasons to his name and six seasons remaining on his contract beyond this one. No longer the elite hitter he once was, he's still a capable run producer and will continue to pile up RBI batting behind Mike Trout in the Angels' lineup.

Rodriguez, who is still 300 RBI behind Aaron, isn't going to catch the former home run king (or in home runs, for that matter). He's only under contract for two more years after this one, by which point he'll be 42 and likely finished as a ballplayer. While still a great hitter, he doesn't have the time, health, or supporting cast needed to drive in 100 more runs this year, then 100 in each of the next two years as well. Had he been able to avoid injuries and suspension over the past five years, he probably wouldn't be too far behind, but for now Aaron's record appears safe.

It's weird to me that people were always so quick to claim Rodriguez wasn't clutch--especially during his Yankee years--even though his monster RBI totals were plain for all to see. Granted, he played in some loaded lineups during those years, but he still had to get all those RBI. David Ortiz had terrific teammates too, but that didn't stop people from labeling him one of the best clutch hitters of all time. Never mind that from 2003-2012, in almost the same number of games and plate appearances, Ortiz accumulated 1,088 RBI, and Rodriguez recorded 1,078. That's a difference of one RBI per year, and somehow their reputations as run producers were night and day. Ortiz always came through with the game on the line, it seemed. Rodriguez never did, and only padded his stats in the late innings when games were already decided. It's not true, of course--Rodriguez has virtually the same career OPS in high leverage situations (.956) as low ones (.955)--but that's how the argument went.

I was surprised to see that Rodriguez has only led the league in RBI twice, though both times he was the major league leader (in 2002 and 2007). He narrowly missed two other RBI titles, as he was only a half dozen off the mark in 2001 (shocked to see Bob Boone led that year) and one off Miguel Cabrera in 2010. Cabrera missed the final week of the season, allowing Rodriguez to close the gap. A-Rod nearly equaled Cabrera, only to fall one shy on the season's final day despite having a man on third in each of his final two at-bats. He walked and grounded out, leaving the RBI title secure with Cabrera.

Rodriguez's next major milestone will be his 3,000th hit, which he figures to reach sometime soon (only nine to go after last night's four-hit effort--his first since 2011). It's also possible that he'll get to 2,000 runs by the end of the year, though he still needs 50 more. Health will be the limiting factor, of course, but now that Rodriguez scarcely plays the field he should be able to stay in the lineup almost everyday. That's where he'll need to be if the Yankees hope to remain in first place.

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