After he left last night's game in the bottom of the 8th inning, the story was Alex Rodriguez's hamstring and how much, if at all, it would prevent him from playing in the next game. He's been one of the most consistent and productive bats in the Yankee lineup since coming back last month, and that was once again the story before the bottom of the 8th. A-Rod went 2-4 last night with a pair of doubles, 1 R scored, and 1 RBI. He started the Yankee scoring in the top of the 3rd and the big rally to take the lead in the 8th, and he looked pretty damn good doing it. For the season his batting line is up to .301/.388/.496 with a 10.9% BB Rate in 129 plate appearances, good for a .387 wOBA and 144 wRC+. Even more shocking is the fact that it's a dramatic turnaround against right-handed pitching and a serious reverse platoon split that's fueling those numbers.
You'll recall last October, when A-Rod hit .120/.185/.120 with 0 XBH and 12 strikeouts in 27 postseason PA, prompting Joe to move him down in the batting order and eventually sit him as the Yankee lineup withered and died against Detroit's pitching staff in the ALCS. A-Rod was such a liability against right-handed pitching - he couldn't get around on an inside fastball if his life depended on it - that Joe was left with no choice but to bench him to try to get something going offensively.
The prevailing thought, even after the revelation of his hip injury and offseason surgery, was that A-Rod was done as a productive everyday player. He was too old, too worn down, and there was no way he would be able to stay competitive against RHP with those bad hips. That simply hasn't been the case, at least not after the first handful of games. Not only has A-Rod been competitive against righties this season, he's torched them. In over as twice as many PA, A-Rod has a .320/.386/.613 tripleslash against righties (.428 wOBA) compared to .263/.391/.263 (.314 wOBA) against southpaws. All 12 of his XBH, including last night's doubles and Monday night's HR off Chris Tillman, have come against right-handed pitching, 1 year and 1 surgery after he hit .256/.326/.391.
A quick look at his spray chart shows a clear concentration of his damage coming to the pull side, but the key is the balance of the overall contact distribution. While A-Rod's hitting for most of his power to left and to center, he's shown a willingness to take the ball the other way and the strength to drive balls to right when pitchers give him something to hit. There isn't one spot pitchers can try to exploit him because he's been able to get around on balls on the inside and drive balls to the right that are middle and out. Take a gander at his swing plot and you'll notice he's laying off the high ball too. A-Rod's putting himself in the best position to be successful against righty fastballs, his downfall in 2012, and he's healthy and still quick enough with his bat to square them up.
Cite whatever you want as the cause for this turnaround and there's probably some measure of legitimacy to it. Even I have to admit that I didn't expect Rodriguez to swing the bat this well after coming back and I definitely didn't expect him to be smacking RHP around the yard like this. He's shown that there's still something left in the tank on the field, which makes his off-the-field situation and future status all the more intriguing. Hopefully this hamstring problem from the 8th inning doesn't turn into something serious. It'd be a shame for the Yankees to lose this type of production while he's still eligible to be on the field and they're still alive in the playoff race.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images. Spray chart courtesy of Texas Leaguers)