It all made baseball sense. When the Yankees were facing righty starters, Joe Girardi sensed a vulnerability because he was batting Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano second and third, respectively.
Late in games, opposing managers could counter with a southpaw reliever to face both lefty hitters. So Girardi inserted Alex Rodriguez into the third spot, breaking up Granderson and Cano and forcing his counterparts to decide whether to stick with the situational southpaw to face A-Rod.
Except A-Rod is making this an easier choice by becoming a more routine out against lefties than righties. In fact, his decline of the past few seasons has been fueled, in part, by his diminished production against southpaws.
Consider that from the beginning of his career in 1994 through the Yankees’ 2009 championship season, A-Rod hit .295 with a .967 OPS off lefties while averaging a homer every 14 at-bats. But in the two-plus seasons since — a period of 251 at-bats against lefties — Rodriguez had managed to hit just .227 with a .722 OPS and a homer every 31.4 at-bats.
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He had opened this season 0-for-14 against lefties, tying Pittsburgh’s Clint Barmes for the most at-bats without a hit against southpaws. Wait, it gets worse: Rodriguez is hitless in 21 at-bats in games started by lefties — even if righty relievers entered at some point. He had just one homer off a southpaw in his past 69 at-bats.
Thus, Girardi must contemplate if A-Rod is truly offering enough impact to continue hitting cleanup when lefties start or batting between Granderson and Cano against righties.
Now a word of caution about de-emphasizing a historically great player: Not long ago, I thought the Yankees should drop Derek Jeter in the lineup, specifically against righty starters.
From June 2, 2010, through July 4, 2011, Jeter hit .232 in 499 at-bats against righties with just a .584 OPS and 21 extra-base hits. His .287 slugging percentage against righties in that period was the second-worst in the majors (minimum 500 plate appearances) to the slap-hitting Chone Figgins (.279).
That felt like a large enough sample — more than a season — to suggest Jeter should either sit or bat lower against righty starters. But since July 5 of last season, Jeter was hitting .344 overall, including .309 against righties with 16 extra-base hits in 233 at-bats.
Like with Jeter, I suspect Girardi will have a long leash with A-Rod for the same three reasons:
Curtis Granderson, Joe Girardi, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, OPS, southpaw, Clint Barmes, lefties