Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Yankees' New Godzilla: ARod May Blow Some Minds As Full-Time Designated Hitter

Originally published 3/26/15

By Barry Millman
Step 1 in the post-suspension comeback of Alex Rodriguez is complete. 

Spring training is almost over and the fervent wishes of a bizarrely vengeful media aching for an embarrassing misstep at the plate or in front of a camera have gone unfulfilled. 

Hitting .290 in 31 at bats with two HRs, three RBI and an OPS that tops every starter but the red hot Chase Headley, Alex has had a great spring training under what is likely the closest scrutiny of his highly scrutinized career; prompting General Manager Brian Cashman to declare he's as good as sold on Alex as a full-time designated hitter. 

The last time this team had such a creature:  2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui -- aka Godzilla.  

In that final glorious season in pinstripes at age 35 in 504 plate appearances as DH, Matsui batted .270, hit 27 HR and 86 RBI  with an OPS of .866.

Since his triumphant exit, the team has largely relegated the DH to a parking place for victims of fender benders and a footstool for tired legs.

Of course, Alex, only a year younger than Godzilla, had a pretty good 2009 season as well. 

But that was a different season and a different Alex.  

So what kind of season could we expect from the Natural in 2015 as a full-time DH?

The short answer is nobody has a clue but everyone has a strong opinion on the matter. So here's mine.

Would numbers approaching Matsui's in 2009 sound crazy to you?

In 450 career plate appearances as a designated hitter -- with more than half of those coming in the two years immediately prior to his suspension when he was playing with injuries requiring surgery at season's end-- Alex batted .269 with an .854 OPS. He hit 23 home runs, 17 doubles, drove in 77 runs and scored 64 runs.

Let's look at the arguments for and against expectations that he could put together numbers like that in a similar number of at bats over a single season.

Arguments against: 

1. He's been gone for a year and can't get back his timing after such a long absence.  

2. He's a year older so his reflexes are slower.  

3. He's not using PEDs anymore.  

4. He's walking to the plate on reconstructed hips.

Arguments for:  

1a. Love him or hate him, nobody outworks him.  That's one thing everybody in the game agrees on. He's a student of the game and his preparation for it is legendary. If you don't believe it, watch opposing dugouts when he takes batting practice. Players, coaches and even managers line the railings to watch his routine in the cage. His hitting this spring after such a long layoff is no fluke.  Expect his timing to get even better with reps. 

2a. Reflexes may slow with age, but as has been pointed out by virtually every great hitter in the game's history, it's the mental game of adjustments and anticipation that makes all the difference between good hitters and the all-time great ones. Alex is firmly in the latter category.  Expect improvement as he familiarizes himself with new pitchers. 

3a. No juice. No problem. Fewer home runs. More line drives, doubles and walks. Expect OBP to spike.

4a. He came back too soon from his last hip surgery and has now had a full year to rehab and strengthen it. Look up how he did after his first hip surgery in 2009. Repaired hips aren't a handicap to Alex. Only returning to the field prematurely after repairing them is.

So assuming a true full-time DH role for Alex-- and the likely Opening Day lineup he'll be playing with --  a season line of .265 BA, 25 HR, 70 RBI and a .870 OPS doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility.

Of course, it's all pure conjecture and a thousand things can happen in baseball to make any prediction look silly. But sillier things have happened -- and if he even comes close to such a line, the Yankees' first full-time DH since Godzilla may be in line for a monster nickname of his own.  

Comeback Player of the Year has a nice ring to it.