Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees

by Tim Heaney on April 26, 2007 @ 16:00:00 PDT

 


In his case, being "Mr. April" has actually helped.

After spending his first three seasons in the Bronx developing a penchant for fading in crunch-time moments, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has single-handedly kept the stalling Yankees afloat among their dried out pitching reservoir.

The A-Bombs have been flying courtesy of the Yankees' hot corner prodigal son. The highest-paid player in baseball has wasted no time trying to shake his demons during 2007, his opt-out year. He has already tied the record with 14 homers in April and won two games by his own bat in the ninth inning in the same week.

Table: A-Rod's April A-Bombs

Week
H-AB
R
HR
RBI
AVG
4/2-4/8
8-21
8
4
11
.381
4/9-4/15
8-22
5
3
7
.364
4/16-4/22
10-27
9
5
13
.370
4/23-4/25
4-8
4
2
3
.500
TOTAL(19 games)
30-78
26
14
34
.385

A start this unworldly reaffirms what A-Rod can do. He had fallen as low as No. 7 on some mock draft boards and selection averages. Now he seems to be speaking to both Yankee fans and fantasy owners. They can surely hear him now.

Gameplan

When a player starts off in this torrid fashion, the person lucky enough to draft him faces that itch to trade him. Managers might be tempted to sell high given the various standard what-ifs - running out of gas, pitchers catching up to him, etc.

In this case, further warning signs can be set off by his recent shortcomings - his mental lapses and failure to produce "in the clutch."

Selling high always sits in the back of the fantasy owner's mind. Owners could get an extremely valuable 2-for-1 deal if they capitalize on this torrid period. If you're sitting in last place right now, you could get a good hitter and a good pitcher.

The A-Rod - Albert Quandary

The debate returns every March: Who is the better fantasy player, A-Rod or St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols? For the past two seasons, it took little time for this question to manifest itself into reality.

Last season, it was Pujols who jolted the box scores on his way to setting the April record with his 14 home runs. Pujols had two multi-homer games, including one three-homer contest.

Table 2: April Explosions: A-Rod vs. Pujols

April
H-AB
R
HR
RBI
AVG
OPS
A-Rod 2007
30-78
26
14
34
.385
1.457
Pujols 2006
28-81
27
14
32
.346
1.423

A-Rod has one-upped Albert in 2007, as he tied the mark with six games to spare. Rodriguez had a hit in each of his first 18 games. Pujols had seven ‘0-fers' last year.

So back to a form of the original question: Should you opportunistically swap A-Rod for Albert, the "other" best fantasy player? It's a tempting thought, but all things being equal, it wouldn't make sense at this point or for the rest of the season.

A-Rod also provides more opportunities for stolen bases, which basically reads as Pujols with a bonus. The only reason he hasn't run much lately is because he hasn't been in a running situation - he has been too busy trotting. This should change once pitchers start being more careful with him and he gets more walks.

A-Rod also hits in (on paper at least) the most dangerous lineup in baseball, so he will have ample opportunities to either score or drive in runs. Pujols has been pitched around a lot in the last couple of years, and his protection in the lineup isn't nearly as good as A-Rod's.

Pitching Around A-Rod?

Although it's commonplace to assume pitchers won't want a piece of A-Rod, it's way too early to presume this will happen.

With his slot in front of Yankees designated hitter Jason Giambi, pitchers will take their chances that he will fade. Righties especially will not want to pitch around A-Rod to face Giambi, Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui, etc. He has only been intentionally walked once during his homer parade, and he was pitched to before he hit his second walk-off homer this season, against the Cleveland Indians.

Hurlers have already started to fan out the A-Rod fire, reverting to jamming him and taking away the outside corner, arguably his favorite part of the plate. A-Rod is at his best when he can hit the ball the other way, and the Red Sox staff threw him inside over the weekend. Other than two home runs off pitcher Curt Schilling, A-Rod was once again quiet at Fenway.

This could be a secret boon to A-Rod owners, as pitchers will thus keep challenging him once he settles to a low simmer.

Bottom Line

Although fantasy players should never expect April trends to carry throughout the season, this isn't exactly a crap shoot. This isn't a fluke year like Baltimore Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson of 1996, or even more recently Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts of 2005. This 31-year-old already has 478 career dingers, so he has been there before.

In his Yankee tenure, Rodriguez's athleticism has only been overmatched by his mental downfalls in crunch time. However, the postseason doesn't affect the fantasy manager. A-Rod has tended to heat up during the latter months, hitting 102 homers in August for his career, so as unlikely as it sounds, his best months could be ahead of him.

A-Rod will pretty much be guaranteed to break the 500-homer barrier this year, and a 70-homer year isn't entirely out of his realm. A rock-solid estimate would put him anywhere from 55 to 60.

Do Slim Pickens proud. Ride the A-Bomb all the way to the end.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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