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Alex Rodriguez – Choker?
by Richard Van Zandt,
October 8, 2006

Alex Rodriguez – Choker

So is Alex Rodriguez a choker or not?  Despite his reputation for failing to come through in the post-season, it would appear that Asher and Brad seem to have debunked that theory. 


Or have they? 


It’s one thing to take a look at his career post-season totals and see that A-Rod was a lifetime .305 hitter in October prior to this postseason’s dreadful 1-for-14 showing against the Tigers.  I mean, sure he had slugged .534 in the postseason before slugging just .071 this year in the meltdown, but still the reputation persisted.  Why?  Why do people insist on calling A-Rod a choker when he clearly hits so well in the playoffs?  Why blame him for the lack of World Series appearances since his heralded arrival? 


Perhaps the answer lies a little deeper within the numbers than Asher and Brad bothered to look at.  Intrigued, I took it upon myself to do some research and I think I’ve spotted the answer.  In the playoffs, you see, Alex tends to pad his numbers when it matters the least.  Prior to this season’s series against Detroit, Rodriguez had batted .365 and slugged .654 in innings 2 through 6 of the playoffs.  Even after going just 1-for-8 this postseason, he is still batting .333 (20-for-60) and slugging .583 in the early innings of the game.  Four of his six career postseason home runs have been hit during these innings.  During New York’s 19-8 pounding of the Red Sox in game 3 of the ’04 ALCS, A-Rod went 3-for-3 with two doubles and a home run before the seventh inning but was 0-for-2 afterwards.  Was that just part of a trend?


Well, from the 7th inning on in his postseason career, Alex was batting just .250 with 2 HR and 4 RBI even before going 0-for-4 this season in the late innings.  That mark is now down to just .229 (with a .417 slugging percentage).  Of course, in the Yankees 2004 series against Minnesota (where Brad notes he was the de facto MVP), he went 4-for-8 late in the game.  However, if you subtract that series, A-Rod would be batting just .194 (7-for-36) in the late innings.  Then again, there was also the matter of his 0-for-7 after the 6th inning in games 4 through 7 of the Yanks’ historic collapse against Boston just a week later that year (he was 1-for-12 overall late in the game of that series). 


But he does have those two late inning home runs right?  Well…


In game one of the Mariners ’97 LDS loss to Baltimore, Rodriguez hit a 9th inning solo home run that cut the M’s deficit in that game to just 9-3.  That would be the final score.  Then in the Yankees’ series clinching victory over Seattle in game six of the 2000 LCS (ironically the last year the Yankees won the World Series), Rodriguez hit a leadoff home run in the 8th inning for Seattle that made the score 9-5 (they would score two more that inning and lose 9-7).  Not exactly what I’d call clutch.


And what about getting his team off to a good start?  Before being dropped to 6th and even 8th in the lineup in most of the games against the Tigers this postseason, A-Rod often batted 2nd or 3rd in the lineup and thus often came to bat in the first inning.  Prior to this season, Rodriguez had batted .273 and slugged .409 in the first inning (6-for-22, 0 HR).  After going 0-for-2 against the Tigers, he is now batting just .250 and slugging .375 in the game’s opening frame.  Not exactly what you’d call a sparkplug is he?


Well, how about when runners are in scoring position?  Surely if he is not a choker, then he must be doing well when it really counts, right?  Wrong.  Even prior to going 0-for-2 w/RISP against Detroit (with both crucial situations coming in his two first inning at bats) Rodriguez was a career .167 hitter with ducks on the pond (including 0-for-7 in the Red Sox series in ’04).  His slugging percentage in such situations was a sickly .208.  Those numbers are now down to just .154 and .192. 


But again, we look to the Minnesota series and we see that two of his 4 career postseason hits w/RISP came in one single game against the Twins (New York’s 7-6 12 inning game two victory).  Alex went 4-for-6 in that game and had two hits w/RISP and went 2-for-3 beyond the 7th inning as well. This includes a double in the 12th that tied the game and would have won it had the ball not bounced into the stands (they would win the game just two batters later on a Hideki Matsui sac fly).  However, if you take that game – and those two key AB – out of the equation, his career numbers w/RISP drop to .083 and .083.  Definitely not clutch.


What about with runners on base regardless of where they stand?  Coming into the series against Detroit, Rodriguez was a career .213 hitter with runners on base in the postseason (.362 slugging).  After going 0-for-7 against the Tigers, that average is down to .185, and his slugging percentage with runners on base is now just .315.  This again appears to be a situation where Alex pads his numbers when they matter the least. 


His career post-season batting average with the bases empty – before this season – was .366 and he was slugging .648 when the bags were unoccupied.  Predictably, his only hit in the Detroit series came with no one on base, but his 1-for-7 in the series with the bases empty left his career mark at .346 (.603 slugging).  Are we beginning to get the picture here?   


A-Rod’s post-season numbers when taken as a whole (even after this year’s miserable performance) are not that bad - a .280 batting average and a .485 slugging percentage with home run and RBI totals that would project out to 27 and 74 over the course of 162 games.  There is the matter of the unsightly 143 strikeouts he’d be projected to have, but I suppose that could be overlooked.  However, when you look deeper at the numbers, it’s really not hard to see why he has the reputation of being a choker in the postseason. 


Sure, Rodriguez is one hell of a ballplayer.  He’d likely be a benefit to 28 other teams in baseball.  After all, they say if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere (he has averaged .299 with nearly 40 HR per season in NY).  I’m sure he’d do just fine for nearly any other major league team.  Clearly, however, Rodriguez has joined the ranks of guys like Danny Tartabull, Chuck Knoblauch and Eddie Whitson; talented (and expensive) players who just simply ought not to be playing in New York City. 


Alex Rodriguez batted .305 with 52 HR per year in his three seasons in Texas despite the glare of his new $252 million contract.  Ordinary pressure is one thing; New York pressure is another.  He has taken the brunt of it from both the demanding New York fans as well as his own rather demanding owner.  Despite the MVP caliber numbers, media reports have depicted him as selfish and as a loner in his own clubhouse.  He has been forced to therapy by the pressure of playing in the Bronx.  Some players just weren’t meant to play in New York.


Alex Rodriguez long ago proved himself as one of the greatest ballplayers on the planet.  Until he starts to do it when it really matters the most, however, Alex Rodriguez will also be known as a choker.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard lives in San Francisco and can be reached at

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