Today was not a good day for Alex Rodriguez. After news broke earlier this year that he had tested positive for steroids in 2003, A-Rod tried desperately to regain some respect and trust by admitting not only to one-time use, but by opening up and putting it all on the table: three years worth of juicing that no one would have known about if not for his candor. Now, reports of use dating possibly back to high school and continuing past 2003 into his years with the Yankees have leaked, and regardless of how accurate these reports turn out to be, this news shatters a lot of the tenuous trust fans may have reluctantly given. But there are more, and potentially just as damaging, allegations to these reports than that.
The reports allege that A-Rod tipped opposing hitters to what pitches were coming in lopsided games when he was at shortstop with the expectation that those hitters would return the favour when he came up to bat. The steroid allegations are one thing. A lot of people were already convinced his use was not limited to when he admitted using, and to a lot of people, his use at all, let alone for 3 years, is already damning enough on that front. But this adds a few new barrels of kerosene for fans to throw on the proverbial fire. For a guy who already has a reputation as a selfish ass and a bad teammate, can there be much worse than news of deliberately selling out teammates to the opposing team under the small chance that they might in turn help him pad his stats a bit in a meaningless game?
Needless to say, his many detractors will likely run wild with this. However, that's not what we're here to do. There will be enough of that. What I want to look at is whether we can find any evidence of these new allegations. Unlike trying to find evidence in the numbers of steroid use, this accusation calls for a fairly straightforward approach. All we have to do is look at how batters A-Rod might have tipped hit in lopsided games with A-Rod at short, and compare that to how they would have been expected to hit.
First, we have to determine what hitters we want to look at. Based on the reports, they should be hitters who would have a chance to tip A-Rod back when he is at the plate, so we're talking about other middle infielders. This could also potentially include center fielders, but for now, let's stick with what we can be sure of and see what our sample looks like.
Next, we need to define what situations we want to look at that we would consider lopsided enough for A-Rod to consistently do this. I arbitrarily picked 2 different situations that I felt were sufficiently lopsided that if A-Rod were indeed tipping pitches, it should show up, but were common enough that I would still have a good sized sample to evaluate. One was any game that was at least 7 runs apart in either direction (either with A-Rod's team up or down). The other was any game in the 7th inning or later that was at least 5 runs apart.
Now that we have defined what we want to look at, it's on to the study. I looked at every time a middle infielder was at bat with A-Rod at short in one of these two situations and summed the results to get an aggregate line of what these hitters hit in each situation. Then, to determine what kind of numbers we should expect under normal circumstances, I looked at what the same hitters would have hit in the same number of plate appearances based on their numbers for that season as a whole. For example, in 1998, Chuck Knoblauch came to the plate 6 times with A-Rod at short and the score at least 7 runs apart, so I took what he hit in those 6 plate appearances and added them into the group of hitters with A-Rod at short, and then I took what he hit over the 1998 season as a whole, weighted it to 6 plate appearances, and added that into the group establishing what those hitters would be expected to hit. This was done for every middle infielder who batted in a lopsided game with A-Rod at short.
This left me with a total of 693 plate appearances in the first situation and 859 in the second. Both of these are right around or above a full season's worth of PA's for a player, so we're talking about a decent if not ideal sized sample. Here are the results, with the first row showing what the group was expected to hit and the second row showing what they did hit with A-Rod supposedly tipping pitches:
7+ Run Games
5+ Run Games, 7th inning or later
Seventy OPS points is a lot. But guess what? That might not be all. I ran the above study again, but this time I left out plate appearances where a runner was on second. Since most batteries work out a series of signs that changes throughout a game to stop the runner on second from stealing and relaying signs to the hitter, there is a good chance A-Rod couldn't read them either in these PAs. Doing this dropped our samples to 551 and 695 PAs, but our lopsided-and-late sample is still a full season's worth. Here are the new results:
7+ Run Games
5+ Run Games, 7th inning or later
Whoa. That looks like pretty damning evidence right there. Hitters all of a sudden picked up close to .100 OPS points late in lopsided games with A-Rod at short. We aren't quite ready to say for sure, though, because it's possible batters should hit better in these situations. For example, hitters might hit better in lopsided games. I used the same method to look at how middle infielders hit with anyone besides A-Rod at short in lopsided games compared to how they usually hit. This time, since I'm already dealing with a much larger sample (20-30 thousand PAs), I limited my data to the years 2000 on. Middle infielders hit about the same (-.002 OPS points) in 7+ run games and a fair bit worse (-.023 OPS points) in 5+ run games in at least the 7th inning. If we look at all hitters and not just middle infielders, the results are pretty much the same.
We should also consider that some of these PAs are taking place in Texas and against Texas pitching, where hitters generally do hit better. The majority of the PAs in the sample are in Seattle, where hitters hit a bit worse than average, so the Texas skew should probably not be enough to bring the whole sample up over .100 points compared to what those hitters would normally hit late in lopsided games. There was some interest in the comments in seeing specifically how much of the effect could be explained simply by the Texas skew, however, so we can look only at the Texas games and see if middle infielders benefit more than other hitters late in lopsided games (as I have done in the comments below-see comments for more details). As expected, both middle infielders and non-middle-infielders hit significantly better late in lopsided games against Texas than they normally hit (because they were hitting against, and often in, Texas), but the middle infielders improved far more than the non-middle-infielders. They improved by about .150 OPS points more than the non-MI group, which is even more than the improvement over the control sample we saw above in A-Rod's career sample at short without accounting for Texas.
That the increase is greater in Texas makes sense with the story, since that is where A-Rod has been accused of tipping pitches. He may or may not have been tipping pitches in Seattle as well, or he may have been tipping pitches only in his later years in Seattle. However, we still want to include them in this sample even though we suspect he may not have been tipping pitches there because, if nothing else, it's a simple way to regress the Texas sample. Looking at only the late-and-lopsided PAs in Texas gives us only 227 PAs, so we can't take the numbers at face value. Adding in the Seattle PAs gets us up to a full season's worth and greatly increases our confidence that the increase we are seeing is real.
All considered, that's close .100 points in OPS, in a full season's worth of PAs, that these hitters gained from having A-Rod in the field late in lopsided games. They basically morphed from Joel Youngblood into Dave Parker at the plate. Or from Adam Kennedy into Miguel Tejada. Notice especially the huge jumps in SLG: these hitters were flat out clobbering the ball like they knew what was coming. It's not like those pitchers in Texas needed any extra help without "Crash" Rodriguez screwing with their ERAs either. I hate to say it, but it appears from these numbers that something was up.
But hey, at least he never told someone to drill a bull in the head with a fastball. That we know of, anyway.