What Could A-Rod’s Future Hold?

I was searching for something to write about Alex Rodriguez to open this article. I promise, I tried really hard to find something good. But when you think about it, what about A-Rod’s life do we not already know? There’s nothing new and interesting to write about with him, unless you really enjoy reading about Madonna, choking, or steroids from 6 years ago. Newspapers will write literally anything about him, regardless of its relevance. According to Roto Authority, he bleached his hair today for the second time this month*. But in my tireless search for new and exciting information about A-Rod, I found this tidbit, which I think is something that I guarantee nobody here knew: His other nickname is…wait for it… wait for it…. The Cooler (?!). Apparently this is because he makes his teams win less often, which contradicts everything I know about baseball. It’s also the worst nickname I’ve ever heard.

*Note: not actually true, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this was actually reported.

What does this have to do with the future of Alex Rodriguez? Well, nothing so far–but I’m getting there. So what I’m doing here today is looking through A-Rod’s top comparable players through age 32, as defined by Baseball Reference. I don’t really care how many home runs he’s going to hit, or what his batting average will be. We should only really care about overall production, and the best way to measure that is with Sean Smith’s historical Wins Above Replacement database.

If you look at A-Rod’s comps, you’ll notice something interesting. Six of the ten players listed started their careers between 1951 and 1956. Retrosheet, the foundation of Sean’s database, starts its records in 1953, right in the middle of that range. Another A-Rod conspiracy? You be the judge.

Those six  players (plus one more from more recent times) are what I’ll be basing this on, so let’s meet them. The list is quite impressive:

Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Eddie Matthews, Willie Mays, and Al Kaline.

All of those, if you didn’t already know, are either current or future hall-of-famers. So it would seem that A-Rod is in good company, and we have nothing to worry about, right? Maybe. The first thing to note is that Alex is signed through his age 41 season, essentially ensuring that he won’t be retiring before then. PECOTA or CHONE will do a much better job of telling you how A-Rod will do the next five years than I can (CHONE covers age 38, but I didn’t realize that at the time of writing this). But when those five years are over, he’ll still have another four years left on his deal. Those age 38 to 41 seasons is what I’m going to try and look at.

Age 38
Players: Griffey, Aaron, Robinson, Mays, Kaline
WAR: 10.4 total / 2.08 average / Top 3: 3.36
Comments: I’m going to show either a top 2 or 3 for each age group, just to serve as an upper range. That, of course, isn’t an upper limit to what A-Rod could do, it just gives you a better idea of what he could do if he doesn’t completely flame out. Back to the matter at hand…3.36 is actually higher than I expected, that’s about what Ryan Howard put up in 2008. 2.08 puts him every so slightly above average. I haven’t looked past age 38 yet, but I’m expecting a couple more years of pretty good numbers and then a steeeeeep decline.

Age 39
Players: Griffey (projection), Aaron, Robinson, Mays, Kaline
WAR: 11.8 / 2.3 average / Top 3: 3.5
Comments: Griffey is projected at replacement level for a DH. Strangely, the numbers all went up, despite increased age. This oddity comes mostly from Aaron and Mays, as they both had down (or injured) age 38 seasons. For Mays, his age 38 season was in 1969, and we all know what happened to offense that year. This is of course accounted for in his WAR figure, I just figured I should note it.

Age 40
Players: Aaron, Robinson, Mays
WAR: 8.3 / 2.76 average / Top 2: 4.05
Comments: Frank Robinson played only 36 games this year, that’s why the top 2 average is so much higher than the overall average. Willie Mays was at 6.4 WAR that year, and lead the league in OBP… Wow. That’s pretty much what Manny Ramirez and Nick Markakis did last year, but at age 40 (!). There have only been four seasons since 1930 where someone age 40 or older had an OBP over .424, and two of those were by Barry Bonds. And yes, I realize that I don’t have to explain to you the awesomeness that was Wille Mays, but I couldn’t help myself.

Age 41
Players: Aaron, Mays
WAR: 1.6 / 0.8 average
Comments: Mays played half a season and was just below average in that time, and Aaron essentially crapped out at that point, putting up zero wins, mostly because he was a full-time DH. His hitting was almost average, but that’s not really good enough when you’re a DH.

 This ended up being much longer and more rambling than I had originally hoped, but such is life. I think what we can take away from this is that it’s entirely possible for A-Rod to remain productive in the last few years of his career. I don’t know if he’ll be worth the $20M+ the Yankees will be paying him at that point in his career, but there’s certainly reason to believe that he’ll be a positive contributor in the regular season. I make no such promises for the playoffs.


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