After Alex Rodriguez’s 20th home run Wednesday night—a 450-foot shot to left-center field that helped the Yankees to a 4–3 win over the Orioles—there can be no doubt on who is having the most surprising, turn-back-the-clock performance in the majors this year.
It’s A-Rod in a runaway vote.
The soon-to-be 40-year-old (on July 27) is not only still on the mid-season roster and hitting cleanup in the lineup (there was doubt whether he would even be playable and if the Yankees would have to eat the three years and some $60 million left on his deal), he’s actually thriving.
The former three-time MVP is currently putting up a .275/.375/.518 batting line while on pace for 35 home runs and 94 RBIs. Both would be his best totals since 2008—the year after the last of his three MVP awards.
Why was there such preseason skepticism?
The reasons were obvious. For one thing, A-Rod didn’t play at all in 2014. Missing out on a season this late in the game can be a barrier too big to overcome. Your timing at the plate is a tricky deal. A-Rod clearly never lost his.
But even before his PED-related suspension that cost him last season, his prior three years were filled with injuries and underwhelming numbers.
From 2011 to 2013, A-Rod averaged just 88 games (out of 162) played per season due to injuries to his hip and leg and put up an underwhelming hitting line of .269/.356/.441. Granted those aren’t bad numbers, but for a three-time MVP in the middle of a 10-year, $275 million deal, they don’t get the job done.
The 2013 performance was his worst, as A-Rod hit just .244 with 7 home runs in 44 games. This was on the heels of his horrific 2012 postseason, when he collected just three hits in 25 at-bats—good for a .120 average—when the Yankees needed him most.
Some stars age better than others and recover better from injury. Look at Ryan Howard of the Phillies. Howard, at 35 is four and a half years younger than A-Rod and following his Achilles injury that ended his 2011 season, the former MVP has been barely a shell of his former self. In fact, had he not been signed to such a horrid contract (five years, $125 million through 2016) he would surely be out of baseball—the fate we thought would be A-Rod’s.
Of course, A-Rod will likely face the same skepticism each of the next two spring trainings. Few 40-year-old hitters are productive. A-Rod has been the rare exception.