Was A-Rod Tipping Pitches? Numbers Say Maybe

It’s been remarkable to see the assblasting that Alex Rodriguez’s reputation has taken in light of Selena Roberts‘ well-publicized character assassination book, A-Rod. The steroid stuff made its way through the headlines and resulted in the unintentionally funniest press conference in years, but now there’s a different sort of accusation being brought to the forefront, and in its own way, it might be worse.

A-Rod arms out
(A-Rod, celebrating another gutshot to his reputation.)

As THE SPORTING BLOG reports, A-Rod is now under fire for accusations of tipping pitches for his opponents in blowout situations. The accusations come from an interview with Roberts on SI.COM. We’re not sure how that’s supposed to work, since she already writes for them (I mean, is ESPN.COM going to interview Peter Gammons next?), but whatever. As Roberts told the site, Rodriguez had mannerisms to clue in his friendlier opponents on what was coming:

What it was was slump insurance. You could count on your buddy to help you break out of your slump, if you’re 0 for 3 or you’ve had a bad week. There was no intent to throw a game or change the outcome.

If it was a changeup, sources say, he would twist his glove hand. To indicate a slider, he would allegedly sweep the dirt in front of him, and he would bend in the direction of where the pitch was going to be, inside or outside. […] If it happened once or twice, people might say, Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe we didn’t see what we thought we saw. But according to the people that I spoke with, this was a pattern of behavior.

Of course, statements like those should never be taken at face value - not because of any earned distrust, mind you, but because such behavior would seem to be verifiable. So the KANSAS CITY STAR’s legendary Joe Posnanski did precisely that, breaking down statistics from the Rangers’ 2001-2003 seasons and for opposing middle infielders, the supposed beneficiaries.

The result? Was A-Rod making a measurable difference in opposing batters’ performance? Maybe, maybe not, but there’s no way to really tell:

Inconclusive. But interesting.

Of course, if this was really a quid pro quo, then you would think A-Rod would be equally good or better in those three years against the American League West. The idea is that he would tip off middle infielders with the game out of reach and, in return, they would tip him off with the game out of reach.

And I don’t think the numbers indicate that at all. A-Rod, after all, is good against everyone. He did hit .310/.410/.644 with 61 homers in 173 games against American League West opponents. But that’s just not very different from his overall numbers of .305/.395/.615.

One last point: the talk around all of this is whether it’s okay to tip pitches when they have no effect on the outcome of a game, whether it’s “cheating” and if so, how much it matters. With all the nebulous talk about honesty, fairness, whether the batter’s stats should be looked at in a different light, it seems like a larger point is being missed here: what about the pitchers? For a reliever who throws, say, 70 innings in a season, every single run is significant to his ERA; a swing of just 5 runs in those 70 innings results in a difference of 0.64 in ERA.

To put this another way: if Johnny Southpaw’s status as a major leaguer’s in doubt and he’s relegated to life in the Rangers’ bullpen, he’s sure not going to appreciate his ERA being bumped from 3.83 to 4.47 just so A-Rod’s slugger buddies on other teams can get some “slump insurance.”

But that’s assuming the A-Rod rumors are true, and there’s no way of telling that without some more proof than what Roberts is offering. For now, she’s got her “sources,” and she’s content to let them take A-Rod down from the shadows while she sells books. So it goes.