|For Alex Rodriguez, the story has already been written. (Getty Images)|
In the moments after Raul Ibanez's game-tying home run on Wednesday night, which occurred after Yankees manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit Ibanez for the grievously struggling Alex Rodriguez, we tweeted out this ...
It's very A-Rod to have his pinch-hitter do something like that.— Eye on Baseball (@EyeOnBaseball) October 11, 2012
It's true, you know. A-Rod, seemingly as karmically blighted as a multi-multi-multi-millionaire can be, saw so many narratives reinforced in Game 3. And from the bench is where he saw those narratives reinforced.
A-Rod, you see, is not a True YankeeTM. He is, however, an inveterate choker. We know this because we're told this over and over again. Indeed, the clutchest thing A-Rod's ever done was to perform so foul-smellingly at the plate that his manager was left with no other choice than to replace him with someone who was clutchy-clutch on his own merits.
The story goes something like that, but the story is nonsense.
It's axiomatic in some circles to say there are no clutch players, only clutch performances. This is almost certainly the case. While Ibanez's duo of high-leverage homers in Game 3 was undeniably clutch, those moments don't somehow transform Ibanez into a baseball-ing embodiment of Hemingway's "grace under pressure" ideal. Ibanez had been a pretty lousy postseason hitter before Girardi roused him from the pine on Wednesday night, and even after those two bombs his overall playoff numbers don't impress.
Likewise, while A-Rod has the reputation of someone who wilts in the moment, that's simply not the case. For his career, Rodriguez is a career .268/.376/.479 hitter in the playoffs. That's significantly below his regular-season levels of production, but it's still a very respectable slash line, particularly considering it's been authored against playoff pitching.
Peer a bit more deeply and you'll find that it's A-Rod's miserable numbers in LDS play that are dragging down his overall stats. Across 11 division series (including the present one), Rodriguez is hitting .241/.329/.379. In the LCS, however, he's hitting .313/.432/.615 with seven homers in 26 games, and in his one World Series he put up an OPS of .973. If A-Rod were indeed a "choker," then you'd expect his performance to degrade as the stakes got higher. But it hasn't. For instance, if A-Rod hadn't crushed the ball in every round of the 2009 postseason, then the Yankees almost certainly don't end the season with the belt and the title.
A-Rod's deified teammate, "Captain Clutch" himself Derek Jeter, has, for instance, sub-par numbers in LCS play and absolutely miserable numbers in no fewer than nine postseason series. The point is that when we talk about a player being "clutch" or a "choker," we're likely making one or more of these three mistakes: depending on too small of a data sample, blindly buying into the established narrative or falling prey to the confirmation bias.
It bears repeating: clutch is a moment, not a man. A-Rod has choked in certain instances, but he's also risen to meet the pressure in many others. That's the case with any player who's spent meaningful time on the field during the playoffs. All of that doesn't make for a provocative NY Post headline, but reality isn't accommodating like that.