If you're like me, or anybody else who enjoys both baseball and the Internet, you're already sick of reading about how Alex Rodriguez has been so good in the playoffs, and how he's been making all those countless critics and naysayers eat their words with his performance. A million people make a million tired jokes after every hit, and with each passing game there are dozens of variations on the same old tune about how he was supposed to be a choker. This has gone from being a delightful storyline to a banal and predictable one seemingly overnight.
It's with that captivating introduction that I'd like to add just one final thing:
A-Rod, career, regular season: .305/.390/.576
A-Rod, career, regular season in playoff years: .302/.398/.563 (excludes 1995)
A-Rod, career, playoffs: .299/.388/.563
Alex came into the year as a guy whose postseason numbers were good, but not nearly as good as his numbers during the summer. This was one of the biggest complaints - that, though he didn't literally become worthless as the calendar flipped to October, he became something far less than what was to be expected. That, while Derek Jeter hit like he always hit regardless of the context, Alex became more vulnerable under pressure.
Now look where we are. Alex has come to the plate 32 times these last two weeks, and over those 32 plate appearances he's completely erased the difference between his numbers in the regular season and his numbers in the playoffs. There used to be an OPS gap of more than 100 points. Now it's down to ten, and that's without adjusting for the fact that the playoffs feature better pitching. When you factor that in, what the numbers will show you now is that A-Rod has actually improved under pressure. Inconceivable!
Of course, that's not the proper conclusion. It isn't any more fair to say that A-Rod improves under pressure now than it was to say that he folded under pressure before. What this is are the vagaries of sample size playing out on a grand theater. A-Rod's up to 202 career playoff plate appearances. 202 PAs isn't a whole lot. When you only have 202 PAs, a game like Alex's today can change your OPS 38 points. Put simply, Alex hasn't had enough of an opportunity to show us how good he is in the playoffs one way or the other, and he still hasn't. We don't know much more about him today than we did two weeks ago. As always, the best assumption until proven otherwise is that there's nothing magical about playing in the playoffs.
Sample size, naturally, won't be the theme of the response. People will spin this as Alex being a changed man, as Alex doing something to find his inner peace and stay calm in the spotlight. It's the only way for his previous critics to stay consistent with the stuff they used to write, because no one wants to admit to having been that wrong that much.
But while that should bother me, it doesn't, or at least it doesn't now, because if nothing else, the story's different. At long last, the story is different. Every article discussing how Kate Hudson is helping keep Alex comfortable is an article that doesn't unfairly rip him to shreds, and though that may not really seem like much progress, it's a step along the path towards finally giving due credit to one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.