Making a better A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez is so good, he doesn't need to strive for perfection
10/07/2008 9:40 AM ET
By John Paciorek /

The key to A-Rod's swing, writes John Paciorek, is the timing of the lift of his front foot. If it's early, he loses power. If it's late, he whiffs. If it's spot on, it makes magic. (AP)
John Paciorek played one game for the Houston Colt 45's in 1963 as an 18-year-old outfielder. He went three for three, with two walks, four runs and three RBIs. And then back injuries hit. He never played in the Majors again and ended his professional career at age 24.

There is no better athlete in the game today than Alex Rodriguez. And he hits home runs with greater ease than anyone else. But why is it that he doesn't get more intentional passes?

Look at how Rodriguez ranks among some comparable sluggers in his rate of intentional walks:

Barry Bonds68812,60618.32
Ryan Howard972,44225.18
Albert Pujols1545,38234.95
Manny Ramirez1919,00647.15
David Ortiz855,42863.86
Alex Rodriguez799,076114.89

Another interesting fact is that Rodriguez didn't receive an intentional free pass after August 8 of this year. By comparison, Ramirez had 15 and Howard five over the same period.

So why are opposing managers so much more comfortable pitching to Rodriguez?

It's probably because they feel (or know) that if the pitcher doesn't make a mistake, they are much more likely to get him out than Albert Pujols and the others on this list. Let's compare Rodriguez to Barry Bonds and Pujols and see if we can figure out what's going on.

Rodriguez does something that the other two don't (or potentially in the case of Bonds "didn't") — and the result is that he has a larger margin for error. This error margin is what holds him back from being even better.

When Bonds bats, his front foot hardly lifts off the ground. It moves just slightly forward while Bonds keeps his head and eyes perfectly still and maintains a low center of gravity. Pujols only lifts the heel of his front foot, while staying balanced and low. One result is maximized visual acuity. Another is the ability to get the front foot properly planted when it's time to attack the ball with the synergistic forces of the legs, hips, shoulders, arms and hands. Very seldom can a pitcher catch either Bonds or Pujols off balance enough to disrupt their swing.

Rodriguez is different. His stance begins balanced, low and stable. But as the pitcher releases the ball, Rodriguez starts an obtrusive attack with what I'm sure he thinks is a precise timing mechanism to generate a power surge. It isn't and it doesn't. What happens is that Rodriguez lifts his front foot high off the ground while he waits in suspended animation to detect the speed, direction and nuances of the pitch before he abruptly lunges forward and down to plant the foot so as to begin the swing. If the plant is too early, he's out in front of the pitch and loses much of his power. If he is late with the plant, the fastball is by him.

It's not uncommon to see the later situation in the form of a call third strike when the ball speeds by him and his foot hasn't yet planted. In the former situation, the effect of being too far out isn't as severe, as his unusual strength in the shoulders, arms and hands affords him enough hang-time to at least make contact and string out a base hit or better.

Rodriguez is a tremendously hard-working baseball player. This we can't question. He appears to be committed to being the best he can be — being a perfectionist.

The most proficient batters are those who give 100 percent so that they can maximize their talents. But if the principle to which they commit their efforts is not founded on an exact science, then the results of those efforts will be highly imperfect at best, and ultimately discouraging to all earnest seekers of optimum accomplishment. If the practice of an imperfect principle is what diminishes the quality of their work as batters, would it not be conducive to their betterment to explore and find the principle that promotes the most consistent success? Excellence can be achieved as a goal only if excellence is the starting point from which to proceed.

Perfection on a human level is most improbable. But when the margins of error are attenuated, the probability of success is proportionately increased. Taking an Aristotelian proposition into consideration, an astute batter should certainly acknowledge a primary, near-perfect facilitator of excellence to be a Bonds (as well as Ted Williams and Pujols) and proceed to copy his (their) mechanical proficiency.

Rodriguez isn't and can't be perfect. But he is great. And if he were to adopt more of the principles of those closest to perfection, and keep his front foot planted more firmly like Bonds and Pujols, he could be even better.

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