Alex Rodriguez has returned from his suspension with a vengence

Alex Rodriguez has been tearing the cover off the baseball lately. We take a look at why.

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During the 2013 season it seemed obvious that Alex Rodriguez was nearing the end of his baseball career: his production down, and so was his overall value; the fans didn’t really care for him all that much; and he was staring a lifetime ban (later reduced to one season) for steroid use. Two years later, and Rodriguez has returned from the baseball grave with a hot start that has caught most observers off guard.

Rodriguez is back, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Rodriguez is back, and there’s nothing we can do about it. (Courtesy of Mercury News)

The 39-year-old has been on a tear at the plate that has bolstered the Yankees offense and helped them keep up in the chaotically mediocre AL East. Rodriguez has clubbed four home runs in 56 plate appearances, which has led to him knocking in 11 runs. That puts the former first round pick on pace for 15 home runs in 2015 (according to ZIPs). ZIPs also has him hitting .229/.312/.399 — for an impressive OPS of .711 — in 407 plate appearances.

Those projections are based off of his early increase in production, which no one really expected at the start of the season. So how has the aging Rodriguez managed to do it? He has taken advantage of some poor pitch location, and made the opposing pitchers pay for their mistakes.

Rodriguez heat map, 14 games

Fangraphs’ heat map shows where Rodriguez has had the most success hitting pitches against left and right-handed pitchers. A-Rod has seen a lot of pitches low and inside in the early going…and he’s absolutely killed the pitching in that area of the plate.

The above map also shows that Rodriguez has really struggled with pitches high and away. While he hasn’t seen many pitches up there, it’s pretty clear that he has struggled mightily with them as he has struck out in 28.9% of his PAs so far in the season — which is in line with ZIPs projection of 24.8% projection. It’s extremely unlikely that the Rodriguez will figure out how to deal with those high and outside pitches because it’s a location he has struggled with throughout his career.

It’ll be interesting to check-in on A-Rod in a month and see how that heat map looks.

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