As recently as 2010, Alex Rodriguez's chances of becoming baseball's all-time home run king looked promising. He moved past hip surgery that sidelined him in 2009 to go deep 30 times and slug slightly over .500 -- not vintage A-Rod numbers, but plenty potent nonetheless. A couple of years later, though, Rodriguez's body and power appear to betraying him.
Knee surgery cut his season short in 2011, when he hit 16 HR and slugged .461. And in 2012, Rodriguez has five homers and a sub-.400 slugging percentage. He's under contract with the Yankees through 2017, but hitting another 129 bombs to move past Barry Bonds looks like a long shot. Put simply, A-Rod is no longer a threat on the inside part of the plate.
Back in 2010, A-Rod still turned on inside offerings and punished pitchers. Check out his slugging percentage by pitch location against inside stuff, and then the league average:
A-Rod hit 18 home runs and slugged .554 when a pitcher challenged him inside in 2010, well north of the .421 average for MLB hitters. Last year, A-Rod lost some oomph on the inside part of the plate:
His slugging percentage on inside stuff dipped to .504. While that was still above the .415 MLB average, it represented a 50 point drop. He hit just five homers on inside pitches in 2011.
This year, A-Rod has been downright punchless against inside pitches:
He's slugging a paltry .234 versus inside stuff (the MLB average so far is .408), with a single homer. Rather than ripping pitches for homers and extra bases as in years past, A-Rod is rolling over when pitchers go inside. Here's his spray chart this season on pulled pitches put in play:
Rodriguez has a 63 percent ground ball rate on inside pitches put in play, a full 20 percentage points above his inside grounder rate during his still-powerful 2010 campaign.
While pitchers haven't gone inside on A-Rod much more than usual so far (about 45 percent of the time), that could change if scouts think he no longer possesses the world-class bat speed to launch pitches thrown in on the hands into the stands. Decline is inevitable, even for all-time greats. But the Yankees need more thump for their third baseman if they're going to survive the gauntlet that is the AL East.