With Alex Rodriguez’s release from the New York Yankees, there is a fair possibility we’ve seen the end of what the history books will remember as one of the greatest statistical careers in MLB history. The dark cloud of PED use will ultimately come to define A-Rod as much as all of the numbers but looking back at his career to this point, it’s worth remembering just how good of a ball player he was.
Here now is a ranked look back at A-Rod’s best seasons in the majors, which considering the sheer number of worthy seasons tells you all you need to know about the numbers he put up.
Two quick note on how seasons were ranked: While they are weighted mostly on regular season numbers, A-Rod DID perform well some of the time in the postseason and those helped factor in which of his years truly were his best.
Secondly, these 6 seasons were not considered: 1994, 1995 (Mariners), 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016 (Yankees). 94-95 marked A-Rod debut in the majors and he accumulated less than 250 Plate Appearances over those first two seasons. In 2011 and 2013, he was injured for part or a majority of the season, 2014 was his infamous year long PED suspension and this past year in 2016, he was little more than a bit player once June rolled around. Essentially, these were the only 6 seasons of his career where he failed to play in 100 regular season games.
Like so many athletes, his dominant years were sandwiched between humble beginnings, some injuries and a bit of a whimper at the end (Unless of course he signs somewhere next year, probably in Florida).
17 2012 - New York Yankees: .272 BA, 18 HR, 57 RBI
A-Rod’s 2012 season will most likely be remembered more for his postseason struggles than his regular season stats. During the year, he put up respectable enough numbers though he missed a good portion of the year after being hit by a pitch on his hand, causing it to fracture. In the postseason however, A-Rod really hit a wall, going 3-25 overall and 0-18 against right handers.
Even worse for him, for the first time in his career, A-Rod was left on the bench for multiple games and relegated to pinch hit duties, a sign of things to come later on. To be fair, the Yankees as a team did not hit much in the postseason, especially against the Tigers in the ALCS, scoring a combined 6 runs in four games. It should be noted that this season marked the first one in a major league record 13 years that he failed to hit 30 home runs and have 100 RBIs.
16 1997 - Seattle Mariners: .300 BA, 23 HR, 84 RBI
A-Rod’s second full season on the majors was actually a step backward statistically from his remarkable 1996 year. Though it was partially forgotten behind Ken Griffey Jr’s MVP season of his own that year, A-Rod played well enough to be elected the starter for the All Star Game at Shortstop, ending Cal Ripken’s “Cal Ripken Like” streak of 13 straight All Star game starts.
A-Rod was rapidly growing into a household name and while the Mariners were knocked out of the playoffs early, A-Rod hit his first career postseason home run. It would be a while before he hit another or even saw the playoffs again. For a good many players, this season would mark possibly a career best year, but for A-Rod it was actually just the tip of the iceberg. He’d already established in his first full year that the sky was the limit on his baseball ability.
15 2008 - New York Yankees: .302, 35 HR, 103 RBI
A large part of the A-Rod story involved his off the field issues, most of which were self-inflicted. Taken just in terms of raw numbers, his value was unmatched and this proved true as he signed two of the richest contracts in all of sports during his playing career. However, the nature of his decision to opt-out of his current mega deal in search of another DURING the World Series rubbed many people the wrong way, including his own team, the Yankees. Though he would get his desired payday, it was yet another in the endless saga of A-Rod being a great player on the field, but horrible at all optics off of it.
Despite another “typical” A-Rod season, this year also marked the first in nearly 15 years that the Yankees failed to reach the postseason. With his big contract in hand, the pressure was mounting on A-Rod to prove he could win big.
14 2004 - New York Yankees: .286, 36 HR, 106 RBI
A-Rod’s first season with the Yanks will probably be most remembered for “THE SLAP”. Though he was having a very productive postseason, the play in question, where he slapped the ball out of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove became the kind of stigma that would follow A-Rod around for the rest of his career: a player who sometimes seemed to stoop to levels beneath his mammoth ability. There would be other incidents that backed up this premise.
Making matters worse, the Red Sox pulled off the most improbably comeback in postseason sports history by digging out of a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees and go on to win its first World Series since the Woodrow Wilson Administration. A-Rod did not have a bad postseason but as the newest and most expensive face in the Yankee galaxy, he became the posterchild for the end of the Yankee Dynasty that had started in 1996.
13 2010 - New York Yankees: .270 BA, 30 HR, 125 RBI
The mark of a truly great player is that they are able to put up numbers consistently. In baseball, this is especially challenging as the season stretches on and on, from cold to warm back to cold. Any player who can grind through year after year and still end up with top notch numbers is a force to be reckoned with. By hitting 30 home runs and knocking in over 100 RBI’s, A-Rod set a new record in 2010 of doing this for 13 straight seasons. 13 STRAIGHT SEASONS.
While many will remember the futility of A-Rod’s bat in the postseason, as the Yanks fell this time to one of his former clubs, the Texas Rangers, taking a moment to reflect on just how consistently dominant a player A-Rod was proving to be is only fair. Yes, the debate of how much PED’s helped him will always be relevant, but consistent greatness deserves respect too.
12 1999 - Seattle Mariners: .285 BA, 42 HR, 111 RBI
Another factor in the story of A-Rod is that while he would put up such mammoth numbers, his teams did not usually share in the success. For much of his time in Seattle and his entire run in Texas, A-Rod did not get to the postseason. Some of that is of course just sheer bad luck, as his time in Seattle especially occurred against the dominant Yankee years between 1996-2003. Yet, it could be argued that paying one player, especially during his Texas tenure, such a large portion salary perhaps kept the team from being able to fill out the roster with other talent to help augment A-Rod’s strengths. Seattle of course had other superstars, namely Griffey and Randy Johnson, for much of A-Rod’s time there, but over the years, some of his stats have begun to look more like empty calories since they didn’t translate into wins. The burdens of being great, not only do you have to produce, but you also have to win.
11 2006 - New York Yankees: .290 BA, 35 HR, 121 RBI
Have we talked about how important winning is already? 2006 is yet another reminder. Once again, A-Rod had a supremely productive season, though his fielding was not up to its usual standards as he committed a league high 24 errors at 3rd base. This had been a fairly recent position change since moving to the Yankees as they already had a shortstop you might have heard of.
Making matters worse, A-Rod had an absolutely awful postseason going 1-14 as the Yanks fell to the Detroit Tigers. Though he continued to provide consistent numbers at the plate, the fact that he came up so small in the postseason yet again, and perhaps because he was playing right next to Derek Jeter, whose own postseason resume and history could not be more different, A-Rod’s great numbers were waved away. The looming steroid issues would only make his numbers seem more hollow unless he found a way to live up to his teammates’ previous success.
10 1998 - Seattle Mariners: .310 BA, 42 HR, 124 RBI
1998 was the season that really started the legend of A-Rod. After a down year in 1997, he responded by becoming only the 3rd ever member of the 40-40 club, as he hit 42 home runs and stole 46 bases. When people today talk about the versatility of Mike Trout, it is important to remember that A-Rod started out much the same way, as a young player who brought not just power, average and defense but also speed. As he got older, that part of his game would diminish, as time continues to march on undefeated. Yet, in just his 3rd full year in the majors, A-Rod was pushing the boundaries for what a shortstop should be capable of doing. Though he would spend only roughly half his career at short, the numbers he was putting up helped redefine the position as one that could offer offense as well as defense.
9 2015 - New York Yankees: .250 BA, 33 HR, 86 RBI
Looks can be deceiving, as one its face, this would not seem to be one of A-Rod’s finer seasons. How indeed could it be ranked ahead of all the previous slides here? Simply put, context matters a great deal. A-Rod was coming off of a year long suspension from baseball where he had basically been deemed a pariah and told to stay away, not just from the league but from his own team. He was also coming off more major surgery and hadn’t seen major league pitching in almost a year and a half. The fact that he put up numbers even comparable to his worst season are frankly remarkable. More importantly, A-Rod was a driving force in helping the Yankees reach the postseason for the first time in 3 years. Though it won’t go down as his BEST year by any stretch, it could very easily be ranked his most impressive and improbable.
8 2000 - Seattle Mariners: .316 BA, 41 HR, 132 RBI
2000 marked the year A-Rod was finally the Top Dog in Seattle. Having recently traded away both stalwart superstars in Ken Griffey Jr and Randy Johnson, this was now A-Rod’s team to lead. Not only did he put up his now expected stellar stats in the regular season but he was able to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs and this time, A-Rod was not to blame for the team’s failure. Leading them to the ALCS, they did lose to the New York Yankees, but A-Rod hit well during the run, proving he could come through in the clutch. Of course, looming under all of this success was the fact that Alex was a pending free agent. Despite taking the team lead and helping re-establish Seattle as a powerhouse, his time spent here would be coming to an end, though his time under the microscope would just be beginning.
7 2001 - Texas Rangers: .318, 52 HR, 135 RBI
A-Rod had a choice in the offseason of 2000, with any number of teams vying for his services. The numbers he was piling up make it pretty certain he’d be making top dollar no matter where he went. In the end, though he was tempted to join a hometown team in the New York Mets, he instead took the biggest contract offered and went to the Texas Rangers for a still staggering 10 years and $252 million dollars. Few could argue that A-Rod was perhaps the best player in baseball or at least in the top 3 but the contract added a new spotlight on him. Now, as the highest paid player, he was expected to be the man every single game. Having shown he was up to the task in his leading role the previous year in Seattle, A-Rod did not disappoint from a pure numbers standpoint. Playing in Texas helped him achieve a level of sustained power (with perhaps the help of other things of course) that brought his already all-world ability to the next level. The only problem, recurring as it had been, was that the team did not win behind him.
6 2002 - Texas Rangers: .300, 57 HR, 142 RBI
From a power standpoint, A-Rod’s 2002 season was his best ever. 57 Home Runs were the most in the American League since Roger Maris’ 61. It was the heyday for power in baseball as between now A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, 50 home runs were no longer impossible to achieve but in fact were becoming the new standard. Obviously, there is one other big unifying force that joins these four players together but at the time, baseball was either willfully or blissfully ignorant and most fans were just along for the ride. A-Rod also added in his first Gold Glove for defense, proving that he might be the best all around player in the game. Still, with the enormity of his contract looming, the Rangers continued to lose despite the best efforts of A-Rod. This would be a trend that would follow his entire Texas Rangers tenure.
5 2003 - Texas Rangers: .298, 47 HR, 118 RBI
A-Rod’s first MVP winning season was also surprisingly his final year in Texas. Though his numbers were down across the board from his previous years, A-Rod became only the 2nd ever player to win an MVP playing for a last place team, joining Andre Dawson of the 1987 Chicago Cubs in that dubious distinction.
Looking back, Texas had quite possibly miscalculated that putting most of their eggs in one basket instead of spreading the wealth around, would lead to sustained success. While A-Rod had held up his end of the bargain by putting up consistently big offensive numbers and now stellar defense, he couldn’t do everything, especially pitch. In the Home run heavy era of the early 2000’s, top level pitching was hard to find. Even harder when a bulk of your payroll was tied up with one player. That’s why, come season’s end, A-Rod’s brief time in Texas was at an end and he found himself in the one place where the spotlight could possibly be as bright as his ability: playing for the Yankees.
4 2005 - New York Yankees: .321 BA, 48 HR, 130 RBI
A-Rod’s second MVP season and first with the Yankees, was full of ups and downs typical of the player. He became the youngest player ever to hit 400 career home runs and hit the most home runs a right hander had ever managed as a Yankee, beating out some guy named Joe DiMaggio. All of these numbers are well and good, but since this was the Yankees, A-Rod’s season would only matter if he came through in October, when the Yankees seasons were so accustomed to playing by this point. 2005, however was A-Rod's first truly bad fall, as he went only 2-15 and the Yankees fell to the Los Angeles Angels. All players of course are allowed to have bad series, but again, A-Rod was playing alongside several teammates who had achieved sustained success and excellence already in the postseason. Each game that he failed to come through only put him more squarely at odds with what many Yankee fans had come to expect from their players.
3 1996 - Seattle Mariners: .358 BA, 36 HR, 123 RBI
A-Rod’s first full season was one to remember and would set the tone for his entire career. Bursting on to the scene, A-Rod hit an astounding .358, best in the majors, even better than the great Tony Gywnn who finished at “only” .352 that year. A-Rod finished runner up in the MVP voting, despite being only 20 years of age and having spent limited time in the majors before that point. He finished as the third youngest ever player to win a batting title and had the third highest average for a shortstop in a single season. As mentioned before, this was Mike Trout before Mike Trout, a player who came in so young and essentially took command of the sport. Not at all a bad way to start. It’s because he was so young and so good that this season looks even more impressive than some of his bigger power years that would come later in his career.
2 2007 - New York Yankees: .314, 54 HR, 156 RBI
A-Rod’s final MVP season is by most measures his best ever regular season. This also being A-Rod, it was also one of his most controversial. First the good: A-Rod became only the 5th player ever to record a 50 HR, 150 RBI season. He helped the Yankees again reach the playoffs and had modest success there, though the numbers paled to his regular season stats. Still, he performed well enough that the loss cannot be placed at his locker. Now, though, the bad. A-Rod before the season started, opened up pandora’s box by making mention that he and Jeter were no longer close friends, a comment that has followed him ever since and led to speculation every single day since about the nature of their relationship.
Fair or not, A-Rod’s candidness in that moment created yet another story that seemed to overshadow his on the field ability. Mixed in with that were the strange photo ops, the yelling “HA” during a pop up in a game against the Blue Jays and a number of other private life matters that became public and the traveling circus known as A-Rod found a way to make even his best statistical regular season seem sort of, ho-hum.
1 2009 - New York Yankees: .286 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI
At face value, this should not be considered A-Rod’s best season. Obviously, he had bigger regular seasons where he hit for higher average, power and knocked in more runs. Yet, this is the season that will forever cement his legacy as a Yankee and perhaps as a ballplayer altogether. This was the year A-Rod finally won a title and was arguably the biggest reason why. The season started off full of strife, as A-Rod was among 100 or so players named in a leaked steroid testing document. He quickly admitted to using during his tenure in Texas and then, coupled with an injury early in the year, missed the first few weeks of the season. Not exactly the most auspicious start to what would become his best season. Yet, when he came back, he was a core part of a re-built Yankee squad that marched straight through to October and eventually won (some might say purchased) a World Series. A-Rod was the major driving force in the postseason, hitting 6 home runs and driving in 18, finally showing he could come through when it counted the most. Though he did not win the MVP of the World Series, even Yankee fans have had to acknowledge they would not have won the title without the play of Alex Rodriguez and he can take that with him into retirement. Or to the Florida Marlins next year.