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Alex Rodriguez making third base the hot corner since return

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez cannot field a

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez cannot field a first-inning double hit by Tampa Bay Rays' Evan Longoria off pitcher CC Sabathia. (Aug. 24, 2013) Credit: AP

Anyone who has watched the Yankees during the three weeks since Alex Rodriguez's return from offseason hip surgery doesn't need a data set to tell them 16 games of A-Rod has been exponentially better than four months of his subpar replacements.

But we have the data, so why not look through it?

Entering Saturday night, non-Rodriguez Yankees third basemen had hit .214 with a .256 on-base percentage and .292 slugging percentage (.548 on-base plus slugging percentage) in 451 plate appearances. The two players with the most plate appearances, now-injured Jayson Nix (123) and since-demoted David Adams (111), performed only marginally better: .226 average, .280 OBP, .301 SLG (.581 OPS).

Then there's Rodriguez, who had had just 57 plate appearances as a third baseman heading into Saturday's game against the Rays. And those 57 plate appearances had been more valuable than the entirety of the other 451.

Rodriguez had hit .280 with a .368 OBP and .420 SLG (.788 OPS) as a third baseman. He already had two home runs -- half of the four that were hit by all Yankees third basemen prior to his arrival.

For the record, American League third basemen have combined for a .749 OPS in 2013, the second-highest position OPS in the AL. The Yankees' production at the position (even with A-Rod's limited plate appearances added in) ranked last in MLB in OPS (.590) and last in the AL in home runs (seven).

The Yankees were 10-6 in the 16 games A-Rod had been back (he didn't play Aug. 10 or Aug. 21), 10-3 in games he'd played since Aug. 9. In the 120 games before he came back, the Yankees scored 420 runs, only 3.5 per game. They had scored 93 in the 18 games since Aug. 5, 5.1 runs per game. The Yankees scored a total of 93 runs in the 27 games prior to A-Rod's return.

Rodriguez is not the only offensive upgrade. The Yankees added Curtis Granderson (.815 OPS in 28 games) and Alfonso Soriano (.880 OPS in 26 games) before Rodriguez returned.

But Soriano was traded to the Yankees on July 26 and Granderson came back Aug. 2. From July 26 though Aug. 4, the Yankees were 3-5, dropped series to Tampa Bay and San Diego and split a two-game set with the Dodgers. They averaged 3.1 runs per game.

Even if A-Rod is no longer "the" straw stirring the Yankees' drink, he's at least the cocktail umbrella -- colorful for sure, and keeping the team cool.

And it's not just his offense that's a plus for the Yankees.

Defensive runs saved is an advanced metric that is the primary defensive component in the wins above replacement stat. Rodriguez has -1 DRS in 114 innings at third this season, but there's reason to think that will rise: He's at +13 during the past four seasons, +10 during the past three (including 2013). The cavalcade of corner infielders who occupied third before him produced just 1 DRS in 1,0101/3 innings.

Whatever his issues are off the field -- and there are plenty, growing more numerous and louder by the day -- or on the field, he's been a no-doubt performance-enhancer for the Yankees offense.

New York Sports