Teixeira has seen his BABIP drop greatly in the past few years because of an increase in flyballs. (Image: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE)

Sabermetric Outlook: Mark Teixeira

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No matter how you look at it, Mark Teixeira has had a very disappointing season in 2012. His .259/.337/.474 line is far below his career line of .280/.371/.529, meaning he’s making less contact, walking less, and hitting for less power than ever before. What’s the reason for these numbers? And can we expect them to continue? To find out, let’s dive into the numbers.

Before I start, I’d like to direct you to the primer for this series, where I outlined some of the most important stats that I’ll cover is these Sabermetric Outlook posts. If you aren’t familiar with sabermetrics or a particular stat that I mention in this article, I’d encourage you to check out that post, as I’m going to try to avoid explaining the stats here.

Starting in 2004, his second year in the majors, and up until a few years ago, Mark Teixeira fairly consistently sported around a .400 wOBA, barring a blip in 2006 in which it fell to .374. He hit around .300 every year with a high walk rate and between 30 and 40 home runs. In 2010, however, his second year as a Yankee, Teixeira batting average dropped dramatically to .256, and it has stuck there ever since. This brought down his wOBA to the .360s – and .348 this year – and his wRC+ to the 120s, though it had been in the 140s for much of his career.

Strangely, though, it doesn’t look like much changed about Teixeira’s numbers outside of his batting average drop. He maintained a fairly high walk rate, his strikeout rate stuck at around his career average (and has dropped significantly this year), and he was still hitting for a lot of power. That leaves one reason for Teixeira’s drop in production: his BABIP. From 2003 through 2009, Teixeira’s BABIP was .308, but from 2010 to the present, his BABIP has been .254, 5th worst in the majors during that time. Even though Teixeira is walking the same amount, striking out the same amount, and hitting for the power the same amount, that dramatic change in the number of balls that are falling in for hits has made him a much less productive hitter. Let’s see if we can determine why his BABIP has dropped so much, what he needs to do to bring it back up again.

Teixeira has always been a pull hitter, with over half of his batted balls being hit to the pull side over his career (versus center and left). That hasn’t changed recently, but what has changed is how well Teixeira has hit to each field. Take a look at Tex’s wRC+ for the past 5 years, split by balls hit to left, center, and right.

Year       Pull     Center    Opposite 
2008      235          116          87
2009      228          120          69
2010      226          68            -31
2011      221          83            -1
2012      178          47             98
 

As you can see, starting in 2010, Teixeira saw a massive drop in the effectiveness of his balls hit to center and opposite field, until this year. This year, Teixeira has hit way better to the opposite field than ever before, but at the cost of effectiveness pulling the ball and hitting it to center.

This is because starting in 2009, the first year of the new Yankee Stadium, Teixeira changed his approach, hitting way more flyballs than ever, especially to right field as a lefty. This seems to be a major reason for his lower BABIP, as flyballs tend to fall in for hits far less than groundballs or line drives do. However, this changed approach didn’t significantly increase Teixeira’s power, thus making him less effective overall. You can see the consequences of this new approach starting in 2010, as many of those flyballs turned into easy popups when hit to the opposite field.

This year, Mark Teixeira seems to have made an intentional choice to hit more groundballs and less flyballs in order to bring up that batting average. However, in doing so, he has decreased his effectiveness pulling the ball, hitting more groundballs than ever into the shift and losing power in the process. Were it not for the shift, we may have seen Teixeira’s  BABIP increase because of the increase in groundballs, but since he is still pulling the ball at the same rate, teams have learned to shift in order to gobble up those pulled groundballs.

Buster Olney asked Teixeira before today’s game about his recent hot streak, and Tex responded that he’s trying to get back to what he’s used to doing, i.e. hitting more flyballs, and not worrying about the shift. While this probably won’t do anything to improve his batting average, it should improve his power greatly. It may even improve his walk rate, once he gets more comfortable at the plate.

Teixeira seemed to turn into a different hitter when he joined the Yankees, hitting more flyballs and less groundballs, which has led to a lower BABIP, and consequently a lower batting average. This year, he has tried to adjust that approach, but it backfired, hurting his power and making him just look uncomfortable at the plate. Now that he has decided to go back to what he is used to, we should see more of what we have seen the past few years with Tex: a ~.260 batting average and close to .500 slugging. He’ll probably never be the same hitter that he was earlier in his career, but we can expect him to greatly improve going forward.

All stats taken from FanGraphs.com.

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Tags: BABIP Batting Average Buster Olney Mark Teixeira New York Yankees Opposite Field Power Pull Sabermetric Outlook Sabermetrics Woba WRC+ Yankees

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