Screw the Shift: Yankees’ Teixeira Should Keep Pulling the Ball

It was certainly a disappointing year for New York Yankees’ first baseman Mark Teixeira. For the first time since his rookie campaign, he failed to hit 30 home runs, while hitting only .250 in the process. He missed basically all of September with a calf injury, and seems to be on a clear career decline after a monstrous prime.

This year, Teixeira had a career low in games played (due to missing almost all of September with a calf injury), home runs, runs, RBI, and wOBA. Really, other than his rookie year, 2012 was easily Teixeira’s worst year to date, and it’s not particularly close. Some of this is due to the lack of playing time, but even if you extend his performance to a full season, he would fall far short of his career, or even last year’s, numbers.

Take a look at Teixeira’s 2012 stat line compared to his career:

As you can see, Tex’s performance has clearly declined, probably more so than one might expect given that he’s only 32 years old (am I the only one that thought that he was older?). The strikeout rate has actually improved, which is definitely a positive sign, but Teixeira’s power is down, as is, more notably, his BABIP.

The shift is taking away some of Tex’s hits, but he should just ignore it. (Image: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

Now while BABIP is often cited as evidence of regression, I don’t think this is true for Teixeira, for a few reasons. First of all, Teixeira is probably a lot slower than he was in his prime. Obviously he was never a fast runner, but given his injuries and age, he’s definitely beating out fewer hits than he used to.

Secondly, he has become much more of a fly ball hitter since he joined the Yankees – though strangely, that trend has reversed this year, as he’s hitting fly balls at about the same rate as he did back in 2006-2007 with the Rangers and Angels. I can’t tell you why his batted ball rates changed this year, but I have an idea about why his BABIP remained low despite the increase in fly balls.

That reason is the shift, of course. If you haven’t noticed, pretty much every team in baseball puts the shift on for pull-happy Teixeira, especially when he bats lefty. And it works. Consider the following spray charts; the first showing Teixeira’s batted balls as a lefty and the second as a righty.

(Charts courtesy of texasleaguers.com)

As you can see, almost all of Teixeira’s hits–and outs–are pulled, especially on the infield, which, of course, is where the shift takes place. While Teixeira’s outfield hits are fairly spread out, almost all of his ground balls are hit towards the pull side, giving opposing teams an easy way to get outs simply by shifting their defenders to that side.

Does that mean that Teixeira should stop trying to pull the ball? Well, actually, no. Even though his BABIP has taken a severe hit because of this shift, Teixeira still destroys the ball when he pulls it, as evidenced by the following table:

Even though his BABIP is only .257 when he pulls the ball, Teixeira still is much more productive as a pull-hitter. When he pulls the ball, Teixeira has an absurd .721 slugging percentage, a number that is not even close to matched when he hits the ball to center or the other way.

Though we might be tempted to complain about Teixeira’s pull-happy ways, and argue that he should try to hit the ball to the opposite field more often, the fact of the matter is that he is a much worse hitter when he does that. Instead of trying to change his approach, Teixeira is probably better off doing what he does best: pull the ball, hit for power, and accept the fact that he’ll probably never hit for a high average again.

Topics: Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees

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