The Yankees bought the 2009 World Series by combining the last legs of an aging core with 3 premier free agent signings. CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett were the two best pitchers available and Mark Teixeira was the biggest offensive force on the open market. Tex signed on for 8 yrs/$180 mil and immediately put up a 4.9 WAR season en route to the Yankees winning the World Series. The Yankees financed that 2009 championship by sacrificing future value (both budget room and roster space) when they signed Teixeira.
In order to have him for 2009 they had to give him a long term deal where he would be on the hook in 2012 and beyond for a slow first baseman on the wrong side of 30. It seemed that there would be a lot of dead money on the back end of the contract even if it could be justified with the 2009 World Series win. This came to fruition the last few years.
His ISO cratered and the batting average (especially as a lefty) disintegrated. He was still a very good hitter from 2010-12, but not the elite 150 wRC+ guy he used to be. It all culminated with a wrist injury in 2013 that limited him to 63 plate appearances. Justifying the remaining $23.125 million due through 2016 on a per year basis would be tough. However, through the first quarter of the 2014 season the 2009 version of Mark Teixeira seems to be back.
Through 112 plate appearances (still small sample size), Teixeira’s line is .271/.375/.573, good for a 161 wRC+. Digging deeper, the walk (12.5%) and strikeout (20.5%) rates are slightly higher than his career average. The ISO, .302, would be a career high and is unsustainable. The BABIP of .266 is still below his career average, but is up substantially from his previous 3 seasons. Let’s dig deeper to investigate his plate discipline and batted ball profile which both tend to stabilize sooner than the aforementioned metrics.
The line drive (20.5%), ground ball (37.0%), and fly ball (42.5%) rates are in line with his career norms. However, he is hitting slightly more liners and grounders than he was from 2010-13. He admitted the short rightfield porch caused him to pull everything in the air and maybe he is not doing that as much anymore. Conversely, he is hitting a very number of infield flies (16.1%) which are basically automatic outs. It is hard to tell if the increased BABIP is real or just luck as the batted ball profile has changed a little and the increased line drive and grounder percentage is outweighing the infield popups so far.
His plate discipline numbers are largely the same according to PitchF/X numbers on Fangraphs. He is swinging at a few more pitches outside the zone (27.2%) than he has in the past. He is also making way less contact on pitches outside the strike zone than he has throughout his career (57.8% compared to 67.0%). Despite swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone, Teixeira is making less contact on these types of pitches.
This might be a good thing as these pitches are tough to make solid contact on. However, swinging and missing at a lot of pitches off the plate will usually lead to more strikeouts. That hasn’t happened so far as Teixeira’s in-zone contact rate is an extremely high 95.1% which has largely made up for when pitchers throw him stuff off the plate. This has all lead to a contact rate (82.4%) that is well within his career norms.
Teixeira is an extremely important offensive piece for a team that is currently 11th in MLB in runs scored (181) despite playing in Yankee Stadium (park factor of 103 meaning 3% more run scoring than league average) half the year. Stripping out sequencing involved in run scoring, the Yankees are tied for 7th in MLB with the Tigers at a 105 wRC+.
Teixeira is a huge part of that. He will need to continue to rake as the season progresses with Carlos Beltran on the DL and mediocre run prevention due to the injuries to Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda coupled with a poor infield defense.