Yes fans, Mark Teixeira is signed with the New York Yankees through the 2016 season. The whopping 8-year, $180 million contract is less than halfway finished and by some accounts it’s not paying dividends.
We all know the history of Teixeira’s now classic slow starts. We’ve heard that he’s been battling a very bad cough which has apparently weakened him physically on top of the typical April/May swoon. But we also know that this is not quite the same Mark Teixeira the Yankees signed or witnessed in 2009.
In years past, Tex has been able to completely turn around his season once the calendar shifted (pardon the pun but we’ll get to that) to the middle/end of May and on into the summer. He was able to generate the power and run-scoring production expected of him in each of this three seasons with the Yanks. But, and this may end up being a big but, Teixeira only turned in a complete year the Yankees were expecting in the inaugural 2009 season. He finished that season with a triple slash line of .292/.383/.565. He hit 39 home runs, scored 103 and drove in 122. Then something happened.
There are some telling statistics which beg the question of whether we will ever see the 2009 Teixeira again. His BABIP is plummeting which is adversely affecting his OBP. His SLG% was over 100 points below his 2009 season in both 2010 and 2011. His weighted Runs Created Plus was down 15 and 17 points respectively in 2010 and 2011, per FanGraphs, when compared with 2009.
Getting deeper into the stats we see that his batted ball numbers are more or less in line. His walk rate is more or less in line. His line drive and fly ball rates are very similar. He had an uptick in 2010 and 2011 in infield fly balls, but his percentage of fly balls that leave the yard are only slightly lower the last couple of seasons.
So what is lowering his BABIP so dramatically if a majority of his other ratios are in order? The shift! We see it just about every time he is up to the plate as a left-handed hitter and consistently since 2008 his numbers have gone down when looking at the location of balls he puts in play from the left side, especially those that are pulled. To the right is a chart which demonstrates this.
Note, that each season since 2008, his average for balls he pulls has dropped considerably each season. For balls he has hit up the middle, he has been between .256 and .267 for the last few seasons down from .325. It is easy to see that in 2008 there was no shift in place, but steadily thanks to Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon, Teixeira has received an increased dose of the shift from more and more teams as the seasons have wore on. I’m not sure there is a team the Yankees face that does not employ the shift on him as a lefty-batter. You can also see that he hasn’t tried to compensate for this at all by trying to hit to the opposite field. He never has and apparently never will (he is on pace for about 43 such at-bats this season).
This is the issue that seems to drive fans crazy and Tex is starting to hear from the boo birds about it. Constantly, on radio shows and on comment pages fans voice their opinion on how “easy” it would be for Teixeira to lay down a bunt or purposely try to go the other way with the ball when the shift is on. Personally, it would be great to see him do this just to stick it to the opposing team, but there is a stark reality to the approach.
First, it’s not easy for a guy who has been a dead-pull hitter from the left side his entire career to just start trying to go the opposite way. Nor is he being paid to lay down a bunt. Maybe more importantly, Teixeira doesn’t want to change his approach. His feeling is the line drives and the deep fly balls will fall in or go out of the ballpark eventually and enough times to warrant his paycheck.
Another problem with this concept of going the other way, is that if he begins to alter his swing, it will screw up what works. Yes, the numbers are down in the pulled balls category, but they are still healthy. If he hits 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI, is that not enough? For the Yankees it may well be enough so long as the defense remains superior and he stays on the field for 95 percent of the games. Teixeira may not generate full value based on WAR for the entirety of the contract, but the Yanks will take 30+ HR/100+ RBI each season with a .250 BA and stellar defense.
One thing is for certain, Teixeira has become predictable. Pencil him in for an awful April, maybe even a not-so-great May. From June on he will improve in the run producing categories and even raise his batting average a bit. He’ll hit virtually the same spread of line drives, flies and grounders he did during his time in Texas, Atlanta, Los Angeles of Anaheim and his first season in pinstripes. Unfortunately, we also know that he simply won’t try to beat the shift when he bats left-handed. So does every opponent the Yankees face. The answer to the title question is yes, this is the Mark Teixeira you can expect from here until 2016, or until he does something to counteract the shift. Just don’t hold your breath that he will.