New York Yankees Editorial: Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez Healthy and Productive


The 2015 New York Yankees’ offense has gotten back to being the Bronx Bombers. Collectively, the team has hit 6% better than league average (5th best) and scored 434 runs (2nd best) through their first 94 games. The lineup prominently features lefties and switch-hitters employing the “take-n-rake” philosophy championed by past great Yankees’ offenses.

A prime example of this is Mark Teixeira who has gotten back to drawing a ton of walks (49 total walks) and yanking fly balls into the right-field seats (24 total home runs). Ben Linbergh of Grantland took a look at the factors contributing to Tex’s resurgence.

The biggest factor that Linbergh notes is that Tex is finally healthy again. The tendon sheath injury in his wrist made it difficult to swing effectively and sapped a lot of his power. Now, he can generate bat speed through the zone without fear of pain or further injury. Lindbergh also articulates how the shape of Teixeira’s offense has changed while the size has remained the same when compared to pre-2010.

Lindbergh notes that Teixeira hit .290 before 2010 and .243 since. The biggest culprit to this precipitous drop in average is the shift. A higher percentage of Tex’s at-bats are taken with the shift on than ever before and his batting average on balls in play has dropped accordingly.

However, he is still similarly productive despite the low batting average because he is drawing a ton of walks and the balls that do fall for hits are mostly doubles and homers. Digging into the more granular data, Linbergh shows that Tex isn’t swinging at pitches outside the strike zone (2nd lowest rate of career) while routinely offering at ones inside (highest rate of career). This is an obvious but difficult strategy to employ for hitters. Don’t swing at balls, swing at (hittable) strikes.

He is also pulling a larger percentage of fly balls than ever before which is a great outcome for a lefty with tremendous power in Yankee Stadium. Finally, Lindbergh shows that he is no longer getting beat by fastballs like he was after coming off the injury.

Another player driving a lot of the Yankees offense this year is Alex Rodriguez. Similar to Tex, Rodriguez suffered through a serious injury. ARod missed a lot of the 2013 season (and was limited in the 2012 playoffs) due to a major hip injury.

ARod has always hit in his career when he has been healthy enough to take the field (no full season below 100 wRC+), but he just wasn’t healthy. This year he appears healthy after corrective surgery and a full 2014 off due to suspension. Using him almost exclusively as a DH surely helps, too.

Inspecting the granular data like Lindbergh did with Tex shows Arod is swinging at the second highest percentage of pitches inside and outside the strike-zone of his career since he was with the Rangers in 2002. This had led to a strikeout rate (21.7%) above his career average but also a walk rate (12.9%) above his career average. A larger percentage of Arod’s plate appearances end with him walking to the bench or walking to first than any full season in his big-league career.

Additionally, he is not getting hammered by outs on balls in play (.298 BABIP) like Teixeira. Finally, ARod’s batted ball profile is pretty much a dead ringer for the rest of his career. Groundball, line drive, and flyball rates, pull percentage, quality of contact, etc. are all right in line with career averages.

Digging into the data to find reasons for the success of these two players is worthwhile and informative. Yet, likely the biggest reason (through Occam’s Razor) is that they are, very simply, healthy. Despite being well into their 30s, ARod and Tex have proven that they can still be key cogs in a productive lineup when unaffected by injuries.

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