Mar
08

Tex’s early season woes not shared by other switch hitters

By

In his excellent first base preview, Mike wrote about Mark Teixeira‘s early season struggles. His April 2009 was particularly poor, perhaps due to the wrist injury that sidelined him for a few games early on. A recovery even to his career April line of .249/.349/.433 would be helpful in 2010. Yet, as is evident from the triple slash, Teixeira’s career numbers in April far fall below his overall performance. His explanation involves working on two swings, one from each side of the plate, during spring training, so it takes him a bit of the season to get into a groove. Makes sense, right?

Maybe it does make sense for Teixeira himself, but as Raphy at the B-R blog notes, his fellow switch hitters do not share this predicament. Raphy ran the numbers on every switch hitter from 2000 through 2009 and compared their April numbers to the rest of the season. The difference, it turns out, is negligible. Switch hitters hit for a .005 better batting average, a .001 worse OBP, and a .007 better SLG. Some or all of those differences can probably be attributed to generally better production in later months. In fact, in three of the last five years the league posted its worst slugging month in April.

This made me wonder how some of the other top switch hitters in the game fared. While as an aggregate switch hitters performed just as well in April as they did the rest of the season, this covers over 285,000 plate appearances. Clearly there will be some players in there who just weren’t as good, and were consistently not as good. Maybe there’s some kind of trend when we look at only the top switch hitters of the past decade.

No, that doesn’t change the story at all. In fact, a few of the players have hit better in their teams’ first 25 games than in the rest of the season. It appears, then, that these switch hitters don’t take an extra month to get into the groove. Maybe it’s something specific to Teixeira, or maybe it’s something else entirely that keeps down his season numbers.

If in April Tex had hit to the .310/.392/.596 rate he did for the rest of the season, might that have given him a better shot at the MVP? That would have given him 33 hits, 13 walks, 17 singles, 8 doubles, 1 triple, and 7 home runs, increasing his season totals by 14 hits, 7 singles, 4 doubles, 1 triple, and 2 home runs. While that’s probably not enough to win MVP in a league where Joe Mauer raked from the catcher position, it might have been enough to help the Yankees add a few more early wins. According to linear weights, Teixeira created 14 runs through May 7. Had he hit to his season totals, he would have created around 25 runs. That might have won them another game or two.

We take the trade-off, of course, in a heartbeat. Teixeira does struggle in April, and given his past there’s no reason to expect 2010 will be different. But the way he hits the rest of the season makes up for it. Perhaps the return of Alex Rodriguez, historically a strong April performer, will help offset Tex’s struggles. If he does buck the trend, even for one season, we could certainly see an MVP performance from Teixeira.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Categories : Offense

43 Comments»

  1. iYankees says:

    Nice writeup, Joe.

  2. Drew says:

    Eh, why just compare him to other switch hitters? Switch hitter or not, he’s just a slow starter.

    • “Eh, why just compare him to other switch hitters? “

      Because he thinks, or at least he claims, that he starts slow at the plate because he’s a switch hitter. It was in the first paragraph of the post.

    • andrew says:

      Yea, I couldn’t find the quote, but Teixeira has definitely said before that he struggles to hit in April because he needs to get two swings going.

      • andrew says:

        Can’t find the transcript, but in Tex’s Yankee signing press conference, Kay asked if he was worried about starting slowly. Tex essentially said that he isn’t concerned because he always starts slowly due to switch hitting and working on two swings.

  3. YankeesJunkie says:

    I was really interested to see how well most of the other switch hitters did to start the season considering that they too have to get two swings going. However, it really does not matter in the long run because Tex is going to consitently be a top 10 hitter as he is just entering his prime.

  4. Cecala says:

    I really don’t think this is going to be much of a concern for him this season as A-Rod will be batting behind him from the beginning. He still might struggle, but I have a feeling that Grandy will start off the slowest.

    • andrew says:

      I don’t really know if ARod will have a big effect on his slow starts, if he has any effect at all. The statistics clearly show that Tex starts slow. Tex getting hot last year was not because ARod came back but because Tex finally started getting comfortable. 249/.349/.433 is a pretty big drop off from his usual production, and it’s happened every year, with or without ARod.

  5. jim p says:

    Bernie, and switch-hitter, always had trouble in April and into May if memory serves. Then he’d get hot and carry the team anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks.

    • Salty Buggah says:

      Bernie’s tOPS+ in each month:

      April/March: 81
      May: 103
      June: 128
      July: 87
      August: 108
      September/Oct: 92

      Hmmm, so he did start slow but there really isn’t a significant decline from other months. I mean he struggled again in July, just not as much. However, Tex has a pretty significant decrease in production in April/March.

      Here are Tex’s tOPS+ for each month:

      April/March: 72
      May: 100
      June: 99
      July: 95
      August: 110
      September/Oct: 116

      • Salty Buggah says:

        Oh and just in case someone doesn’t know (I assume most do but I know some won’t), tOPS+ is OPS for split relative to player’s total OPS.

  6. Pete C. says:

    Yeah, yeah that’s the ticket. Raphy should go tell that slacker fella Texierra nobody believes his swing approach is what the hang-up is. If 2 swings are his problem he can always solve that problem by only hitting from one side of the plate. There problem solved, next case.

  7. Mark L. says:

    Any one who watched the games should remember that he doesn’t transfer the weight to his front foot during his swing. The result being that his swing is very timing based and has alot of parts not moving together. So it takes him longer because of the odd timing to his swing. The anouncers even said this last year during the playoffs, worried that with all the off days, he would lose his timing and struggle.

  8. smurfy says:

    Mark L, that sounds pretty feasible, and Mark T might agree. I wonder about the worry factor: is anxiety the problem? After he had come thru all season, I was very surprised with his failures to hit in the playoffs. Maybe a light dose of medicine this April?

  9. Jammy Jammers says:

    Well there you have it! Tex is a LIAR!!!

  10. theyankeewarrior says:

    All I hear is that we should expect Tex to start slow every season because of his history. So I pose this question:

    If we can assume he will struggle from the plate for a month, then why do we have to bat him 3rd while he’s hitting like Brett Gardner? Why not shift him down in the order until he turns back into our 180M first basemen again?

    • Bo says:

      Seriously? A lot of the game is mental. Routines. You dont put your 3 hitter in the 8 hole because you ASSUME he will start out slow to begin the yr.

      • theyankeewarrior says:

        Yes, seriously. He has never hit well in April and he’s not a kid anymore. He’s been in the league for 5+ years now. If we KNOW he’s gonna hit like an 8 or 9 guy, then why do we put him 3rd in the order for the first 30 games?

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

        you CAN however, take your number 4 hitter and bat him 8th or 9th in the playoffs if you want.

        /Torre’d

    • pete says:

      Well with Alex hitting behind him Tex should see a lot more strikes than he would anywhere else in the lineup. I’m not saying that now Tex will suddenly reverse his tendencies towards slow starts, just that seeing more strikes would presumably facilitate his getting out of the early season slump quicker because he’ll have more opportunities to swing the bat.

  11. Bo says:

    As last yr showed he doesnt need a hot April to put up an MVP season.

  12. A.D. says:

    In Tex’s defense he probably has no idea how to prepare just as a left or right hand hitter, since I’m guessing he’s switch hit all his life.

    But this data makes it appear that players are just slow starters or not, regardless of the number of swings they need to prepare.

  13. Andy says:

    I may be missing something glaringly obvious but if he needs more time why doesn’t he start earlier?

    • A.D. says:

      They need real MLB pitching to really get into it, which doesn’t exist until the season starts.

      • Andy says:

        Maybe they should let him get more ST at bats to get himself going? Playing him at DH would mitigate any risk.

        Having just reminded myself of last years ST line (.433/.485/.800 60AB) compared to 2008 (.211/.258/.351 57AB) it doesn’t seem to make any odds what he’s doing prior to April.

      • pete says:

        this. obviously hitters start to work on their swings in december and sometimes even november, but you aren’t facing legit MLB-caliber pitching until march 20th or so at the earliest. Basically it’s mechanics work + conditioning for a couple months (plus winter ball for the guys who play), then hitting against pitchers who have only just begun pitching to hitters.

        Because pitching is so detrimental to the arm, pitchers need a solid 1-2 months after the season of absolutely no throwing, and then to properly prepare the arm, no actual pitching for another couple months. Most pitchers don’t actually pitch until ST, and it takes a few weeks of pitching before you have any real command of your pitches and before your velocity starts to pick up. Thus it isn’t until the last week or two of ST that the pitching is anywhere near MLB-caliber. So while a hitter gets to hit BP for months and mislocated fastballs and junky breaking balls and changeups for a couple of weeks, he only has about 10 days worth of adjustment before the season starts. For some guys this is plenty, but for others, like Tex, who has kind of a herky-jerky swing to begin with, it’s not nearly enough, so he starts pretty much every season in a slump. Luckily, as Bo said earlier, he’s a good enough hitter for the remaining months of the season that it hardly matters.

  14. Jammy Jammers says:

    At least his glove doesn’t start slow! Am I right guys? LOL!

    • pete says:

      I can’t tell if you’re being unfunny or ironically unfunny, which would actually be funny. Damn you, internet!

  15. Mike HC says:

    Very nice, concise analysis. Well done.

    I just assume Teix’s early season slump is due to his workout program. While he may not admit it, I don’t think Teix starts the season in his peak baseball shape, maybe to prevent overworking and to keep his stamina up throughout the postseason. Whatever he does, or takes, to hit the baseball like crazy during his hot streaks, when in Teix’s own words, his “homeruns tend to come in bunches,” he is not doing in the beginning of the season for whatever reason.

    Just my completely unscientific educated guess.

  16. r.w.g. says:

    He really doesn’t even struggle that severely in April as it is.

    His AVG was pretty bad in 2009 for a while there, but the career average from the article above is .249/.349/.433. It’s not great shakes but his SLG is at least a decent bit above .400, there’s 100 points separating his AVG and OBP, suggesting his eye is still working fine. 10 or 15 at bats that end in a walk or a bloop single and his AVG would be much better.

    The results are still the results, but honestly it just looks like the guy takes a bit to find his power stroke and see how the guys are throwing that season.

  17. themgmt says:

    When Teixeira says he has to work on two swings, he doesn’t just mean “left and right”

    His swing from each side of the plate is completely different. So just being a switch hitter doesn’t necessarily make someone comparable to Teixeira.

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