Jul
18

The $180M Tino Martinez

By

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

This season started out so promising for Mark Teixeira. He put any concerns about an April slump to bed pretty early, homered in each of the first three games of the season as well as four of the first five. Tex had a .279/.408/.656 batting line with six homers to his credit through the team’s first 17 games, which would have started some ridiculously early MVP talk if Curtis Granderson wasn’t matching him shot for shot while Jose Bautista was busy doing his superman impression.

It’s been a series of ups and down for Teixeira since that completely arbitrary 17th game cutoff. He’s hit .231/.331/.466 in the team’s last 65 games and .209/.313/.419 in their last 34 games. His series in Toronto featured just two singles, and you have to go all the way back to the final game of the Mets’ series in CitiField to find his last extra base hit. He may be second in the league with 25 homers, but a .240/.346/.500 batting line (.368 wOBA) and 2.8 fWAR is not exactly what he or the Yankees had in mind when he signed that fat $180M contract two and a half years ago. It’s very good production, but not elite.

The Yankees have had just four primary first baseman over the last three decades or so, and every single one of them has been an above-average player. The second of those four was Tino Martinez, who like Teixeira was very good but not elite during his time in pinstripes. Tino’s first two weeks with the Yankees were awful (.088/.255/.118 kind of awful), awful enough that he was regularly booed at home. He of course went on to turn things around and help the Yankees win the World Series in his first year with the team, just like Teixeira. The similarities don’t end there though.

From 1996-1998, Tino’s first three years with New York, he posted a .364 OBP and a .516 SLG. In his two and a half years as a Yankee, Teixeira owns a .368 OBP and a .518 SLG, identical to Martinez’s output for all intents and purposes. Of course these two guys are very different hitters. OBP and SLG are output stats, they tell you what happened rather than why it happened (SLG is an even bigger culprit than OBP). Tex is pretty close to a classic three true outcomes type, hitting for big power while drawing lots of walks and striking out a fair amount. Tino was much of a contact oriented hitter. He had power but not Tex power, he drew walks but not an overwhelming amount, and he also had a knack for avoiding the strikeout. The OBP and SLG might be identical, but little else is …

Teixeira has a pretty big edge in the WAR department (remember, he’s still got another 70 games to play this year). The one part of OBP we don’t see here is hit-by-pitches, which is a repeatable skill to a certain extent. Tex is a HBP magnet and has been for most of his career, getting hit by 33 pitches since becoming a Yankee. Tino got hit by 27 pitches in his entire seven years in pinstripes. Unfortunately we don’t have batted ball data for the late-90′s, otherwise I’d love to compare the two that way. It’s pretty obvious that Tex has gotten a little homer happy at New Yankee Stadium, just look at his ever increasing fly ball rate…

I do think that Teixeira’s low batting average this year can at least be partially blamed on bad luck; a .219 BABIP is extreme even for a guy that faces a defensive shift and puts 47% of his balls in play in the air. His expected BABIP (xBABIP) based on his batted ball profile is something like .294, which almost matches his career .297 BABIP. Even if you don’t buy the xBABIP idea, I still find it very hard to believe a .219 BABIP is suddenly Teixeira’s true talent level. Exactly two players have single season BABIP’s that low this century (min. 400 PA): Aaron Hill last year (.196) and Dan Uggla this year (.205). Carlos Pena was at .222 last year, then you have to go all the way back to 2004 to find someone else in the .220′s (that would be Tony Bautista at .225). I expect some kind of regression from Tex, even if it’s just getting his BABIP into the .260′s or so. Maybe it happens this year, maybe it doesn’t*.

It’s worth pointing out that Tino’s offensive output started to slip after 1998, which is easiest to see here. He hit just .267/.333/.461 from 1999-2001 and was 31 when that decline started, the same age Teixeira is now. Both of these two are slick defensive players (I think Tex is a little better, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen Tino play first regularly) and neither ever really hit in the playoffs (though Tino has two huge World Series homers to his credit), plus they’re both pretty boring interviews and what not. Tino has achieved True Yankee™ status but I get the sense that Teixeira earned it in 2009 but has somehow lost it since. I didn’t know that was possible. Either way, their first three years with the Yankees were very similar in terms of overall production even if they went about the offensive end of things very differently. The odds of the Yankees (or any team, really) coming out ahead during an eight-year contract worth nearly $200M is pretty small, but it’s still pretty disheartening to see Teixeira’s decline to Tino levels so soon. I expect there to be some kind of rebound, hopefully it comes soon.

* And besides, the only reason I really care about his batting average is because it’s dragging his OBP down. It would be nice if everyone hit .300, but I’d be much happier with .240/.400 than .300/.360.

Categories : Offense

68 Comments»

  1. Regis says:

    Tino didn’t have that ass waggle that Tex always does. Tino > Tex.

  2. Jimmy McNulty says:

    Compare his BABIP and advanced hitting stats with Adrian Gonzalez’s…I think this year it’s mostly just bad luck.

  3. Dick M says:

    It’s not bad luck. You stats guys kill me. Do you watch the games? His mechanics are awful. And his BABIP sucks because he doesn’t square up the baseball.

    • Jimmy McNulty says:

      That sure explains the 25 HRs!

    • David, Jr. says:

      The stats don’t lie. It is bad luck. Not worried about his hitting at all, plus a Gold Glove level fielder who plays hard and hurt. This is nothing more than a down time in a long year.

      • Jerome S. says:

        It’s been like, a year and a half.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          His BABIP the last three months of 2010 was .325, .288, and .266. His average was .344, .289, and .220. His OBP’s were .462, .355, and .346.

          This season his OBP by month has been .392, .351, .312, and .316. So it’s really only been two months he hasn’t been getting on base. That’s called a slump.

      • Dick M says:

        This is no slump. He hit 256 last year. And he’s been awful in the post season when the pitching gets good.

        He needs a complete overhaul mechanics-wise.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      It has more to do with common sense than stats. Slumps happen. They can be due to bad luck, poor performance, or a combination of the two.

    • 7commerce says:

      Thanks for the reality check, Dick; my wife calls him “Mr. Popup”. Rarely squares up ball w/ consistency.

  4. Pat D says:

    It would be nice for that reversal to begin any time now, especially since ARod is out.

  5. Opus says:

    I remember one of those 27 Tino HBP very well. 1998 vs. Benitez, after a Bernie Williams home run.

  6. Guest says:

    Has anyone (less lazy than I) actually looked at batted ball data to guestimate the number of hits Tex loses to the shift?

    To my lay-fan’s eye, it looks like the shifts are getting more exaggerated, with the second baseman playing so far out in RF that he’s practically a fourth OF. And it seems like its getting more and more exaggerated because its working. To the naked eye, it seems as if Tex hits the ball to the right side of the field and it isn’t (1) out of the park, (2) down the line, or (3) in the gap, it’s an out. The fact that there is nearly an 80 point difference between his xBABIP and his actual BABIP seems to provide some support for what my (usually) lying eyes are seeing.

    If a more comprehensive analysis actually backs up what I am seeing, and this isn’t just confirmation bias, I will continue to join the chorus of folks that says Tex should work on his bunting just enough to be able get a couple of bunts by the pitcher.

    Should Tex bunt all the time? No, of course not. I don’t even think he should bunt a small percentage of the time. I think he should just lay down a few bunts to make teams at least reconsider the shift. Or if not drop it entirely, make it less dramatic.

    If the shift is used less frequently or is less pronounced, then maybe Tex gets a few of those hits back that are going into the glove of rightfielder 2–I mean the second baseman.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      I have not looked into these things either, just to be clear on that.

      I also think that a bunt once in a while in a somewhat low leverage situation might be a good idea. I guess one argument against it is that when he’s actually raking (which is most of the time) Tex’s production without bunting may be greater even with the shift than his bunting production would be expected to be. He’s a pretty slow runner. This month his wOBA’s by month are .408, .378, .370, and .271… so the slump is pretty recent. For a slow guy like him the pitcher/SS-3B might be able to get to enough bunts to throw him out. And a team might rather him try to bunt and at best get one base than get an XBH swinging with less of a shift. They could also adopt more of a Toronto shift with the 3B in RF and the SS (who will have better range if his name isn’t Jeter) covering the whole left side.

      He’s in a slump, and I’m sure that once he pulls out of it people won’t worry so much about his BA or the shift. Longer-term it would be great to see such a good hitter using the whole field.

    • I looked at the stuff for my post today and based on what I’ve seen in re: the shift, I’d say it’s not having mcuh of an effect on the low BABIP because Tex has an elevated fly ball rate that’s leading to lack of hits, not a high ground ball rate that’s leading to a lack of hits.

    • 7commerce says:

      Good hitters adjust–no excuses! Lots of hits to opposite field.

      • dalelama says:

        Exactly, thank you for bringing some real on the field baseball knowledge to the discussion. If Tex wasn’t so stubborn he would just hit the outside pitches to the opposite field to end the shift.

  7. vin says:

    Tony Batista’s page might be my favorite on B-R. His 162 game average features an impressive 27 HRs, but only a .299 OBP. And it’s not like he was a huge strikeout guy (although he got his fair share)… dude was just a hacker of the highest order.

  8. Brian S. says:

    Mike, we all know you secretly love batting average.

  9. j6takish says:

    Carlos Pena has an eerily similar stat line of 217/331/441, and he is considered a flop for 10mm

  10. Mike HC says:

    Tex is going to go on a tear very soon. Examining his stats right after/during a slump is sure to give not the best of outlooks. He is a career second half hitter, and there is no reason to believe that this year won’t be any different. He hits better after the all star break every year, and sometimes drastically better.

    Although, I do think the comparison to Tino is very good on many fronts. Hopefully Tex can keep up the top level offensive and defensive production for longer than Tino did for the Yanks.

    • Mike HC says:

      *will be any different

    • Ted Nelson says:

      Good points.

      Tino had the 4th highest WAR among 1B in 1997 and 8th in 1998… so matching up with his peak isn’t the worst thing. Especially when 2010 was a career worst season for Tex.

      Agree that numbers could change in the second half, and especially agree that Tino declining in his early 30s does not mean Tex will.

      • Jerome S. says:

        First-base is historically one of, if not the, best aging position. It has not been kind to the Yanks. Gehrig, Mattingly, Tino… eh SSS but it’s kinda fun to look at that stuff and wonder, no?

  11. j6takish says:

    This season, not career. Obviously Teixiera has a better track record. But these are two players that have been getting absolutely destroyed by the over shift

    • Ted Nelson says:

      Their overall production this season still isn’t that comparable, though. Pena’s .336 wOBA is 20th among qualifying 1B, while Teix’s is 10th.

  12. BigTimeBartolo says:

    What does BABIP have to say about the insane amount of freaking pop-ups that Teix hits? That doesn’t indicate bad luck, it indicates shitty contact

  13. Monteroisdinero says:

    Maddon is pretty aggressive with his defense and shifts on our hitters. The question is-will he be the first to employ the Jeterian Shift?

    5 infielders and Upton and Fuld in the outfield

    Go for it Joe!

  14. Brandon W says:

    I have to imagine the current run environment puts Tex in a better light than Tino in the late 90s, no? Don’t get me wrong, I love Tino, he was my favorite player of that dynasty team (thanks mostly to a girl I liked, but regardless), but I think Tex is pretty clearly a better offensive player even if he is very streaky.

    I remember Tino being an excellent defender, as good as Tex even, though the word when we signed Tex was always that the Yankees “haven’t had a defender this good since Mattingly,” so I don’t know, maybe it was just bias.

  15. Rahsaan says:

    I wonder how the Tex offensive numbers compare to that of Giambi’s numbers in New York?

  16. Nicky the Swish says:

    A few things stand out to me. In the last 2 seasons the percentage of pitches he’s seeing inside the strike zone has dropped to 42.2% and 40.8%, while his career average is 47.3%. At the same time, he’s swinging at more of those pitches outside the zone – 26.5% in 2010 and 25.5% in 2011, compared to a career average of 21.8% – and making contact on those swings far more often (68.5% in both 2010 and 2011, with a career average of just 57.1%). In all, I think this serves as a viable explanation for his absurdly low BABIP – more bad pitches to hit, more swings at those bad pitches, more success at making (poor) contact on those bad pitches.

    • Oscar Gamble's Fro says:

      Perhaps Tex needs to borrow Mr. Magoo’s bifocals?

    • Guest says:

      This is a pretty logical explanation. The lesson is, as always, swing at strikes.

      Of course, I’ve had many a great major league at-bat from the comfort of my own couch, so what do I know.

  17. mike c says:

    tex is an incredibly streaky hitter… he’ll look like the best hitter in baseball for a while, and then do nothing but hit pop ups to the infield. and knowing how axisa articles tend to work out, I’m expecting him to go 5-5 tonight

    • Jerome S. says:

      This. I know that yesterday I did a thing on how inconsistency doesn’t really matter… but with Teixeira, it’s REALLY extreme. He’s the AJ Burnett of hitters!

      #BuildingtheNarrative

    • bexarama says:

      I hate to be like “omg this” especially for feel things, but yeah, this feels like it’s true. Gardner and Tex seem really streaky to me. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing.

    • Nuke LaDoosh says:

      Yes. Tex is VERY streaky. I’m just glad the title of this post isn’t “$180M Steve Balboni”

  18. YankeesJunkie says:

    I have to disagree with the comparison. Historically Tex has been a much better hitter with 4 seasons above a .400 wOBA while Tino topped out at .396 one year. Secondly, BABIP which is an outlier is playing a huge part of Tex’s lack of AVG and OBP. If his BABIP is at .250-.260 you are looking at adding about 25 points to his average and OBP plus another 35-40 points on his slugging. Tex is due for some good regression and he is still has a 132 wRC so it is not like he is doing terrible either considering he was at 142 in 2009.

  19. the other Steve S. says:

    “It would be nice if everyone hit .300, but I’d be much happier with .240/.400 than .300/.360.”

    Not me. A walk almost never drives in a guy from second base.

  20. rj says:

    I would be nice if Tex wouldnt do all his damage in meaningless situations and actually get clutch hit.

  21. Steve says:

    The average Yankee fan would let Tino impregnate their wife, so there are definitely worse comparables.

    Also, Bobby Valentine goes on and on about what a screwy swing Teixeira has. So there is something to what the guy who was ripping his mechanics says. Then again, those are the mechanics he uses when he’s hitting well, so i don’t think it’s up to dopes on the internet to tell him what he should be doing.

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