For the past two years Mark Teixeira has been one of the most frustrating players on the Yankees. In 2009, after signing for eight years and $180 million, Teixeira proved his worth, hitting .292/.383/.565 (.402 wOBA) and powering the league’s best offense. But since then his production has dropped to more human levels. In 2010, amid nagging injuries, he slumped to .256/.365/.481 (.367 wOBA). This year he’s at .248/.346/.512 (.370 wOBA). No one has welcomed this recent development.
That isn’t to say that Teixeira has played poorly. In fact, he has been one of the most productive Yankees in the last two years. In that time he has created 50.6 runs above average, which falls behind only Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. He also has a 130 wRC+, which also falls behind only those two. In terms of his place in the league, he has created the 17th most runs in the last two years, and has the 22nd highest wRC+. To say he’s been bad is a gross misstatement. He has been, despite his slumps, a top 20 player.
The disappointment stems not only from his hefty contract, but also from his drop-off after 2008 and 2009. In those two seasons he was second in the league with 89 runs above average and seventh with a 149 wRC+. He has gone from being a superstar to being a very good hitter. It’s probably the toughest downgrade in sports. There’s something special about a superstar. We think of them as different from their peers, that extra two percent better. Very good players help teams win ballgames and championships, but it’s hard to appreciate a very good player when he was so recently a superstar. (And is getting paid like a superstar.)
This season Teixeira has produced his numbers mostly through power. His 34 homers ranks third in the majors and his .263 ISO ranks fifth (third in the AL). But that’s really the only way he’s helped out. His .248 batting average is a career low, owing mostly to a .231 BABIP that ranks fourth lowest in the league. His walk rate has taken a slight hit, too, dropping to 2009 levels despite the 40-points-lower batting average. Again, that has translated into a productive season, as demonstrated above. But it’s not a superstar season.
One aspect adding to the frustration over Teixeira is that he’s been all or nothing this year. Again, he’s smacked 34 homers, and he’s done that in 32 games. In those games his, unsurprisingly, killing the ball, hitting .369/.440/1.230 in 141 PA. That amounts to about a quarter of his total PA and games played. The problem comes in the other three quarters of his games and PA. In those, 93 and 414, he has hit .207/.314/.263. When he’s not hitting a homer, Teixeira isn’t doing much of anything else.
That there’s a large gap in Teixeira’s numbers when homering and when not homering comes as little surprise. When he hits a home run he’s obviously being more productive, so therefore he’ll produce much better numbers when he’s performing the single most valuable act in baseball. The issue with Teixeira is the expanse of the divide.
Take Curtis Granderson as a counterexample. He has homered 35 times in 33 different games, and has hit .403/.473/1.256 in those games. In the games he did not homer, however, he remains decently productive: .231/.340/.335. Those aren’t great numbers by any stretch, but with the OBP, in addition to the 17 doubles and 9 triples, makes Curtis a somewhat productive player when he’s not hitting a homer. That’s just not the case for Teixeira.
The most frustrating aspect of the Tex divide is that there’s not much the Yankees can do about it. They could drop him in the order if they wanted, but that would only diminish the value they get from the 25 percent of games in which he does hit a homer. Dropping him in the order also only makes room for a player who creates fewer runs than Teixeira. Sure, there are plenty of benefits to having Gardner atop the lineup, but it’s not as though the Yankees are holding back a speedy guy with a .380 OBP.
If the biggest issue with Teixeira this season is frustration, that’s probably a good thing. Frustration is merely an emotion, something we feel when we see something that falls below our expectations. Teixeira has surely done that. For the second straight year he’s dipped below the superstar level of production he established from 2008 to 2009. Despite that, he’s still put together two generally productive seasons, and has been one of the Yankees’ two or three best hitters in that span. It is something of a problem that he’s essentially useless in 75 percent of his games. But you never know when one of the 25 percent is coming. And when it does, it’s a big boost to the Yankees lineup.