Tex should focus on pitch recognition from the left side, not bunting

The Ballad of Charlie Hayes
The Day The Evil Empire Was Born
Tex swinging over what I can only imagine is a curveball. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

About a year ago I took a look at Mark Teixeira’s curveball problem. While anyone who watched Tex hit in 2010 didn’t need an elaborate post telling them he struggled against the curve, it bore watching as he had posted above-average run values versus the curveball in his two seasons prior. 2010 was also a down year for Tex against the fastball, as he posted a five-year low (a mere 7.3 runs above average) against a pitch he punished to the tune of 38.8 runs above average a mere two years earlier.

Tex found himself back in Yankee fans’ crosshairs again last week, after suggesting that he might try bunting from the left side of the plate this coming season in a misguided attempt to beat the shift. Brien Jackson at IIATMS noted that the shift isn’t the real problem, William Juliano published a typically comprehensive look at Tex’s offensive numbers from both sides of the plate hitting to different fields, and TYA’s Michael Eder pondered whether Tex bunting would actually work.

Today I thought I’d take a slightly different tack and dive into how pitchers are attacking Mark Teixeira, left-handed hitter. The good news for Tex is that he improved his performance against the fastball this season (although wFF numbers are cumulative from both sides of the plate), fininishing the year at 12.3 runs above average. Still, this is a far cry from the heady days of wFF numbers in the high-20s. Unfortunately for Tex, his woes against the curveball continued in 2011, and he actually tied for the 9th-worst wCU/100 mark in the American League. So what’s going on with Tex against the curve? The below chart shows various outcomes for Tex against the curveball when hitting from the left side of the plate (data c/o both TexasLeaguers.com and JoeLefkowitz.com):

Following the curve’s whopping success against left-handed Tex in 2010, righties slightly increased the number of hooks they threw the Yankee slugger last season, from 11.2% to 11.8%. Now obviously we’re talking about a pretty small rise, but with Tex also seeing significantly fewer four-seamers than he did in 2009 (46.4% down to 38.1%), the minimal increase carries a bit more weight.

Right-handers threw the curve less frequently for strikes in 2011, but Tex still swung at them with essentially the same frequency as the previous year. He hit them in the air more frequently than he had previously as a Yankee (no surprise given his predilection for popping out to the infield), fouled them off slightly more frequently, hit fewer on the ground, and to his credit, actually whiffed less frequently than the previous two years. However, he also stopped hitting the curve for as much power, following a 1.3% HR% in 2009 with two straight seasons of 0.4%.

Given the curveball’s continued effectiveness against Tex, I was curious to see whether its deployment increased depending on the count. The below chart shows curveball frequency when the pitcher is ahead (I’m considering 0-0 as the pitcher being ahead in this case, because anecdotally it seems like Tex never swings first pitch, even though B-Ref says he did at least 56 times last year):

I was a bit surprised to see the curve being most frequently deployed on 0-2 and 1-2 in 2009, but perhaps the most telling component of this graph is that pitchers have significantly increased their likelihood of trying to get ahead of Tex at the start of his at-bats, dropping a curve in on the first pitch 13.9% of the time last season, a three-year high.

And what’s been happening when Tex does make contact?

His LD BABIP spiked back up last season after a woeful .250 in 2010, but was still nearly 200 points below its 2009 high of .833. His FB BABIP on the curve unsurprisingly fell to a three-year low, and his GB BABIP basically remained constant.

Now, in fairness to Tex, part of the curveball issue is that he has to face some outstanding curveball-throwing pitchers. Out of the 233 curveballs he saw from righties in 2011, 79, or 34%, were thrown by Josh Beckett, Justin Verlander, James Shields, Felix Hernandez, Jeremy Hellickson and John Lackey (pitchers he had 10 at-bats or more against each). Outside of Lackey, those hurlers are among the best in in the league, and so Tex probably needs to be cut some slack.

However, he’s shown that he’s not completely useless against the curveball in the past, and it would bode well for the 2012 Yankees if he can recognize that right-handed pitchers are probably going to attack him earlier in the count with curveballs and ideally hold off from swinging at said curves unless he actually is able to revise his approach from the left side with Kevin Long.

The Ballad of Charlie Hayes
The Day The Evil Empire Was Born
  • Vegetable Lasagna

    He should focus on being the player we thought we were signing 3 years ago. We can’t have an .830 OPS 1st baseman. Bunt, drive the ball the other way, just do something if you want to get rid of that shift. And if none of this works he should bat right handed all the time.

    • http://yankeeanalysts.com Matt Imbrogno

      1. The average 1B had an OPS of .792 last year. Tex is a lock to best that, and add more value with his glove.

      2. Bunting/hitting the ball the other way are a lot harder than you’re making them seem.

      3. Batting from one side only at this point in his life would probably be a disaster for Tex (or any player).

      • Vegetable Lasagna

        1. I just watched Moneyball. Defense doesn’t matter if the guy can get on base. Teix didn’t do that last year.

        2. He needs to do it. Grandy was able to turn himself around. Jeter too.

        3. Billy Beane didn’t care about lefty/righty matchups. If we don’t care for the pitcher we shouldn’t care for the batter either. Teix needs to do what’s best for the club.

        • Peter R

          lol. I laughed….thought #2 leads me to sorta believe you serious…which would be sad.

          • Mike HC

            That had to be a joke. “I just watched Moneyball” is too funny to be serious.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          You continue to have a curious understanding of this “baseball” thing.

      • Plank

        I could be wrong, but I thought the thing that was hard about bunting was hitting it far enough from the C but not so hard that it goes right to the third baseman. If there is no third baseman, isn’t bunting much, much easier? He just has to make sure it doesn’t go foul.

        Tex obviously has amazing skills with the bat. I’m sure he can use those skills learn to bunt at an adequate level.

  • ADam

    Guys, any numbers to support how many first pitch fast balls Tex let sail by last year? He seems to be hyper-picky (almost to a detriment) at the plate, falling behind 0-1, 1-2 all the time. Just curious

    • Larry Koestler

      Hey Adam,

      Tex saw a four-seamer on the first pitch of his at-bats 39% of the time last year; unfortunately the available data doesn’t get granular to the point of a breakdown of first-pitch fastballs he took.

      • ADam

        Thanks Larry, Seems to me he’d benefit greatly from being more aggressive. Seemed to me he kept his bat on his shoulder way to much in the LDS. The thought of a 180 million dollar player bunting makes me think I’ve picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue…

  • mike

    Its pathetic and a symptom of the times/ salaries of today’s players.

    The game has not changed – players in non-shift circumstances will get tons of credit for noticing a position change and hitting the ball thru a hole or bunting for a hit etc., yet its rediculous how some players will not do something unorthodox to break the overshift like shorten up their swing, choke up on the bat for bat control, bunt etc.

    Im sure its very difficult to do, yet these are fantasticworld-class athletes at the peak of their profession – and the result does not need to be successful – the attempt in-and-of-itself will likely influence the defense into a more ordinary structure.

    With contractual and financial security given to today’s players, the manager has no power over the players to really influence their behavior. The managers have to hear it from the players and agenst for every slight, and because of the player’s cost there is a need to feed their egos so they are not “lost.”

    • Steve (different one)

      This is an oddly timed rant considering Teixiera has just come out and said he will try to do what you are suggesting.

      • mike

        Im glad after a few years of falling numbers with an ultimately obvious solution to improve his chances he is taking steps to do anything a tee-ball player would note after his first at-bat

        • RetroRob

          Bunting is not a good solution.

  • Monterowasdinero

    Long swing, big uppercut, doesn’t hit the ball the other way much.

    Gonna be a tough adjustment.

    • Steve (different one)

      But I don’t think he was always so pull happy. It really is the same thing that happened to Giambi. Giambi used to spray doubles all over the field in Oakland.

      It’s the porch…it’s always been the porch…

      • Bo Knows

        your right, he wasn’t. Tex has come out and plainly said that the short porch is a tempting target and he’s altered his approach so he could pull the ball there

  • thenamestsam

    Very interesting article. I wonder if the problems hitting the curve stem from trying to pull the ball too much. A lot of people have posited (and observation seems to support) that his problems stem largely from trying to pull the ball too much. That results in being way out in front on a lot of off-speed pitches, and a lot of the lame pop-ups on curves and changeups. My point being that his struggles against the curve may be more of a symptom of what ails him than a root cause, and rather than worry about recognizing and laying off curves Tex should try to recommit to going back up the middle, and the problems against the curve may take care of themselves.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    An animated .gif of a Mark Teixeira bunt could be comedic gold.

  • Chrisis

    Anyone wanna bet the pitch in the picture is a changeup instead?

  • SevenAces

    IMO One of the ugliest sights for me for the past 2 seasons was Teixeira’s left handed swing against any pitch that broke vertically, it felt he was attempting to catch a butterfly with a net. The way he buckled that back knee even more trying to loop the ball breaking down.

    Then the look of defeat on his face as he trots/walks back to the dugout is just salt on my fresh wounds.

    NO baseball expert here, but it is way too difficult trying to adjust mid swing with that LH swing of his against anything that breaks down…

  • Mike

    My God…he’s turned into Pedro Cerrano

    He might need hat for bat

  • Mister Delaware

    I bet he’s been faltering for two years because he misses Damon and Matsui.

  • RetroRob

    Tex’s problem is not that he’s pulling that ball too much from the leftside as is now the belief, but his problem is in hitting to the opposite field.

    In 2007 Teixeira’s average and slugging as a lefty hitting to the opposite field were .333 and .689. He was dangerous when he took the ball the other way. Those opposite-field stats have been declining since, down to an absurdly low .086 BA and .103 SLG in 2011. When Tex pulls the ball from the left last year, he had a .337 BA and an .837 SLG.

    So looking at those numbers above, it’s pretty odd that people would want him to pull the ball less and hit more to the opposite field. His problem is not pulling the ball; his problem is hitting the other way. Perhaps this is because he altered his swing from the leftside when he came to the Yankees. If so, that should be an easy fix to get him to go back to his older leftside approach. If hasn’t altered his swing, then the last thing he should be doing is trying to hit more to the opposite field. He should adopt a 100% Jason Giambi approach from the leftside and pull everything, taking pitches for balls (or even strikes) that are out of his zone.

    • thenamestsam

      Well I think the reason he hasn’t hit well to the opposite field is because he has stopped looking to do it. I think the reason his numbers are so abysmal going the other way are because he always is looking to pull the ball, so the balls he actually hits the other way are accidents essentially – nubs off the end of the bat, little pop-ups to short where he’s way out in front, etc. He still hits well when he pulls the ball, but the terrible numbers going the other way are a product of trying to pull it too much. That’s why I want him to pull the ball less.

  • Tomm

    What a silly article. To argue that he shouldn’t bunt when the bunt will completely open up the right side, when the bunt will allow him to actually get some hits against tough pitches lefty (if he learns how), when the bunt is not mutually exclusive with “pitch recognition” whatever that really means.

    The guy has trouble with righties because he is a natural righty. He tries hard, but all he can do at this point is pull. It’s good fundamental baseball to bunt, and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong.

  • Tomm

    Only a arrogant macho dude doesn’t bunt when the team is giving you a free hit every time to the left side. It’s not being a sissy to bunt. It’s being a ballplayer.

  • qwerty

    It seems to me that has he taken the Giambi approach wholeheartedly.