Apr
18

The Teixeira Analysis: Left-Handed Balls In Play

By

At least someone in Maryland likes him. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Over the last two days we’ve taken a look at the two different Mark Teixeiras to help get an idea of his where his offensive decline is coming from. There’s a right-handed hitting version of Teixeira, who continues to mash and has actually shown signs of improving in recent years, not decline. Then there’s a left-handed hitting version of Teixeira, who has racked up fewer and fewer hits over the last three years. The good news that he’s still hitting the ball over the fence and isn’t striking out any more or walking any less, the problem is isolated to the balls he’s putting in play from the left side of the plate.

Today we’re going to look at those balls in play as a left-handed batter. This post is very image-heavy, so I’ve added a Read More button just to make sure we don’t have any loading issues with the front page. You have been forewarning, there are a bunch of images on the other side of that jump…

With some help from Texas Leaguers, we can separate Teixeira’s spray charts by handedness. Since we already know that his right-handed swing is a-okay, we’re only going to focus on the data as a left-handed hitter. We’re going to start with 2008 simply because the batted ball data doesn’t go back any further. In fact, even the 2008 data set isn’t 100% complete. It’s still more than enough to help us out, however. Take note of the batted ball percentages in the image caption…

38.6% GB | 40.1% FB | 21.3% LD | 2.8% IFFB

Most of Teixeira’s left-handed power in 2008 — his walk year split between the Braves and Angels — is to the pull side, which isn’t surprising. Just about every 30+ homer guy is going to do most of their damage by pulling the ball. Teixeira still hit the ball with authority the other way as a lefty however, including two homers to left plus about a dozen other balls hit to warning track-ish.

Check out the right side of the infield though. Tex was hitting a ton of ground balls in that direction before he ever came to the Yankees, so it’s not like the shift came out of nowhere. Here, check this out…

That (low-quality) screen cap comes from this highlight clip of Gabe Gross robbing Teixeira of an extra-base hit at the wall on August 19th, 2008. It’s not the exaggerated shift we see today, but you can see Rays’ second baseman Akinori Iwamura swung around and playing much deeper than a second baseman normally would with no one on base. Tampa was trying to exploit Tex’s tendency to hit the ball on the ground to the right side before he ever wore pinstripes. Now let’s look at his batted balls in 2009, his first season in New York…

34.3% GB | 46.1% FB | 19.6% LD | 3.2% IFFB

Again, most of the homers are to right field as expected, but there are fewer balls hit deep to the opposite field. Most of the ground balls were hit to the right side again, but the shift started to become a regular tactic around the league and the number of outs made in shallow right field increased. Let’s split the spray chart up just a little bit, starting with the first half (pre-All-Star break)…

Now here’s the second half, after the All-Star break…

The right side of the field is pretty similar, but the big difference is found in left and left-center field, right in front of the 399 sign. Teixeira didn’t hit as many balls to deep left field as a left-handed batter in the second half, indicating that he started to alter his swing in an effort to take advantage of the short porch in right as far back as 2009.

Let’s not obsess over left field, because there is other stuff going on here. The shift became more problematic mostly because more teams started to use it, but also take note of Teixeira’s fly ball percentage. He went from putting the ball in the air 40.1% of the time as a lefty in 2008 to 46.1% of the time in 2009. His infield pop-up rate barely changed (2.8% in 2008 and 3.2% in 2009), however. Fly balls have a tendency to go over the fence, but they also turn into routine outs more than any non-infield pop-up batted ball. Teixeira’s BABIP as a lefty went from .314 in 2008 to .290 in 2009. That’s a small enough changed to be ignored as just the usual year-to-year fluctuation of the stat, but it turned out to be a harbinger of things to come. Now let’s look at his 2010 spray chart…

33.0% GB | 48.3% FB | 18.6% LD | 7.5% IFFB

The ground ball to the right side thing really started to become an issue two seasons ago, and again we see a lesser amount of balls hit towards that 399 sign. Teixeira’s fly ball rate as a left-handed batter again rose, this time to 48.3%. His infield pop-up rate more than doubled as well. Unsurprisingly, his BABIP dropped again to .255. It’s hard to notice a drop from .314 to .290 when you’re watching games every day, but going from .314 to .290 to .255 is something fans can pick up on, and we all certainly did that summer. The shift gets most of the attention because it’s right there smacking us in the face, but the extra fly balls have been doing a number on Teixeira’s production as well. Let’s look at his 2011 spray chart now…

34.1% GB | 48.3% FB | 17.7% LD | 5.7% IFFB

Things started to get really silly last season. Teixeira didn’t hit a ball anywhere near that 399 sign we’ve been using as reference, and the same ground ball to the right side and fly ball/infield pop-ups problems persist. He started swinging for the short porch back in 2009 and it’s gradually gotten worse and worse in the two full seasons since. Teixeira has gotten pull happy and that’s hurt because the shift is regularly used around the league, but the more serious problem is the uppercut he’s added to his swing. Look at how level his swing was in middle of 2008…

…compared to this swing from the other day…

You can see the uppercut Teixeira has added over the last few years. It’s pretty severe, and it’s led to all those increased fly balls and declining batting average. The shift is only one piece of the puzzle; he’s also made it easier for the defense to turn his balls in play into outs by knocking so many of them up in the air.

I’m going to tie a bow on all this with some kind of wrap-up post tomorrow, but again I want to point out that the shift isn’t the only reason Teixeira’s batting average and BABIP has declined from the left side of the plate. He’s developed some bad habits aiming for the short porch, specifically the uppercut that has led to so many more fly balls. I have no idea how much work it would take to correct something like that, but I can’t imagine it would be easy and/or happen overnight.

Categories : Analysis

28 Comments»

  1. Robinson Tilapia says:

    Bravo, Axisa.

  2. Stephen says:

    I think the biggest positive I can find is that Tex and the Yankees are aware of this and are hopefully making the adjustments. Good work, Mike.

  3. TopChuckie says:

    If you had 5 fielders in RF wouldn’t you try to hit it over them too (assuming you weren’t able to hit to LF)? Maybe the shift IS causing the upper cut swing as well. If you think there’s no way you’re going to hit a ground ball through the right side of the infield with all those defenders clogging it up, you’re going to avoid hitting ground balls.

    • Gonzo says:

      This is interesting.

    • Havok9120 says:

      An interesting point, but your assumption is wrong. He CAN hit to to LF with regularity, and has. If you’re doing that, most teams aren’t going to shift on you. Tampa still will because, well, they’re Tampa and Maddon plays percentages with the shift just like Girardi does with pitching matchups. Most teams, however, would probably not be willing to use it on you if you’re hitting to all fields.

      • TopChuckie says:

        So he just CHOOSES not to anymore? Perhaps he still can, he still SHOULD be able to, but he apparently doesn’t have the confidence in himself to do it.

        As I said below, maybe once he neutralizes the shift by bunting and opens up RF, he would regain confidence in his ability to get on base via line drive and ground ball and his all-fields swing would return.

      • Eddie54 says:

        Good point! He can hit to all fields. Every player in that lineup can, if they really wanted. The problem is that ever since they moved to that new ballpark they are swinging for the fences all the time. This is a team that more often than not put runners on base and cannot hit a sacrifice fly to score a run or a single for one or two. The teams of the 90′s manufactured runs in every possible way imaginable. That’s why that team won 4 titles as opposed to one for this team. And the one they won was because they had the best situational hitter in baseball at the time, Hidecki Matsui.

    • Eddie54 says:

      You’ve got it pure and simple. But I want to add that he is paid huge money to perform in a way that helps the team win. Right now everybody knows the technical part of what is wrong with his hitting. He is responsible for finding the way to perform like the slugger he was before being hired. With stinkers of Aprils and Mays, only to need to catch up the rest of the season, he will never hit more than .250. It doesn’t matter if he hits third, four, or fifth, his production is essential for that team to score enough runs to win over 95 games. So, either he assumes the responsibility, or the team should. How about frocing to hit righty only? The yankees desperately need more pop from the right side.

      • TopChuckie says:

        I agree, I was in no way defending him or what he’s doing as acceptable. I was just saying I think it’s wrong to dismiss the effects of the shift, or to point to some other flaw in his game and not also acknowledge that could also be the result of the shift. I also think it’s wrong to attribute the uppercut to simply being enticed by the short porch. I think the short porch just helps him justify the idea of hitting it over the shift because “over the shift” is more likely out of the park in NYS.

        I think it all goes hand in hand and compounds each other, but the easiest thing to do is neutralize the shift first with some bunting and once the shift is gone all the other stuff might just fall back into place.

        I think if he doesn’t want to be the next Jason Giambi he better do whatever it takes to neutralize the shift in a hurry, pride and ego be damned, if that’s what is causing the hesitation. It’s a lot more embarrassing to hit .220 than it is to bunt when it’s being handed to you. He mentioned he was considering it in spring, I’ve seen nothing so far that would lead him to conclude it’s no longer necessary to consider.

        The Yanks have always had a short porch in right and they’ve always brought in lefty sluggers to exploit it, they haven’t always been foiled by a shift.

  4. Granderson’s swing sdjustment seemed to work pretty good in August of 2010.

    Let’s hope Tex has the same “want to” as the Grandyman.

    • Tex, the real Big Poppi says:

      Mark is paid now and maybe doesn’t care to improve as much as Curtis did.
      Grandy has 150 million reasons to get better. Mark has $180 million in his bank, why bother?

      • Random says:

        Personal pride to be the best that you can be?

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        Just when you thought these posts actually neutralized stuff like this….

      • Jake says:

        Because Tex has pride and cares about his performance? Professional athletes obviously want to get paid, but the vast majority of them also love the games they play and want to succeed.

        • Tex, the real Big Poppi says:

          I didn’t say he wasn’t proud or competitive, just seems complacent and either unwilling to listen to Klong or unable to do what KLong is suggesting.
          I want him to succeed as much as you do, but results are not here. You could see the change with Grandy right away in his approach, have you seen Tex change one thing yet?

          • Havok9120 says:

            Yes, because KLong is an infallible Demigod of baseball swings.

            Stop it.

            Until we see some sign that this is happening, you’re not only speculating, but speculating in the face of what we’ve observed about Teix’s character. For all we know, he went to KLong and was “keep your swing. you need to hit over the shift.”

            • Tex, the real Big Poppi says:

              If KLong told him to hit over the shift than all this is moot. Not a demigod, but is paid by the Yankees to help the hitters hit, and not into the shift.
              Stop with the character stuff, we speculate on here all day long, no reason to get your panties all up in a bunch.

  5. ROBTEN says:

    While not something that can be corrected overnight, one would hope that given his past abilities to hit the ball the other way that it is still something that can be corrected, rather than having to be a skill set that has to be learned. That is, unlike a pitcher who might have to learn a new way of pitching when his velocity declines, Teixeira just has to go back to hitting the way that he did.

    I wonder if the increased uppercut in his swing is a “response” to the shift and an attempt to counter-act it, but in what is ultimately an unproductive way. That is, Tex is seduced by the short-porch in right and doesn’t want to give up the benefits of trying to pull the ball. At the same time, he is aware of the shift and so has responded by trying to hit the ball in the air, essentially bypassing the shift by going over it.

    The key is probably getting Tex to see that there is a correctable problem that goes beyond the shift. If he sees the shift as an uncorrectable problem, then the uppercut continues if not gets worse. If he is willing to reduce the chance of a home run from that side of the plate for a more level swing, he will probably be on the path toward correction. As Long has said, he can only help a player if the player thinks there is a problem and if Teixeira sees the uppercut as the “solution,” it might be some time before there is any correction.

  6. The Guns of Navarone says:

    Agreed with this entire series of posts. It’s pretty obvious that all this is correct when you can combine video evidence with statistical analysis as well. We’ve been able to figure this out. You can only hope that Teixeira and the Yankees have figured it out as well.

  7. JoeyA says:

    This was a fantastic post. It used charts and numbers but didnt get overly-stat heavy as to single out folks like myself that enjoy the happy median between all out statistical analysis and simply using the eye test.

    The uppercut will be a problem that is hard to correct, mainly because that short porch isnt going away. it will always be in his head and the ability to knock the ball out of the park will be very enticing at home.

    Let’s hope Tex puts in the time to correct this.

  8. Kevin says:

    His home/away batted ball splits are interesting as well. In 2009, he actually hit ground balls 6% less and fly balls 10% more on the road. Over the past two seasons, however, there’s been a change in the opposite direction. In 2010 he hit 4% more ground balls and 2% less fly balls on the road. This is not a significant difference, but if you look at 2011, the trend continued. Last year, he hit 5% more fly balls and 3% less ground balls at home than on the road. While the differences are not huge, these numbers definitely seem to be trending the wrong way and suggest that his approach in individual at-bats varies depending on where he’s playing, rather than it just being a mechanical flaw picked up at the Stadium that’s being played out everywhere.

    • Havok9120 says:

      Yeah, that does seem indicate that he’s tailoring his swing specifically to NYS instead of picking up a bad habit and carrying it with him all the time.

      That actually is a sign of hope if he decides to change.

  9. TopChuckie says:

    While hitting the opposite way more often is the best case solution, it may not be the easiest or most realistic. Every hitter should use the whole field, but only the best ones truly can by design. I am in the “bunt through the hole on the left side until they stop the shift” camp first and the “bat exclusively right-handed” camp second.

    Bunting for a hit with one infielder on the left side should be a piece of cake for a major league baseball player with a little practice. Any argument that it would mess up his swing is ridiculous. Bunting and swinging away are two completely different activities. One would have no effect on the other. When he goes back to swinging away he’s not going to accidentally go into his bunting stance or start sliding his hand up the bat. Trying to alter your swing to go the other way, now that MIGHT screw up your entire swing if you don’t do it properly.

    Depending on the game situation obviously, with the bases empty, I would take the probable base runner over the far more unlikely solo homerun all day long. I’d like to know the odds of a Yankee base runner on first coming around to score versus the odds of Tex hitting a homerun. It doesn’t need to become a habit, it just needs to become a threat. I do not believe managers would willingly concede that baserunner just to not have Tex swing away, especially when he’s hitting .220 when he swings away. If your argument is Tex is more valuable swinging away than standing on first base, then would you also argue he should never take ball four if he can reach it? Obviously, just like there are situations when a manager would intentionally walk a batter rather than have him swing away and possibly hit a HR, there are situations when taking the “free base” would not be the right play.

    Maybe once he stopped the shift and started feeling like line drives and ground balls might have a chance to drop in again, his entire swing would balance out again.

    Whenever you can stop your enemy from doing what he wants to do, you are gaining, or in this case taking back, the advantage.

  10. The Genius Maker says:

    One item that is not discussed but should be is that if you shift Teixiera you are going to pitch him inside MUCH more. You can’t drive an inside pitch the opposite way because it is very hard to get the barrel on the ball without pulling it. The trend I see is very slow stuff away and everything else inside so he has to hit it into the shift. Then his internal adjustments of lifting the ball come into play. BTW, Jeter is one of the few who can loft a ball to right on an inside pitch, but that is unique.

  11. AT Evans says:

    I complement all the effort that went into this analysis.. I have a couple of things to mention:

    The videos you chose to show difference in swing.. well- not good. As a Brave, he was swinging at a high fast ball, and as a Yank he was swinging at a low inside slider maybe… either way.. I commend Texierra for a pretty level swing in both atbats.. compared to most ball players today, his swing is DEFINITELY level. It just looks like an uppercut b/c it’s a low pitch (i.e show me better evidence of an uppercut).

    In addition, it is true that his flyballs to left center and left are down.. BUT, his flyballs to that direction were MOSTLY outs anyway… doesn;t explain the dip in AVG or BABIP at all.

    So, the shift wins as the culprit to Tex’s low avg and BABIP woes, not that his innability to hit the ball the other way has changed anything. He has always been mediocre at hitting the ball to left when batting LH.

    • bennyprofane says:

      Agreed, with these points.

      Additionally, Iwamura’s positioning in the image from 2008 is in no way indicative of a “shift” Traditionally, with no one on, and a power hitting, slow moving left-handed hitter at the plate, a second basemen will play more toward first base and on the lip of the right field grass/turf. Especially if they have limited range, i.e. Iwamura. It takes away the first base hole, still allows them to get at balls to their right, or shallow flies/line drives in RF, and throwing the batter out from shallow right field is not a problem. The shift is a more recent phenomenon as it relates to Texiera (barring any actual visual evidence of it being employed prior to 2009), and this image of Iwamura is pretty standard when dealing with most left-handed power hitters.

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