Nov
01

What Went Wrong: Mark Teixeira

By

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

When the Yankees snuck up and signed Mark Teixeira out from under the Red Sox four winters ago, they thought they were getting an all-around switch-hitter with power, patience, and the ability to hit for average in addition to his great defense at first. They got that guy in 2009 and he helped them win the World Series, but Tex has been on a slow and steady decline since. Considering his age (32), it’s very fair to say that his performance decline was unexpected. He was supposed to have a number of peak-caliber years remaining when he signed.

Teixeira did acknowledge late last year that the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium had screwed him up a bit, as he became overly pull-conscious and tried to yank everything into the seats against right-handers. He came into Spring Training this year and said he intended to get back to hitting all fields, maybe even drop down a bunt or two to beat the shift. That never materialized though. Teixeira did start hitting the ball to all fields though, the only problem was that the hits didn’t fall in. He was hitting lazy fly balls to left, not line drives. In late-June, he told everyone he was going back to his pull-happy approach because going the other way wasn’t working. It was too little, too late.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

The Performance
Overall, Teixeira hit just .251/.332/.475 in 524 plate appearances this season. Not counting his rookie season of 2003, he set new career-lows in homers (24), walks (54), OBP (.332), SLG (.475), ISO (.224), OPS (.807), OPS+ (116), wRC+ (116), and fWAR (2.9). Ten qualified first baseman provided more offense (in terms of wRC+) this year. He did win a Gold Glove and a Fielding Bible Award for his still superlative defense, but the offense took another step backwards.

There are two very troubling aspects of Teixeira’s decline. One is the free-falling OBP, which has more to do with his inability to hit for average than his walk rate. He did draw a walk in 10.3% of his plate appearances this year, which is below his career average (11.4%) but not insanely so. It’s also still above the league average (8.0%). When all you hit is fly balls and pull the ball into the shift, a .250 BABIP and thus a low batting average isn’t unexpected. A .332 OBP from a first baseman is not something you expect to find on a contending team.

Secondly, Teixeira’s performance against right-handed pitchers continues to get worse. He hit just .239/.331/.438 against them this year, which is ridiculous. It’s a 108 wRC+ that is far out of line with his career average (127) and expectations. It’s not a fluke one-time thing either, Teixeira had a 111 wRC+ against righties last year, 116 the year before, and 143 the year before that. It’s a three-year trend in the wrong direction and it ain’t all BABIP luck either — his .243 BABIP as a left-handed batter this year was in line with his overall mark and again, it lines up with what you’d expect from a pull-happy fly ball hitter.

Whenever a team signs a player to an eight-year contract, they do it with the understanding that the last few years were going to be ugly. That said, I don’t think the Yankees expected a .332 OBP and a career-low 24 homers in year four of Teixeira’s eight-year contract when they signed him at age 28. When you see something like this…

…it’s very easy to get frustrated and annoyed with Teixeira’s production. He’s supposed to be a switch-hitting middle of the order threat, but right now does most of his damage on the short side of the platoon and probably fits best as a six-hole hitter.

The Injuries
A huge part of Teixeira’s value is his durability, especially as health has slowly become baseball’s sixth tool and most undervalued asset. Like I’ve said before, it’s not just about having the best players, it’s about having the best players stay on the field for the most games. Teixeira played in at least 155 games in four straight years and six times in seven years coming into 2012, but he managed a career-low 123 contests this season due to various ailments.

First, there was the cough. The unexplained cough that nagged Teixeira throughout the first two months of the season and required Joe Girardi to sit his first baseman for three consecutive games in mid-May. After seeing a number of specialists, Teixeira was eventually diagnosed with nerve damage to his vocal cords and started receiving treatment.

(Leon Halip/Getty)

Secondly, there was the wrist. Teixeira originally hurt his left wrist on a swing in late-July but tried to play through it. That didn’t last long. The next day he further aggravating the injury diving after a ball on defense, and tests revealing inflammation in the wrist. He missed three games and returned to the lineup, but two weeks later the wrist was sore again. He missed another three games.

Then, finally, there was the calf. Teixeira first felt something pull in his left calf during a swing on August 27th, though he remained in the game to run the bases before being lifted. He was diagnosed with a Grade I strain that night and was slated to miss a week or two. Teixeira returned 12 days later and lasted just one game before re-injuring the calf, which happened as he ran out the final ground ball in the Jerry Meals blown call game. He missed another three weeks and returned just in time for the final series of the regular season.

It would be foolish to think that the injuries didn’t have some sort of impact on Teixeira’s performance this year, but I just don’t know how much. Like I said earlier, this wasn’t one down year offensively. He’s been trending in the wrong direction for three years now. Hopefully he can rebound a bit next year with the cough, wrist, and calf troubles behind him, but Teixeira’s steady decline from an all-around hitter to an all-or-nothing slugger has become a drain on the offense as a whole.

Categories : Players

48 Comments»

  1. Eddard/Syrio Forel/Occasional Troll says:

    I like Nunez in the IF for 2013. Get this bum to DH against righties and 1st base batting 3rd against lefties.

  2. Ted Nelson says:

    I would not consider health a tool. It has a ton to do with luck, and is often a binary thing. Injury is especially unpredictable (though also pervasive) among Ps. With hitters it often requires an injury history to predict, though even then it’s hard to predict. Predicting that a guy will become injury prone before his first injury is really hard. Predicting a prospect will hit for power or exhibit another tool is much easier.
    So health is very important, but I think grouping it as a tool is a mistake.

    I still find it encouraging that Tex is a switch hitter who has declined on one side. I think that increases the likelihood he can rebound. It’s not an overall physical decline. He needs to rework his LHP swing. He does seem really stubborn about this, and I’d like to see him stick with a new LH swing in 2013.

    • 0-fur is murder says:

      I’d consider Teixeria a tool

    • thenamestsam says:

      I agree with the idea that his continued production right-handed gives me continued hope. I’d expect that aging erodes your overall offensive skillset because of decreasing hand-eye coordination, slower reactions, worse eyesight etc. The fact that he’s still hitting lefties makes it more plausible that it’s a mechanical issue only, and thus theoretically solvable. Whether he can figure that out remains an open question.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Yeah, agreed. My speculation (nothing more) is that he’s being a little hardheaded. He seemed to halfheartedly try some new mechanics early in 2012 and then give up almost immediately… Again, I don’t know the actual problem, but I would like to see a new approach next year. My gut just feels like his pride might be telling him it’s just a matter of time, but it’s been, what? 3 years?

    • Thunder Road Runner says:

      Good Luck with that – he wouldn’t even TRY to direct the ball to the wide open 3rd base side when the team was dying for baserunners, becuase he didn’t want to mess up “his swing”

  3. monkeypants says:

    Was Teixeira’s decline so unpredictable? Using OPS as a crude but convenient metric, his career is following an almost “ideal” arc: .811 (23), .929 (24), .954 (25), .963 (26), .962 (27), 1.081 (28), .948 (29), .846 (30), .835 (31), .807 (32). He was an elite or near elite hitter, peaked at age 25 or 26 to 29, with his best year at 28, and now he is declining in his thirties. The Yankees really should have been ready for this when they signed a 28 y.o. to a longterm contract. Still, the 2009 banner will fly forever.

  4. rondd5 says:

    …this guy has been and contiues to be a HUGE disappointment…too many times we see that photo (and you know which one I’m talking about….they display it right here)…where he’s on his way back to the dugout….after striking out…yet again…

  5. Eddard says:

    I think Teixera can rebound but he has to be the contact hitter he was prior to his Yankee years. Kevin Long has turned him into one of those big left handed hairy monsters and that has made him a dead pull hitter. Teams shift against him and he doesn’t adjust. Teams throw him offspeed and he doesn’t adjust. He just tries to hit HRs.

  6. mick taylor says:

    what went, wrong 2 words, short porch. tex became a pull hitter when he came to ny. if i were the yanks , i would move the fences back in right and left. i would then get a couple of additional lefty pitchers to take advantage of a mini death valley in left field. the fence should be 420 rather than 399in left . then petite and sabathia would have a great advantage . also, i see where yanks signed gil patterson as theiir minor league pitching coordinator. a month ago i advocated this on river blues. i guess cashman agreed

  7. 0-fur is murder says:

    I know the Mother of the Angels strength and conditioning coach. She claims Teixeira is struggling because he misses working out with her son.

  8. Bubba says:

    Well it appears that he broke himself, maybe he can fix himself. Unfortunately, I think the farther he get from the hitter he was, the less likely it is for him to get back there.

  9. moonimus says:

    Maybe they just need to break out the video of his best year and reconstruct that swing. He isn’t the first lefty (Maas, Nokes) to have a hard on for the short porch in right but he totally abandoned what made him a great hitter in the process. I hope he can rediscover his lefty swing and just be a balanced hitter. I don’t see him trying to drive the ball to right field as a right handed hitter. Why didn’t he make that adjustment?

    • 0-fur is murder says:

      The video will show him in a different uniform and there is the fix. He needs to be in a different uniform.

  10. LarryM., Fl. says:

    I give Teix. the same pass for his injuries that I gave to Arod. Injuries make or break any season for a team especially when the mission is the WS trophy and nothing else. But a player reaching his 32 birthday Teix. has gone downhill quite fast.

    I did believe when he signed that we were getting a complete hitter. Much to my surprise he does not play to my expectations on the offense side of the equation.

    If he doesn’t make any adjustments to his hitting approach with more hitting to where the location of the pitch brings you then I suspect we as fans will be often disappointed with RISP or moving runners along with Teix. I still believe that the Yankees need a balanced approach. This will be runners on base allowing for better pitches to the power guys.

    Arod and Teix. have to take it to a higher level than the 2012 season if we wat to contend and win another WS.

    • Jeff says:

      I think we may need to reset our expectations on player’s performance as they age in the PED testing era. I’m not saying I suspect Tex of PED use, not at all. But the idea that a player can hold his peak from age 28 to 34 or 35 is simply not realistic. We became accustomed to seeing that but those days are gone.

      I’m hopeful that Tex can be healthy and have a bit of a bounce back in 2013, but .270/.350/.480 is likely the best he could be right now. The .300/.400/.550 Tex is long gone.

  11. rondd5 says:

    `…you cannot win a w.s. in this league with the numbers the yanks had with risp….this guy is a huge reason why the numbers are the way they are…

  12. rondd5 says:

    ….not sure I’m a worshipper of anything…I am a observer of baseball though…if those are the final numbers, fair enough…

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