Mark Teixeira is not going to focus on beating the shift and that’s okay

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Position players reported to Spring Training yesterday and one of the first to talk was Mark Teixeira, who is now entering his seventh year as the team’s first baseman. Teixeira went into the winter saying he needed to get stronger following his first full year after wrist surgery, and he claims to have done that with a diet change and more weight lifting. Hopefully it works. We’ll see.

One thing Teixeira said he will not do is focus on trying to beat the shift this coming season. The shift is a hot topic around the game right now and Teixeira has been hurt by it as much as any hitter, particularly when he’s hitting from the left side of the plate. That said, he’s not going to change his approach. He’ll focus on hitting the ball over the shift, not around it.

“We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. Every time I try to slap the ball the other way, it doesn’t go well for anybody,” said Teixeira to Chad Jennings. “That’s what the other team wants. They want to take a middle-of-the-order power hitter and turn him into a slap hitter. So if I can hit more home runs, more doubles, walk more, that takes care of the shift. I don’t want to ground out to second base. That’s not what I’m trying to do up there.”

Teixeira has tried changing his approach to counteract the shift before, most notably early in the 2012 season, and the result was a bunch of weak fly balls to left field. He eventually abandoned the plan during a late-May trip out to the West Coast. Before the trip, Teixeira hit .229/.305/.371 in 118 plate appearances as a left-handed batter. After the trip, he hit .246/.346/.480 in 208 plate appearances as a lefty.

After coming to camp that year telling anyone who would listen he was going to beat the shift, Teixeira gave up trying to the other way before the end of May because it wasn’t working for him. He used to be an all-fields hitter, but he’s not anymore for whatever reason. That’s the reality of the situation. At that point in 2012, Teixeira was at his best when he tried to pull the ball, so that’s what he did. Three years and one wrist surgery later, it’s hard to think he’ll be better able to go to the other way.

It’s easy to forget Teixeira was actually pretty good in the first half of last season. He hit .241/.341/.464 (125 wRC+) before the All-Star break, including .254/.330/.513 as a left-handed batter. After the break though, Teixeira only hit .179/.271/.302 (62 wRC+) overall and a very weak .151/.265/.262 as a lefty batter. First half Teixeira was really good and he sure as heck wasn’t trying to beat the shift. He says he wore down in the second half — hence the focus on getting stronger this winter — and the numbers back it up.

At this point of his career, two months away from his 35th birthday and two years after wrist surgery, Teixeira is what he is. He can still be a productive player even with the shift, he showed that in the first half of last season and also in the second half of 2012, so he should stick to what works. Brian McCann spent all last year trying to beat the shift and, like Teixeira early in 2012, the result was a lot of weak contact. This is Teixeira’s reality now. Trying (again) to change his approach will likely result in decreased performance and that only makes things worse.

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Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 11-14

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 15-16, 17-19, 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Every team seems to have one of them, but the Yankees have more than most. The aging, past-prime former star who is making still making star money. The Yankees have done a lot of high-end shopping over the years, paying big bucks across a lot of years to players who were, at one time, cornerstones of the roster.

That isn’t the case anymore. Nos. 11-14 in our 40-man roster rankings series includes four ex-stars on the downside of their careers, who the team is still counting on to some extent in 2015. All those big seven and eight (and ten!) year contracts have come to a head at the same time. To the next batch of players …

No. 14: Alex Rodriguez

2015 Role: DH, at least at first. Maybe even part-time DH. The Yankees have made it clear A-Rod will have to earn his playing time and show he is able to contribute if he wants a regular role. They’ve spent the winter adding backup plans at third base and at DH, so the team doesn’t expect a whole lot. The Yankees are stuck with Alex though, and since they’re paying him all that money, they’re going to see if he has anything left.

Long-Term Role: More of the same, unfortunately. Like it or not, Rodriguez is owed $64M these next three seasons — not to mention his five $6M home run bonuses, the first of which is only six dingers away — and the Yankees aren’t going to eat that money just to make him go away. Not as long as there’s a chance of recouping a big chunk of his salary via insurance (if he gets hurt) or another performance-enhancing drug suspension.

So what’s the best case scenario here? I suppose it’s A-Rod hitting well enough — not like peak A-Rod, but maybe something like .270/.330/.420? — to deserve a regular lineup spot while showing enough mobility to play third base on occasion. That’s about it. The worst case scenario is that he’s cooked and not worth a roster spot, in which case the Yankees will probably stick him on the DL every time he feels the slightest twinge. What a mess.

No. 13: Carlos Beltran

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

2015 Role: Middle of the order bat, hopefully. The Yankees want Beltran to produce at the plate first and foremost. His defense in right is suspect at best and disastrous at worst, and I expect the team to mitigate the damage by using Chris Young in right field in the late innings of close games. Most importantly, they need Beltran to hit. For average, for power, the works.

Beltran had a bone spur removed from his elbow this offseason after playing through it for most of 2014. He absolutely mashed at the start of the year, but once the bone spur flared up, Beltran had no impact the plate. Hopefully having a healthy elbow means he will produce like he did before getting hurt going forward. That guy was really good.

Long-Term Role: Beltran is signed for another two seasons at $15M annually — unlike the other players in this post, the Yankees didn’t give him a 7+ year contract, just a three-year contract at age 36 — so he isn’t going anywhere. Joe Girardi is going to have to juggle DH at-bats between A-Rod and Beltran, which might not be all that difficult since both are known to visit the DL from time to time. Again, his role is middle of the order hitter. Both now and next year. If Beltran is unable to produce in that role, he doesn’t have a whole lot to offer to the Yankees.

No. 12: Mark Teixeira

2015 Role: Everyday first baseman and middle of the order power bat. Unlike Beltran, Teixeira is a two-way player who is still an asset in the field. In fact, he might be more valuable in the field than at the plate these days. Teixeira put up a .216/.313/.398 (100 wRC+) batting line with 22 homers last season, though that was split into 17 homers and a 125 wRC+ in the first half and five homers with a 62 wRC+ in the second half. He fell off big time after the All-Star break.

Teixeira missed just about the entire 2013 season following wrist surgery and there’s at least some hope he’ll improve at the plate as he gets further away from the procedure. Wrist injuries are known to sap power for quite some team even after the player is cleared to play. Teixeira said he wasn’t strong enough last year, hence the second half fade, so he started his offseason workouts earlier this winter. That sounds nice but it may not mean anything at his age. His offense has been trending down for years, after all. We know Teixeira can still play a mean first base. But his offense is a major question.

Long-Term Role: More of the same. Teixeira is entering year seven of his eight-year contract and will continue to play first base and bat somewhere close to the middle of the order. Aside from Brian McCann, he is the team’s best power source, so at a minimum the Yankees would like to see some dingers out of Teixeira while they ride out the remainder of his contract. They acquired a nice backup plan in Garrett Jones — better than the “we’ll play anyone at first base” approach they had last year, anyway — and that was necessary given Teixeira’s continually mounting injury problems. He’s no longer an impact player, but the Yankees still need something out of him.

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

No. 11: CC Sabathia

2015 Role: Innings eater, if the Yankees are lucky. Sabathia’s days as an ace are almost certainly over, and at this point it’s unclear if he can even be counted on to chew up innings. A degenerative knee condition limited him to only eight starts last season, and eventually Sabathia needed a clean-up procedure, which was a positive only because he didn’t need a much more serious microfracture surgery.

The thing is, even when he was healthy in 2013, Sabathia wasn’t any good, pitching to a 4.78 ERA (4.10 FIP) in 211 innings. The innings are nice, the Yankees want a lot of innings from their erstwhile ace this coming season, but not when he’s allowing runs at that rate. Best case scenario, Sabathia replaces the 2014 version of Hiroki Kuroda, pitching to a league average-ish ERA and taking the ball every fifth date. Anything more would be gravy.

Long-Term Role: There are two years plus a vesting option left on Sabathia’s contract, so he’ll potentially be around through 2017. (The vesting option is based on the health of his shoulder, not his knee.) Three more years of the 2013-14 version of Sabathia would be very bad. The Yankees need him to salvage these next few years by at least staying healthy and eating innings every fifth day, even if he is nothing more than the de facto fifth starter.

If you want a reason why Sabathia might be effective this year, it’s that his strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%), walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%), and ground ball (48.3%) rates were all excellent before he went down with the knee injury last year. If he repeats those rates — they aren’t out of line with his 2011-13 performance — then he’ll have a better chance of keeping runs off the board. Sabathia is no longer an ace, but he is under contract for at least two more years, and the Yankees would like him to be a reliable part of their rotation during that time. Not want, really. Need.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 6-10. Five veteran players, including three position players expected to contribute both at the plate and in the field.

2014 Season Review: Broken at 1B without a backup

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

How durable was Mark Teixeira when the Yankees signed him after the 2008 season? Since his debut in 2003 he’d played in fewer than 145 games just once, when he appeared in 132 in 2007. He’d been on the DL just twice, totaling 41 games.

Even after he joined the Yankees, Teixeira stayed on the field. He averaged 155 starts from 2009 through 2011. Even in 2012 he didn’t miss a game until August. But that started a cascade.

As Teixeira tells it, the cascade actually started many years earlier, back in his Georgia Tech days. He broke his right ankle, causing him to miss considerable time. While he stayed on the field afterward, he feels, according to this Men’s Journal article, that the injury caused “a chronic overloading of the muscles and joints on his left side.”

An athlete in his prime can compensate and play through such issues.

An athlete at age 32? That’s a completely different story. While Teixeira took care to diagnose and rehab his underlying problems in the off-season before 2013, his efforts didn’t help him avoid a wrist injury that cost him essentially the entire season.

As we saw in 2014, Teixeira hasn’t shown much in the way of physical improvement since late 2012. Maybe missing a season left him out of game shape. Maybe he took it too easy on his surgically repaired wrist. Maybe the way he chose to rebuild his body wasn’t ideal. Whatever the case, Teixeira looked more broken down in 2014 than he did in even 2013. At least then he had a specific injury.

In 2014 Teixeira’s injuries ran the gamut:

  • Hamstring strain (his only DL stint)
  • Groin tightness
  • Wrist inflammation (to be expected)
  • Ribcage tightness
  • Back strain
  • Wrist soreness again (first the left, then the right)

And that’s not to mention the three games he missed when a catcher stepped on his finger, necessitating stitches. Not that it was his fault. (Well, other than him being slow enough that there was a play at the plate.)

All in all the injuries cost Teixeira 33 games (by Baseball Prospectus’s count). He started just 120.

He also produced the worst non-injury-decimated season of his career. His 101 OPS+ was a point lower than the 102 OPS+ he produced in his 2003 rookie campaign.

It’s not as though no one saw this coming. How much could the Yankees have reasonably expected from Teixeira after his late 2012 and 2013 season woes?

A lot, apparently, seeing as they didn’t bring in anyone as his backup.

The implicit vote of confidence cost the Yankees. Here’s a list of players who took reps at first base — previous games in parenthesis, 2014 games following.

Kelly Johnson (3) 27
Brian McCann (0) 16
Chase Headley (2) 7
Francisco Cervelli (0) 5
Brendan Ryan (0, duh) 5
Carlos Beltran (0) 1
Scott Sizemore (0) 2
Austin Romine (0 – though 13 at AAA in 2014) 1

To put that in clearer terms: the Yankees used eight players with a combined five games of MLB experience at first base — including six of whom had never played first in the majors — in 64 games.

Oops?

As was the case at second base, it’s not as though the Yankees had a ton of options to sign as a backup first baseman. They’d also need a candidate who can play another position, since there is no room on the roster for a dedicated backup first baseman. Someone like Lyle Overbay just wouldn’t make sense (especially when he has a chance at more playing time in Milwaukee). Mark Reynolds might have, but apparently he saw an opportunity for more time in Milwaukee as well.

Carlos Pena? He wasn’t half bad with the Astros last year — though he ended up being toast this year. Postseason Hero Travis Ishikawa was free to sign when Teixeira went on the DL in April. He had, uh, three games of outfield experience before this year. Pulling Doug Mientkiewicz out of retirement?

If we were still doing season reviews in the what went right/what went wrong format, clearly first base would have gone wrong. But the issue is as much the lack of a backup as it is Teixeira himself.

Given his failing health, it was a huge stretch to imagine that Tex could have started 150 games. I don’t think the Yankees planned on that. Yet given Tex is guaranteed to be in the lineup when healthy, they might have found trouble attracting a backup first baseman.

In terms of the effects on 2015 and beyond, though, Teixeira presents the largest problem. The Yankees can create a more solid backup plan this off-season. What they can’t do is replace Teixeira. They simply have to hope that, like David Ortiz and Jose Bautista before him, Teixeira fully recovers now that he is a full year removed from wrist surgery.

A man can dream, though. A man can dream.

(Difficult challenge: In the comments, don’t talk about: releasing Teixeira, how Tex is “soft,” how he always blames something other than himself. Seriously. You’ve beat all those, and more, to death.)

Teixeira “wasn’t strong enough” in 2014, begins early offseason workouts

Via Dan Barbarisi: Mark Teixeira has already started offseason workouts after admitting he wasn’t strong enough to get through this past season. “I just didn’t have the strength. The rotation wasn’t there. The explosiveness wasn’t there. I just wasn’t strong enough to get through the season,” he said. “I’m doing light workouts right now, and when I start hitting the weights heavy here in a couple weeks, I’ll be prepared. I’m not shutting it down for a month like I usually do.”

Teixeira, 34, hit .216/.313/.398 (100 wRC+) with 22 homers in 123 games this year, though after the All-Star break he could only muster a .179/.271/.302 (62 wRC+) line with five homers in 50 games. It’s worth noting both David Ortiz (2008) and Jose Bautista (2012) needed a full season to get back to where they were after suffering the same wrist tendon sheath injury as Teixeira. I don’t think the guy we saw in the second half is the real Teixeira but I’m also not convinced he’ll get back to being the ~120 wRC+ guy he was from 2010-12, before the injury. Either way, the Yankees are stuck with him for two more years and have to hope he will rebound going forward.

Injury Updates: Tanaka, Tex, Sabathia, Nova

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are dealing with a number of injuries as the season winds down, mostly on the position player side. Here are a few injury updates worth passing along, courtesy of Brendan Kuty, Dan Martin, and Chad Jennings.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) said he felt nothing more than “normal soreness” yesterday after making his return to the rotation on Sunday. He played catch as part of his usual between-starts routine and is scheduled to throw 80-85 pitches on Saturday. “Just the fact that I was able to throw yesterday and the fact I’m feeling good today (is encouraging),” said Tanaka yesterday. “Having the start coming up on Saturday, if I come out from that strong, then obviously that’s a positive. From where I am right now, I should be able to have a good offseason of training (and) I should be good to go for next season.”
  • Mark Teixeira (wrist) received his third cortisone shot of the season — it was administered in a different part of his wrist, which is why the doctors allowed it — and hopes to return to the lineup as soon as today. “This last week of the season, we’ll do whatever I can to stay out there and play every game. You never want to end the season hurt. You want to finish the season, so if I play the last five or six games, it’s worth it,” he said.
  • CC Sabathia (knee) played catch yesterday for the first time since having surgery in July. He plans to continue his throwing program and get back on a mound by Thanksgiving before shutting it down for the offseason and going into his usual winter routine. “I’ve been throwing a football a little bit. It feels good to come out here and not hide,” he joked.
  • Ivan Nova (elbow) is on a throwing program as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. “Nova’s rehab has went extremely well. He has had zero setbacks and has progressed very, very well,” said Joe Girardi.
  • There were no updates on Jacoby Ellsbury (hamstring) and Carlos Beltran (elbow) yesterday. Both remain day-to-day and are questionable to return before the end of the season.

Update: Mark Teixeira leaves game with sore wrist

6:16pm: Teixeira left the game with soreness in his right wrist, the Yankees announced. He is being evaluated by team doctor Dr. Ahmad.

5:41pm: Mark Teixeira left this afternoon’s game for an unknown reason in the fifth inning. I assume he’s hurt. Teixeira missed a game with soreness in his surgically repaired right wrist last week and someone told me he was flexing his wrist during one of his earlier at-bats this afternoon. I didn’t see it myself though. Stay tuned for any updates.

Teixeira blames injuries, down year on lack of a normal offseason

Prior to yesterday’s game, Mark Teixeira told reporters his nagging injuries and declining production this year are the result of having a restricted offseason following wrist surgery. “I’m really looking forward to getting stronger this offseason. That’s going to keep me healthier,” he said to Brendan Kuty. “Look, this year was not a year, health-wise, that I was happy about, so (a normal offseason) will keep me healthier and that’s going to improve performance, no doubt.”

Teixeira, 34, is down to .223/.322/.415 (106 wRC+) on the season, easily the worst full season of his career. I’m happy he thinks he can rebound with a normal offseason but I’m going to need to see it to believe it. Teixeira battled nagging injuries during the 2012 season — remember the cough? he also missed time with wrist and quad injuries that year — and he had a normal offseason before that. At this point I think he’s just an older player breaking down and seeing his production slip, which happens to most players in their mid-30s. I’d be thrilled if Teixeira rebounded in 2015. I just don’t see why I should think it will happen.