What happened to Mark Teixeira?

After going 2-5 in the nightcap of yesterday’s 1.5 game header against the Twins, Mark Teixeira is now batting .210/.322/.370 on the season. Comparisons to last year’s pace, and the slow start that came with it, are no longer valid. After 46 games last season Tex was earning his paycheck, hitting .271 with a .966 OPS.

Tex has made 211 PAs in 2010, versus 707 all of last year. Stat-minded fans, such as myself, can no longer claim a small sample when talking about Tex’s performance. The rule of thumb in statistics is that a small sample is 30 or fewer observations. Tex’s resurgence in early May was a borderline small sample. His season to date is not, and can therefore be compared to his 2009 season.
The data below are taken from Fangraphs, and compare a variety of relevant offensive metrics from the 2009 and 2010 seasons:

My conclusion after examining these data does not support my hypothesis. My hypothesis had been that Tex’s season to date would provide evidence that he was doing something new that would be identifiable in the data. My conclusion is that he just ain’t hitting the ball right, but his approach is mostly the same.
His BABIP is well below both his 2009 and career numbers. To a certain extent this indicates Tex is getting unlucky, but I’m more inclined to argue that he is making weaker contact on pitches he usually hammers. This plays out in the kinds of hits he’s producing. He’s hitting slightly fewer line drives and more ground balls, and the balls he’s hitting in the air are carrying for homers at a greatly reduced rate. All of these outcomes can be attributed to hitting the ball poorly, versus past performance. They would also lower his BABIP.
Pitchers have noticed that Tex is not making his usual contact. Whereas last year pitchers would feed Mark a steady diet of breaking balls when they feared him, this year he’s seeing more fastballs and cutters — pitches that mostly stay in the zone. He’s seeing fewer breaking pitches, indicating that pitchers feel confident they can get him out with the fastball.
Tex appears to be seeing the ball well. He is getting more pitches in the strike zone, and swinging at them more. He’s also making contact more often when he swings, on pitches inside and outside the strike zone. The increased contact may help explain the lower BABIP. It may be that he’s overanxious, making weaker contact on marginal (and in some cases bad) pitches, and putting them in play for easier outs.
The increase in fastballs may also explain why Tex is getting more first pitch strikes this year. The problem here is that Tex tends to take the first pitch, which is a good habit, but it’s also putting him down in the count immediately.
Finally, Tex is both striking out and walking more. The strikeouts make sense. As stated above, Tex is getting more pitches to hit, but he’s not hitting them. Many of these pitches in the zone will result in strikeouts. With respect to increased walks, it may be that Tex is looking to walk more often, to compensate for his poor hitting.
My hope entering this analysis was to find an obvious flaw in Tex’s game, perhaps too many ground balls (or too few). On the whole, while there are some differences between this year and last, there are not many. The differences that do exist should point to a better season. Tex is seeing more fastballs (down to 91.1 mph on average from 91.4 mph last year, by the way) and should be crushing them. He’s not, and his numbers are suffering. Whatever the cause for the poor contact, hopefully Kevin Long and Mark can figure this out soon. After yesterday’s game, perhaps they have.

2 thoughts on “What happened to Mark Teixeira?

  1. I made the argument a few weeks ago, to the dismay of many, that if Tex's "Usual" slow starts get longer and longer that he will have less and less time to recover, which over the course of an 8 year contract could lead to some poor performance years and some unhappy fans. Many thought I was crazy but I was simply pointing it out as a possibility. Now, despite making the argument, I sincerely think this year is an outlier year and many of the things Mike mentions (ex. more fastballs in the zone and less breaking pitches, looking for more walks as he is less confident swinging, etc.) may be a result of Tex changing his approach as well as the pitchers changing theirs. When someone is at the plate with confidence, they are more likely to get a hit and vice versa with a pitcher on the mound. Once he gets a long enough hot streak, I believe (I hope really) that pitchers will begin to respect him again and he will be able to approach ABs the same way he has for the last how-ever-many years of his career. Depending on how hot the streak is…this may be a down year for tex but he is too talented of a hitter to fall off at this age. There are some players that never have that down year, which to their credit is a difficult feat. When I think of $180 Million dollar star players, I expect certain results year in and year out. Its time to hit that hot streak and shut everybody up. I don't want to be right.

  2. Eric, great comment. I couldn't agree more. The difference between David Ortiz last year and Mark Teixeira last year was the length and severity of their slumps to start the season. Tex still has time to put up a good year. If he can hit .310/.400/.600 the rest of the way come July no one will care about the slow start. His problem this year is that his slow start was more severe than ever before, and he didn't get hot enough in May to boost his numbers. If in a month's time he's still not hitting like the 4th richest player in baseball, I would expect a shakeup of some fashion.