The weaknesses of Tex’s season show up a few different ways, depending upon how you interpret the numbers. First and foremost, his 2010 April was far and away the worst month of his career. His bad April made his slump appear as though it lasted longer into May and June than it actually did. This is the second consecutive season that Tex has gotten off to a terrible start for the Yankees, only his April 2010 was so bad that I’d trade it for his 2009 April in a New York minute.
In his post Friday morning Larry mentioned that he didn’t feel the Yankees absolutely had to sign CC Sabathia in the 2008-2009 offseason. Believe it or not, I felt the exact same way. The Yankees needed pitching, but they also needed a bat. I wanted Mark Teixeira the way the entire Yankee Universe now wants Cliff Lee.
Sabathia’s excellent performance as a Yankee aside, in 2009 Mark Teixeira was exactly what the Yankee offense needed: a high-average, high on-base, power hitter who plays excellent defense and is a good guy in the clubhouse.
As strong as Tex’s 2009 was, he still demonstrated clear weaknesses, notably a hideous performance in April and struggles hitting low breaking pitches when he bats left-handed. When Tex is hot, he’s the best hitter on the planet. When he’s cold, the Yankees may as well send only eight players up to bat.
Tex had a respectable 2010 season. It was a down year for a player who is building a potential Hall of Fame career, but that is a solid line on the back of almost any other player’s baseball card. Here’s how Tex did in 2010:
Tex needs to figure out a way to at least be an average hitter at the start of the season. In both 2009 and 2010 he demonstrated that a surge will come. His July and August in 2010 were nothing short of spectacular. had Tex not gotten hurt in September (and he deserves credit for soldiering through the pain) he may not have finished with much of a down season, but he wouldn’t have put himself in that position had he not OPS’d .559 in April. Fix that and the Yankees fix Tex.
Believe it or not, Tex was actually a perfectly fine starter until he came to the Yankees. In April 2005 he put up an OPS of .806. In 2006 his April OPS was .886. In 2007 it was .687. In 2008 it was .845. While none of those months approach the performance that Tex has put up on average for his career, given his propensity for supernova hot streaks, all of those Aprils except 2007 are just fine as well. Tex has it in him to get off to a decent start. He needs to do it in New York.
From a monthly breakdown perspective Mark did also have an awful September, but the conventional wisdom is that it was due to injury. In the span of a few games Tex broke the pinkie toe on his left foot and then suffered a deep bone bruise on his right thumb. That’s enough to knock anyone off his game, especially a player who takes so long to find a groove. (As an aside, I’ve gone to the batting cage and bruised my thumb and will be the first to say that it makes it impossible — IMPOSSIBLE — to swing a bat.) I’m not going to criticize a player for bad luck, so Tex gets a pass in September.
Tex’s poor season, however, also rears its head two other ways: He hit relatively poor left-handed and turned into 2010 Derek Jeter on the road (how the mighty have fallen). As a righty, Tex’s wOBA was an awesome .403. At home it was a stunning .416. As a lefty, the side of the plate where Tex gets most of his plate appearances, Tex’s wOBA was .350, which is meh, and bad for Tex. On the road, Tex put up only a .320 wOBA.
The road split may just be something the Yankees will have to deal with. Over the past three seasons, including his poor 2010, Tex has had an OPS of 1.003 at home and .835 on the road. He may be a guy who just likes having his family around and sleeping in his own bed. Its unfortunate, but forgivable.
The left-righty split is a bigger problem. Once again, averaging the last three seasons, including 2010, Tex has had an OPS of .912 as a lefty and .930 as a right in 1,229 at-bats from the left side versus only 555 at-bats from the right side. This means that through much of his career Tex has been that rare switch-hitter who is essentially the same from both sides of the plate, until 2010, when he became considerably worse left-handed. (Tex knew this, by the way; I recall during the start of the season Mark admitted during an interview that his lefty swing was messed up.) Fixing his lefty swing may be another, perhaps easier, approach to sorting out Tex’ struggles.
I predict Tex will have a season more in line with his career numbers in 2011. On September 2 of this past season his numbers hit a high water mark of .269/.373/.513, good for an .886 OPS. After that, he vanished, perhaps due to his penchant for awful slumps, but probably because he was suffering from injuries. Had he been healthy it can be argued that Tex would have come close to his season averages. For this reason it is safe to bet that he’ll bounce back, particularly since he will be turning 31 and should be solidly productive for a few more seasons. There is no reason to believe Tex will be anything worse than a .380-.400 wOBA hitter next season, which is what he’s been his entire career.