Mark Teixeira was everything the Yankees hoped for in 2009. He led the AL in home runs and RBI, with 39 and 122 respectively, while batting .292/.383/.565, on his way to a 5.4 fWAR season. Despite this excellent performance, it was obvious even in his first season in pinstripes that Teixeira has flaws in his game.
No flaw is more well known that Teixeira’s notorious slow starts. He came to the Yankees with a reputation for starting cold, and proceeded to earn it, posting a measly .330 wOBA in April of that season. He bounced back phenomenally in May, with an other-wordly .471 wOBA that month, but for many fans the damage was done. The image of Tex flailing hopelessly at curveballs in the dirt was burnt into our minds.
Things got worse in 2010. Teixeira had a good season for an ordinary player, but a disappointing one by his lofty standards. In the process, he revealed a number of different flaws in his game. Predictably, his slow start was first on the list. Tex managed only a .270 wOBA in April 2010, making it the worst month of his career. Unlike in 2009, Tex didn’t bounce back as quickly in May. His May and June wOBAs of .365 and .352, respectively, were decent, but that wasn’t enough to erase Teixeira’s god-awful start. It wasn’t until July and August, when Mark was supernova hot, that his numbers became respectable again. Had he not injured himself in September he probably would have posted a season more in line with his career averages.
Digging a bit deeper in Tex’s 2010 performance shows a tale of two players, one great, another just average. First, Teixeira hit much better right-handed than left-handed. His righty wOBA was .403 while his lefty wOBA was only .350. This is a bigger problem than it may seem because switch hitters take most of their swings from the left side. Furthermore, it was a new development for Teixeira. Mark is a career .382 wOBA lefty hitter and .398 wOBA righty hitter. That fairly even performance from either side of the plate is a big part of the value Teixeira typically provides.
Tex also demonstrated a significant home-road split in 2010. Mark was a monster in Yankee Stadium, putting up a .416 wOBA, just slightly better than his .411 career performance in home ballparks. On the road, however, Tex’s wOBA was only .320, well below his career .364 road numbers. While Mark historically seems to be a player who prefers to sleep in his own bed, the difference between his home and road performance was more pronounced in 2010 than it was in any season since his rookie year.
Finally, in 2010 Tex’s weakness against the curveball was the worst its ever been. For his career Mark has never been a great curveball hitter, the way he is against the fastball, but he has also managed to be replacement level or slightly better most seasons against the pitch. That changed in 2009, when Tex was worth -1.4 runs against the curve, the first time he’d posted a negative total in his career. That trend worsened to -2.8 runs in 2010. For his career Tex has seen curveballs 10% of the time, making the weakness a genuine liability to the Yankees.
Of all the Yankees who had down seasons in 2010, Tex is the most likely to bounce back to form in 2011 because he’s the youngest. If Tex is going to improve on his 2010 numbers then he will need to address all of the issues cited above. First and foremost, he needs to work with the Yankee coaches to address and correct his slow starts, whether that means hitting better on the road, or as a lefty, or both. He’s done it in the past. As recently as 2008 he posted a .341 wOBA in April, which isn’t what the Yankees need from Teixeira for the season, but would be a vast improvement on his April numbers in either of the past two seasons. Given that Tex has been prone to ice-cold and lava-hot streaks his whole career, even that much of a slight improvement could set him up to have a monster season when the annual explosion comes.
Mark Teixeira had a solid season in 2010. The problem is that he is expected to have monster seasons, not solid ones. Fortunately, just about every forecasting system in baseball projects a bounce back year from Teixeira in 2011. While most analysts will be looking at his overall performance in April to see if Tex is due to have another MVP-caliber season, his performance on the road, left-handed and versus the curveball will be just as telling.