There have been a number of different offensive story lines this season for the Yankees. The biggest three have been the monster year Curtis Granderson is having so far, and the miserable years Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada are putting together. These Yankees are getting a lot of attention because they are not doing what we expect from them. One guy is exceeding his expectations, while the other two are performing below expectations. In this environment it’s easy to over look perhaps the one Yankee in the starting lineup who is doing precisely what the team expects from him: Mark Teixeira. So far this season, coming into Sunday’s game, Tex has a 150 OPS+ and a .399 wOBA. More of that, please.
During the 2009 offseason there was no player I wanted the Yankees to sign more than Mark Teixeira. I knew the Yankees were going to land CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, but the 2008 Yankees had also struggled to score runs. The team’s need for pitching was obvious, which was precisely why the team also needed to pay attention to its need for hitting. Tex’s signing was a red-letter-day for me as a Yankee fan.
Tex has had a good but not great ride in the Bronx. Yankee fans are unforgiving to say the least, and Tex is prone to horrible slumps. As a result, it is unclear where he sits with fans. His 2009 season, which was a banner year for him, was sandwiched between a terrible April and a disappearing act in the playoffs. If the key to show business is how you open and how you finish (and baseball is a form of show business) then Mark made the mistake of peaking in the middle of his introductory performance.
2010, meanwhile, was a disappointing season. Tex managed to get his counting stats where he needed them to be, but his rate stats struggled. The Yankees pay him to be one of the two or three best firstbasemen in baseball. He wasn’t that last year, and received deserved criticism.
Since then, he’s blended into the Yankee community. He’s not struggling like Jeter. He’s not underperfroming while being over paid like Alex Rodriguez. He’s doing his job, which is why he hasn’t received much attention yet this season. Let me be the first to say that Tex is having a great year.
The data below are taken from Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. They exclude Sunday’s game. His career rate of hitting homers and doubles is calculated as his career totals, divided by the number of games he’s played in his career, multiplied by the number of games he’s on pace to play this season.
So far this season, Tex is having the quietist .920 OPS, 15 homer (49 season long pace), 150 OPS+, .399 wOBA season in recent memory. Given that he’s been on a power surge, he’s probably going to get more attention soon, but the main reason Tex hasn’t gotten the attention he’s deserved yet this year is probably because of his relatively low, .259 AVG. Baseball analysts still look at that stat, when they shouldn’t. The Yankees pay Tex to do two things with the bat: hit for power and, failing that, get on base. To which I say, through almost one third of the season, well done Mr. Teixeira.
I would take a season of this production from Tex in a heart beat. Who wouldn’t take a .920 OPS season from anyone? Lost in this, however, is a bit of change, if not in Tex’s approach, then in his results. According to ESPN, he’s currently on pace to hit 49 homers (which would be a monster career high) and only 26 doubles, which is considerably fewer than the rate at which he has hit doubles throughout his career.
The effects of this change are showing up in his stat line. Typically a player on pace to hit about 50 homers will have an SLG above .600. This is what’s taking place with Curtis Granderson. It is therefore surprising that Tex is not slugging above .600 when he’s hitting so many home runs. The explanation is that he’s getting fewer hits in general. He’s maintaining the elevated discipline he demonstrated last season (the one good thing to come from last season with respect to his career trends) while seeing more of the pitches he decides to swing at either wind up in the seats, or result in outs. In effect, Tex has traded some AVG for more homers and walks, which also explains his incredibly low BABIP in 2011.
Here’s a closer look at what he’s done this season, in terms of walk rates and pitch effectiveness. As with the table above, I’m including all of Tex’s seasons with the Yankees for the sake of comparison.
Tex’s numbers this season confirm the kind of change one would expect from his more traditional stat line. He’s increased his walk rate, but he’s also hitting fewer line drives, more flies, and seeing more of those fly balls turn into homers. As a result, his OBP and SLG are just about in line with his career norms, but his AVG and BABIP are low. He’s hitting more homers, but far fewer doubles.
Two things stand out to me with respect to how effective he’s been against various pitch types. First, he’s murdering sliders, something Fangraphs suggests he began doing last season. While I’m not sure if this will sustain itself, I’m going to enjoy the ride. Someone on this team needs to be able to hit that pitch.
Second, his poison is the curveball, not the changeup. All Yankee fans have that image of Tex swinging over an off speed pitch in the dirt burnt into our minds. It turns out he’s chasing the curve, not the change. Unsurprisingly, he has become less effective against the curve each season in the Bronx. What is surprising is that he’s been so effective this year against the changeup. As with the slider, it is difficult to determine if this improvement will last, so let’s just enjoy it while its here.
Last season was an outlier for Mark Teixeira, when compared to his career production. A variety of different changes emerged, most of them bad. So far this season, Tex has righted the ship. His production thus far, in terms of my favorite two offensive stats, OPS+ and wOBA, is in line with his best seasons as a pro. What is interesting is that Tex has put this start together in such an unusual fashion, given his career trends. He’s maintained the increased walk rate from last season, while he’s learned to over come his decreased BABIP. He has also managed so far to avoid the horrible slumps he has so frequently displayed in the early parts of the season.
It is possible that Tex will see a correction toward his career norms as the season progresses, but it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t. These are excellent trends. For my part I believe all this augurs well for Tex. Just about every season in his career, including last season, he has strung together a couple of months in which he’s been the best hitter in baseball. That hasn’t come yet. If it does, look out. If it doesn’t, who cares? The dude is a .920 OPS player right now.