Mark Teixeira may represent the biggest boom or bust player on the Yankees for 2014. After a down year in 2012 and a major wrist injury in early 2013, the slugger is two years removed from his last truly great season. Will the first baseman succumb to his nagging wrist, or will he rebound to the $22.5 million player that he showed in his first three seasons with the Yankees?
After a considerable drop in batting average in 2010 and 2011, Teixeira grew frustrated with the infield shifts put on him by teams like the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2012, the switch-hitter attempted to change his left-handed approach at the plate. The goal was to stay back on some pitches, and thus use all fields and prevent the heavy shifts to the right side of the infield. With this style, Teixeira hit just .228/.283/.386 with 5 home runs in 159 plate appearances. Frustrated with the lack of results, Teixeira went back to his pull-heavy approach in late-May of 2012 and thereafter hit .261/.353/.516 in his final 365 plate appearances.
In preparation for the 2013 WBC in early March, Teixeira strained a tendon in his wrist. The doctors saw a minor tear, and believed that given a couple months off, Teixeira could prevent surgery. When the first baseman returned in June of 2013, he hit just .151/.270/.340 in 63 plate appearances before Kevin Long admitted to reporters that Teixeira’s wrist issues might not be over. The Yankees had him re-evaluated, and the under the inflammation, Teixeira’s tendon sheath did not heal. He underwent season ending surgery, and only a few weeks ago did he finally start hitting baseballs again.
While Teixeira recognizes that the surgery was major, he also still feels stiffness and tightness in that right wrist. But according to doctors, Teixeira hasn’t had any setbacks, he’s pain-free, and the tightness is something that should be expected for this type of surgery. As the first baseman continues to work on his swing, that discomfort should go away, and Teixeira hopes that he’ll be 100% by opening day.
In projecting him, it’s impossible to tell whether or not his injury will re-occur. If we went with the odds, with the rate of success for such a professional medical and training staff, it’s probably more likely than not that he’ll recover just fine. After last season, most fans would lean pessimistic on those chances. If he rebounds successfully, there’s no reason he can’t return to his second-half of 2012 numbers, but if he doesn’t, there’s still a little bit of hope that’s rarely talked about.
Even with inflammation and a torn tendon sheath, the switch-hitter looked unfazed by his wrist injury from the right side of the plate. In a limited 23 plate appearances in mid-June of 2013, he hit .278/.435/.500 from the right side. While it would be a major hit to the Yankees to lose a switch-hitting first baseman, and another major hit in losing that power as a left-handed hitter, Teixeira could get creative if the worst case scenario happens to his wrist. Batting strictly from the right-side would take time to learn, as he’s taken just 31 plate appearances versus right-handed batters from the right-side of the plate in his career, but it’s a fall back plan that probably wouldn’t end in a disastrous final three seasons of his Yankee contract.
I do think that he’ll recover from his wrist, and when he does, he’ll regress just slightly from what he did after his swing changed in 2012. I’ll put his slash at .250/.350/.490, which isn’t too overly optimistic from Steamer’s projection of .247/.341/.465 or ZiPS projection of .248/.340/.464. In the case that his injury does re-occur, I still think he’ll perform well strictly from the right side of the plate, and I’ll put that slash at .270/.360/.440.