When May came to a close, Mark Teixeira was batting .242/.370/.477 with 9 HR and a 136 wRC+ in 154 PA, and all was well in the world. In the depressed run environment that is 2014, those numbers–prorated over the full season, of course–would represent Teixeira’s best season since 2009, his first with the Yankees. And nothing about the numbers seemed terribly flukish, either. He was walking in 14.9% of his PA, his BABIP was .256, his HR/FB was 24.3% (which would represent a career-high, yet is not an absurd number), and his batted ball and plate discipline numbers were right in-line with career norms.
In short, it seemed like the Teixeira that we had grown to love in 2009 was mostly back. Or, at the very least, that the battered and broken Teixeira of 2012 and 2013 had healed.
Forty days later and 139 PA later, Teixeira is batting .241/.338/.470 with a 122 wRC+ on the year. What happened?
The simplest explanation is “regression.” Over those 139 subsequent PA, Teixeira has hit .240/.301/.463, with a 106 wRC+. His walk rate halved, to 7.4%, his BABIP dropped thirty points, and…well, surprisingly, his HR/FB remained at a stout 21.1%. His batted ball profile was roughly the same, as well, with Teixeira swapping a few flyballs and grounders out for some line drives. That may seem counter-intuitive, as his BABIP dropped. But, remember Teixeira is one of the slowest players in the Majors while facing drastic infield shifts.
Can this regression be explained further? Or, is it simply a matter of Teixeira reverting to the player he was from 2010 through 2012?
Over the past several weeks, Teixeira has been swinging at more pitches (from 41.6% to 42.7%), and making more contact (80.2% to 82.6%). If he’s swinging more and hitting more, then what’s the problem? It may well be that he’s making contact with worse pitches. The biggest reason behind the 2.4% increase in Teixeira’s contact rate is that he’s hitting more balls out of the zone. To wit, through May 31, he was making contact with 64.2% of pitches that he swung at outside of the zone. Since then, that number has risen to 74.4% – a fairly dramatic increase to say the least. It seems likely that the increase in the quantity of contact, despite the increase in line drives, is likely being offset by its quality.
It also appears that pitchers have dramatically altered their approach in attacking Teixeira. Over the last six weeks, Teixeira has seen more fastballs (from 48.2% to 53.2% of pitches) and change-ups (10.4% to 12.6%), and fewer breaking balls (22.1% to 17.9%). It is a not-terribly-well-kept secret that Teixeira is a dead-red fastball hitter, and most every Yankees fan has berated him through their television for swinging at change-ups in the dirt. If he is seeing more of these pitches, and less of those with spin that are ofttimes easier to lay off of (at least for him), that could explain the discrepancy in his swing rate and the quality of his contact.
The obvious caveat here is that this is all conjecture, based on small sample sizes. At the same time, however, Teixeira is one of the most important hitters in the Yankees lineup, as the only legitimate source of power remaining on the roster, and his ability to adjust and recapture the form that had him looking like the $22.5 MM man once more is integral to the team’s success. Identifying the problem is the first step in doing so.
– All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.