Mark Teixeira has had a terrific start to his season and it is absolutely necessary for him to come close sustaining it if the Yankees are going to be contending for the playoffs this season. The question is whether his start is truly sustainable, as he has had some strange quirks so far.
Teixeira has a slash line of .241/.361/.655/1.016 with a .406 wOBA and a 160 wRC+, which would be an MVP caliber stat line if carried out over a full season. Obviously, nobody is expecting for Teixeira to be an MVP candidate, so there will be regression.
The good news is Teixeira's BABIP is a very low at .200, so he has not gotten lucky at all. His BABIP will probably never be very high anymore because of the shift, but you would still expect to be around .250 at least, which isn't very good but still 50 points higher than where he is now.
Teixiera has been doing this with extra-base hits and walks, which has to be his formula at this point in his career. Six of his seven hits so far have gone for extra bases, which is awesome because obviously extra-base hits are more valuable than singles. However, you don't want singles to be eliminated entirely because it will be tough to keep up this pace of extra-base hits. Teixeira hitting a home run once every 9.67 at-bats is not a sustainable pace.
The walk rate for Teixiera is also not likely sustainable at 16.7 percent. He has a great eye and he will continue to walk at a very good rate, but 16.7 percent is over five points better than his 11.4 percent career average.
One other issue with Teixeira's start are his lefty/righty splits. He has mashed from the right side, as he has hit all three home runs right-handed and is even hitting .333 from the right side. Meanwhile, Teixeira only has two hits against six strikeouts batting lefty. The Yankees are so left-handed based that they need Teixeira to keep killing lefty pitchers from the right side, but the majority of his at-bats will come batting lefty and his numbers will have to pick up there.
Here are Teixeira's heat maps batting lefty and righty.
The heat map supports the observations that I have seen with my eyes over the years that the easy way to get Teixeira out batting lefty is to pound him with offspeed pitches down and away. So far this season, Teixeira only has one hit against an offspeed pitch and has a 45 percent whiff rate. I don't know why pitchers would bother throwing him anything else left handed, as it usually is an automatic grounder into the shift or a whiff. This heat map really backs that up.
I generally do not have much problem with Teixeira's stubbornness when it comes to the shift. Average fans do not realize how hard it is to go the other way when you have been a pull hitter your whole life. It's not that easy to just go the other way against MLB pitching. There are times when it's a good idea, but generally he should stick with the approach that is comfortable for him. Last year Teixeira made a conscious effort to go the other way and it just resulted in lazy fly balls to left field.
However, on these soft pitches down and away Teixeira has to change his approach. These pitches generally cannot be hit for pull extra-base hits and are just pounded into the ground. These are the ones that he needs to wait on that extra second and shoot them on the ground towards the third base line. This is why Teixeira has had so much trouble with changeup pitchers like James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez during his time with the Yankees. Any other pitch I'm fine with him going for an extra-base hit pulling the ball, because that's what he's good at and that's what he gets paid to do.
Teixeira certainly looks healthy with his wrist and it has showed in his performance thus far. He's not going to keep up this pace, but if he can just put up similar numbers to his 2010 and 2011 seasons hitting over 30 home runs and driving in over 100 runs with around a .340 OBP it would be a big win for the Yankees. However, to be able to do that he will need to figure it out batting lefty as well as righty.