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Yankees mailbag: Defending Mark Teixeira
When it comes to Mark Teixeira, the eyes don't have it.
A couple of comments on an article I wrote about the impact of Teixeira missing at least the first month of the season because of injury grabbed my attention (the comments have been edited for spelling, grammar and clarity):
Respectfully, Teixeira has regressed as an offensive threat. As a lefty, he has become a one-dimensional, pull-happy hitter over the past two seasons and has shown no signs of wanting to change that approach. He has a very good glove and tries to play through pain, which I respect, but losing Teixeira's bat won't kill the Yankees' season.
Amen, brother. He's really turned into a pull happy, one dimensional, beer league softball player at the plate.
First of all, thanks for reading and commenting!
Second of all, what James23 and bubbamac1919 write about are common complaints regarding the switch-hitting Teixeira.
We all see it – or think we see it: Teixeira seemingly pulling fly ball after fly ball toward right field that, more often than not, die on the warning track. But how accurate are our eyes in this area?
Well, while he's been declining as a whole as a left-handed hitter during the past few seasons, Teixeira's still above average. His past four on-base plus slugging percentages as a left-handed hitter since joining the Yankees for the 2009 season: .951 (30 of 39 home runs), .799 (23 of 33), .779 (24 of 39), .770 (14 of 24). The MLB-average OPS was .719 in 2012 and the MLB-average OPS for left-handed hitters was .748. So even though Teixeira's 2012 OPS was a Yankees career-low, it was still above MLB average.
But Teixeira's issues don't come when pulling the ball as a left-handed hitter, as many observers may think.
When hitting the ball to right field as a left-handed hitter in 2012, Teixeira has a sterling 1.049 OPS. Yet that number dipped to a .510 OPS when hitting the ball to left field as a left-handed hitter and .a 573 OPS when driving the ball to center as a left-handed hitter. So much for the shift taking hits away from the Yankees first baseman.
And Teixeira isn't exactly swinging for the fences every time he steps into the left-handed batter's box, either. Only 26.9 percent of his balls in play to right field as a left-handed hitter were fly balls in 2012. Compare that with 79.4 percent of Teixeira's balls hit to left field as a left-handed hitter ending up as fly balls and 53.1 percent to center.
At Yankee Stadium, 38.2 percent of his BIP are fly balls overall when facing right-handed pitching. On the road, that number jumps to 45.2 percent. So Teixeira is actually launching the ball in the air more against righty pitching when he's NOT in the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, with its alluring right field porch.
The real problems for Teixeira are the exact opposite of what we perceive them to be. “Opposite” being the key word.
In 2012, 197 of Teixeira's at-bats ended up with him pulling the ball (regardless of which side of the plate he batted from). He hit .335 with 20 home runs. Teixeira had 119 at-bats end with a ball hit to center. He hit .311 with three home runs in those situations.
In 52 at-bats last season where Teixeira drove the ball to the opposite field, however, he hit a paltry .192 with one homer.
Small sample size? Certainly. But even expanding the 2012 stats to Teixeira's career numbers reveal an inability by Teixeira to post adequate numbers when he goes to the opposite field. In 2,355 career at-bats ending with him pulling the ball, he has a .392 average and 247 of his 338 home runs. Teixeira hit .340 with 62 home runs in 1,328 at-bats that ended with him sending a ball to center. But in 858 at-bats when Teixeira went to the opposite field, he has just a .239 average and 29 home runs.
Further, Teixeira posted a .658 average and .973 slugging percentage in 2012 on line drives and a .237 average and .777 slugging percentage on the popularly derided fly balls. But he has a .205 average (all singles) on ground balls. While a hitter's slugging percentage will obviously be anemic on ground balls simply because of the type of hit, it's worth examining these numbers to demonstrate just how effective Teixeira still is on fly balls.
Yet for all of his flaws as a hitter when going oppo or putting the ball on the ground, Teixeira was still incredibly impressive and skilled during a 2012 campaign that saw some of his normal rate stats (like home runs) dip due to injury. While working on an article last month presenting an argument for David Wright to become the Mets' leadoff hitter in 2013, I stumbled upon an interesting tidbit: In terms of some of the most important skills for a baseball player to have (centering around batting eye and contact capability), Teixeira was the top player on the Yankees and one of the top hitters in all of baseball.
There were only 20 batters in 2012 that posted at least MLB-average or better numbers in pitches per plate appearance, strikeout percentage, walk percentage and pitches put in play: Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker (Pirates), Ian Kinsler, David Murphy and Elvis Andrus (Rangers), Alejandro De Aza (White Sox), David DeJesus (Cubs), Wright (Mets), Matt Holliday (Cardinals), Matt Wieters (Orioles), Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays), Jamey Carroll (Twins), Ben Zobrist (Rays), Dustin Ackley (Mariners), Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals), Jason Kipnis (Indians), Martin Prado (then Braves, now Diamondbacks), Denard Span (then Twins, now Nationals), Jhonny Peralta (Tigers) and...
So the next time you watch Teixeira step into the left-handed batter's box and lift a long fly ball toward right field – no matter where it ends up – be glad he did.