Mark Teixeira has suggested bunting to beat the shift, and I for one, can’t help but laugh at that notion. You have to do what you can to help the team however the Yankees are not paying him millions to become Juan Pierre.
There have been many negative reactions to how Tex has performed the past couple of years and I get it. People are upset with a guy who annually hits 30 home runs all the while hitting .240 with a steadily declining OBP. It’s not supposed to happen that way. Just like Adam Dunn wasn’t supposed to hit .142.
While this topic has been beaten into the ground by numerous Yankee blogs, I want to give a different, positive take on this. Tex noticed a problem with his approach at the plate and has gone about correcting the issue this offseason. His problem from the left side is pulling the outside pitch. I’m not a hitting expert but I’ve been to enough lessons and practices to tell you from a basic standpoint that most of what a hitter does mechanically is thrown off when you start pulling the outside pitch. I am downright giddy at the idea that Tex has accepted his declining average as a challenge and dedicated his offseason to improving the one knock on his game. Call me an optimist, but I see him hitting this year like he first did in the new Stadium (.292/.383/.563).
Hitting is mental, mechanical, and physical. Adjustments become the biggest part in keeping harmony between the three (see: Granderson, Curtis and Long, Kevin). The intangibles are often overlooked when we analyze statistics. We have data expressing Teixeira’s decline in average, how he hits balls to the off-field, and more. His AVG, OPS, and BABIP all have declined the last two seasons (which it seems like he’s due for some luck). However, we can speculate why that is. We can infer and make very smart and educated guesses about why but I want to look at this from a player’s perspective, more importantly his, ‘I’m still going to pull the ball. My natural reaction to an inside fastball or a hanging curveball is to pull it. But maybe those down-and-away fastballs, where I’m hitting line drives right at the second baseman in right field, maybe I’ll take that ball to left field a little bit more and get some singles.’ This attitude is extremely good news for the Yankees and let me explain why.
The off-field is described as the range from center field to the opposite field. The opposite field for a left-handed hitter is left field and right field for a right-handed hitter. For all batted balls from the left side of the plate in 2011, Teixeira hit zero Home Runs to the off-field in 146 At-Bats. ZERO. I will spare the advanced analysis for later but just know that’s horrible. Let’s use the top 10 home run hitters from the previous three years to analyze how bad that is. Here’s a list in case you couldn’t remember who was in the top 10. Don’t worry, I couldn’t.
*When looking at this list, I had to take information with a grain of salt. I am not taking into consideration ballpark factors, injuries, type of hitter, etc. I wanted to look at home runs and not average because it’s why Tex gets paid the big bucks: to hit home runs not to be Brett Gardner.
Using this small sample size, we can infer some things here. In 2009, we could expect one home run for every 11 balls hit to the off-field or nine percent of the time. Teixeira was well below the average of the group.
Again in 2010, he was well below the group average of one in every 15 (6%). We see here that Tex is awful at hitting the ball for power to the off-field yet he has been a constant in the top 10 in HR’s the last three years. I presented this graph using these stats because it is easy enough to understand; Tex simply was bad at going the other way last year. He did not hit a home run to center or left field last year. This should change with his improved plate discipline and I assume he and Kevin Long will continue to work on this approach.
With the power Mark Teixeira has, look for his abysmal BABIP (.239) to increase back to his career averages even though his Fly Ball percentage has increased. This, along with an approach to hit to the opposite field against the shift should result in more hits and if a power guy like Tex can get a hold of a few in a hitter-friendly park, we could expect those off-field home run numbers to increase.
Mark Teixeira is a hard worker and that’s been well documented, as he dropped 15 pounds this offseason. He’s going to be locked in. Even with the stiff competition he’ll face, we could be looking at the 2012 AL MVP.