When the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira to an 8-year, $180 million contract in the 2008-2009 offseason, they knew fully well that they were getting a hitter who liked to pull the ball. Like Jason Giambi, his predecessor at first base, it was believed that his superb power would make up for a batting average that was likely to decline throughout the deal, especially with the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. However, Teixeira’s 2014 line of .215/.305/.413 against righties was probably not what they had in mind for their switch-hitting first baseman.
Naturally, many have jumped to blame Teixeira’s woes on the drastic defensive shift that is employed when he hits left-handed. But the shift was there in 2009, when Teixeira finished 2nd in the AL MVP voting with a .292/.383/.565 line and 39 home runs. The fact is Mark Teixeira, spray chart included, was once good enough of a hitter to earn a $180 million contract. Defenses could basically know where he was going to hit the ball and still shook in their boots when he came up to bat.
However, one factor has not remained constant: Teixeira’s production against fastballs. In his prime, Teixeira wasn’t just good against heaters: from 2003-2012, his wFB/C of 1.70 ranks 16th among qualified hitters. But his numbers against fastballs has consistently diminished during his Yankee years. Brooks Baseball gives some additional information (note: wFB/C is from FanGraphs and is not against RHP only):
|Mark Teixeira vs. RHP|
2014 saw Teixeira whiffing on more fastballs then ever before and hitting more grounders when he did make contact. Even more alarming is the fact that his wFB/C is negative, suggesting that he was a liability against what was once his favorite pitch. Baseball Savant shows a similar downward trend against righties throwing four seam fastballs, two seam fastballs, cutters, or sinkers:
|Mark Teixeira v. RHP|
Teixeira’s decreasing offensive value makes sense when one considers the fact that what was once his greatest strength as a hitter is now a weakness. And considering the fact that FanGraphs has had pitchers throwing 57.8% fastballs to Teixeira throughout his career, it is definitely not a problem that can be avoided by trying to do damage against other pitches. However, this trend also suggests that Teixeira, who put up wRC+’s of 142, 128, 124, and 116 in the first 4 years of his deal, can become a force on offense again if he can start hitting heaters like he used to.
Unfortunately, I have
very little no expertise that can assuredly help Teixeira regain his prowess against fastballs. The only “shot in the dark” idea I have for Teixeira is for him to level out his notorious uppercut swing. The fact that Teixiera is whiffing on more fastballs and hitting more groundballs suggests that his ability to make solid contact has diminished with age and injury. Straightening the path of his swing would give him more of a margin for error.
He could maintain his power by guessing on more pitches, which is what I believe fellow Yankee Brett Gardner did in 2014, when he hit 17 of his 40 career home runs. According to Baseball Savant, 15 of his 17 home runs came from four seam fastballs, two seam fastballs, sinkers or cutters. The fact that all of them were pulled to right field, despite greater velocity, leads me to believe that Gardner was sitting on them more often than not.
Alternatively Teixeira’s lingering wrist injury (which is why I left his 15-game 2013 season off the tables above) might be making it harder for him to turn on pitches with high velocity. Conversely, Teixeira could be correct in suggesting that a full offseason workout program could allow him to return to form. In any case, Teixeira needs to regain his ability to destroy fastballs if he has any hope of being a force on offense again.