It would be folly to read too much into what Mark Teixeira has done through his first five games this season because his performance could absolutely turn on a dime. Tex is a streaky hitter and the baseball record books are filled with seasons in which players were hot for the first 80 games (never mind five) before their performances tailed off for a variety of reasons.
That being said, this is as good a time as any to point out that Mark is batting .333/.455/1.000 through Tuesday night’s game. In 2009 he was batting .211/.333/.474 through his fifth game (which was not the team’s because he missed a few) while in 2010 he was just awful through his first five games, hitting .150/.292/.200. As far as season starts are concerned, this is far and away the best Tex has done in a Yankee uniform in his first handful of games.
Tex’s performance so far made me curious to understand just how severe his April slumps have been in the past. That curiosity led me to break down his wOBAs, by month, for each season of his career. My goals were first to determine if there is as much truth to the rumor of Tex’s annual slow starts as the sports media would indicate and second, to understand better how Tex accumulates his impressive season stats year-after-year. For the record, Tex is a .388 career wOBA hitter.
The first thing that jumps out at me is that there really is truth to this. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Mark has been an awful hitter every April for his career, but clearly with the exception of 2004 and 2006, he has hit below his career standards in the first month of the season, with 2010 being absolutely, positively the worst start of his career. The second thing that jumps out at me is that Tex typically ends the season strong. Apart from his rookie season, and last season when he was injured, he has never had a wOBA less than .381 in August or September.
The last thing these data tell me is that I’ve been wrong in one of my long-held convictions about Tex. I’ve often said that he is not the kind of hitter who can turn it on and have a month similar to the one Robinson Cano had last season in April, a month that saw Robbie post a .497 wOBA. That’s simply not true. Tex may have never put up a .497 wOBA, but he has posted wOBAs above .480 three separate months in his career and has sustained periods of two or three consecutive months during which time he was clearly among the best hitters in baseball. (Note: Tex did post a .558 wOBA in June 2007, but was injured that month and played only 7 games.)
Since joining the Yankees it has often been said of Tex that he would lock down the MVP if he could just avoid his early season struggles (which, by the way, is similar to saying that Nick Swisher would be the best player in baseball if he were just better at baseball, but I digress). The numbers also suggest that may not be true. In 2004, Tex avoided his slump in April, but he only managed to put it off until May. He avoided the slump again in 2006, and then struggled in May and June. This means that even if Tex has a monster April, one on par with his 2004 April, there is evidence to suggest that his struggles instead will come later on in the first half of the season.
Tex’s three best seasons, in order, were 2008, when he posted 7.3 fWAR, 2005 when he posted 5.9 fWAR and 2009 when he posted 5.4 fWAR. In each of those seasons Tex performed below his career standards in at least April, before turning on the jets for the remainder of the season. In none of those years did he struggle as much at the start of the season as he did in 2010, but he also wasn’t lights-out at the beginning of the year either. It is far too early in April to begin drawing conclusions about what Tex’s numbers will look like this month, let alone at season’s end, but, if his past seasons’ performances are any indicator, a lights-out April may not automatically translate into an MVP-caliber season.
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