When the Yankees brought Mark Teixeira into Yankee Stadium, they believed his left handed power would play well with the right field porch. When pulling the ball from the left side, in 2009 and 2010 the first baseman hit .408 and .398 respectively. But the batting average dropped to .337 in 2011, a big enough decline to concern Teixeira, who began questioning his approach at the plate. In early spring training, he believed that extreme shifts were causing his batting average to drop dramatically, and threatened to lay down some shift-preventative bunts.
However, Teixeira seemed to forget about the bunt idea early on in March, and instead altered his swing. Whatever changes he made, the goal was to hit more balls to the opposite field, and thus stop defenses from shifting his usual pull style approach. It led to a terrible month of April where he hit .244/.290/.395. While the batting average isn’t far from what we’ve seen from him over the last two years, he was walking less and hitting for very little power. Early May wasn’t much better, which caused Teixeira to dump his new approach.
May 20th marked the return of the pull-heavy swing, and since then he’s hitting .273/.368/.541 with 15 homeruns. July has been his best month so far, and although his K% ranked highest all season, he posted a .423 wOBA and a .333 ISO. This is all thanks to his pull heavy approach from the left side, which is now yielding a .355/.349/.664 triple slash.
While the shift certainly isn’t helping Teixeira, changing the swing that earned him a $180 million contract had an even worse impact. The low average in 2011 was certainly something to analyze, but in retrospect it appears to have been small sample size. The numbers are rebounding in 2012, which means the shift is simply not a big deal.
The bigger issue lies with his batted ball batting averages. Teixeira’s BABIP is down for a third straight year, but his batted ball rates have remained the same.
Considering the gradual decline in batting average on fly balls and linedrives, there is some level of concern that Teixeira isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he used to. The 2012 season is however tainted by the first month and a half of experimenting with his new swing. Regardless, the problem in 2012, as illustrated by the graph above, is not with groundballs. While some linedrives will be impacted, the goal of the shift is to prevent hard hit groundballs from squeezing through an infield hole. The fact that he’s hitting for a better average on groundballs this year than his career numbers, suggests the shift has been ineffective in 2012.
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