Time For Teixeira To Produce
As the Yankees move closer to opening day, there are more concerns and questions now than there were when spring training began. Joba Chamberlain‘s ankle fracture has made his future in baseball uncertain. Michael Pineda‘s lack of velocity and control in spring training has vastly scaled back his expectations for this upcoming season. Raul Ibanez‘ bat has looked about as quick as David Ortiz heading from first base to third base.
In reality, those situations will probably work themselves out. While Joba’s return this season was highly anticipated, the Yankees still have one of the best bullpens in baseball. If Pineda doesn’t turn out to be the shutdown number two starter that so many claimed he’d be after the trade? Well that’s ok also. With Andy Petitte’s impending return to pinstripes sometime in May as well as how good Phil Hughes has looked this spring, the Yankees rotation will be fine. Ibanez is only on a one year, one million dollar deal. If he doesn’t produce he can be released with very little lost in the gamble on him, and the DH slot filled with players like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter getting rest from playing the field.
One of the most pressing concerns for the 2012 season that doesn’t grab the headlines it should is Mark Teixeira and his declining batting average, on base percentage, and struggles against the shift.
I’ll never forget where I was the day that I heard the Yankees had signed Mark Teixeira. It was a couple of days before Christmas in 2008. I had just completed some last-minute Christmas shopping and it was snowing lightly. I had started driving home when an update came across the ESPN radio affiliate that I was listening to that said Texeira was going to be a Yankee. I almost ran into the car in front of me in shock. After the signings of C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett earlier that month, it appeared the Yankees would be unstoppable in 2009 with the addition of a player of Teixeira’s caliber.
We all know how that worked out. C.C. and A.J. did their jobs that season and after a slow start in April, Mark Teixeira rebounded with a near MVP regular season. The Yankees won the World Series and all three signings appeared to have been good ones.
2010 and 2011 rolled around and the perspective on those signings changed. A.J. Burnett absorbed almost all of the headlines and rage from the mainstream media and fans during those two seasons. His inconsistency and failure to pitch to his contract value made him the ultimate scapegoat in New York. By the time he was traded earlier this year, Burnett had been accused of everything but the Kennedy assassination. Lost in the headlines and hype about Burnett’s performance the last two seasons was the serious decline in his fellow free agent classmate Mark Teixeira.
When Teixeira was signed by the Yankees to an eight year deal worth in excess of one hundred and eighty million dollars, the Yankees and their fans thought they were getting the slick fielding, switch hitting, .300 hitter that would anchor the third spot in the order for years. It really looked like a great signing. Teixeira was a lifetime .30o plus hitter when he was signed by the Yankees. He had enjoyed success with three different teams and in both leagues. His slow start in 2009 raised initial concerns about his ability to handle the pressure of playing in New York but his performance the rest of that regular season seemed to put those concerns to bed. Teixeira ended the 2009 regular season with a batting average of .292, an on base percentage of .383 and 39 home runs. He truly had a spectacular season and appeared to have been worth every penny the Yankees had signed him for.
Texeira’s poor postseason performance in 2009 didn’t gather much interest. After all, he was a major reason the Yankees entered the 2009 postseason as a number one seed in the AL and one poor postseason can happen to anyone. Even though he batted only .180 in the 2009 postseason and only .136 in the 2009 World Series, all seemed well.
In 2010 Teixeira’s struggles at the plate began. While he hit 33 home runs that season, his batting average and on base percentage took serious hits down to .256 and .365. Even more troubling was his inability to hit right-handed pitchers. Teixeira hit only .244 vs right-handed pitchers in 2010. The 2010 postseason rolled around and Texeira’s struggles in postseason as a Yankee continued. Teixeira went 4-27 that postseason(.148) including a disastrous 0-14 in the ALCS against the Rangers.
Teixeira was banged up in the 2010 postseason, and a bad year can happen to any player, even one of Texeira’s caliber. He didn’t receive much grief for that 2010 season. His career performance, his 2009 Yankee season, and his top of the line fielding certainly called for a free pass and a fresh start in 2011.
In 2011 things started to get uglier for Mark Teixeira. Confounded by the shift that teams were now employing against him due to his inability to hit the ball to the opposite field, Teixeira vacated the beautiful level swing that had previously made him a career .300 hitter. An uppercut had taken the place of his old swing, and while the uppercut resulted in Teixeira matching his 2009 total of 39 home runs, his batting average dropped to a second straight career low of .248. Even worse, his on base percentage dropped to .341 as pitchers simply didn’t fear him as they had in the past and began attacking him. His bb to at bat ratio dropped to its lowest point since the 2005 season. His OPS declined to its lowest ever since his rookie season(.835). The most damning statistic of the 2011 regular season for Mark Teixeira was his incredible drop in BAbip. Teixeira’s BAbip dropped to a dismal .239. The balls he put in play were dominated by weak ground balls and pop flies.
At the end of the 2011 Joe Girardi made the long overdue decision to replace Teixeira in the third spot in the order with Robinson Cano. While Girardi had been Texeira’s biggest fan in New York, even he couldn’t avoid the reality that a change had to be made. In the 2011 postseason Teixeira confirmed his status as postseason zombie in New York. Teixeira went 3-18 in the 2011 ALDS against the Tigers making him 3-32 in the Yankees last two postseason series eliminations and a huge reason why they went home. It’s just undeniable that Mark Teixeira has been one of the biggest postseason disasters in Yankee history. For those who want to argue “small samples”? Please spare me. 106 postseason at bats is certainly a large enough sample to draw the conclusion that Texeira can’t handle the pressure of the postseason so far as a Yankee. Teixeira’s postseason stats as a Yankee are 106 ab’s, 18 hits, 8 extra base hits, 3 home runs, and 12 RBI’s. His postseason batting average with the Yankees is an embarrassing .170 and he’s averaging one home run per every 35 postseason at bats as Yankee. This just isn’t acceptable from a guy making 22.5 million dollars a year.
Teixeira has largely received a free pass from the media and fans during and after last season. The reasons for that are obvious. Teixeira is a good-looking, philanthropic, devout Christian who chose the Yankees over their archrival Red Sox on that cold December 23rd of 2008. He’s an easy guy to root for and a guy that fans and media alike want to succeed in New York. That being said, at what point does Teixeira receive the scrutiny that A.J. Burnett received? After all, is hitting .256 and .248 with a lifetime postseason average as a Yankee of .170 with 3 home runs in 106 at bats acceptable at 22.5 million dollars a year? Is he earning his money any more than A.J. Burnett did? In the offseason Teixeira suggested be might start bunting to beat the shift. A one hundred and eighty million dollar bunter? Really?
At some point Teixeira needs to be held accountable by everyone for his disappointment as a Yankee. All great players have had to overcome adversity of some sort and Texeira’s inability to overcome the shift and focus in the postseason have hurt the Yankees.
At some point, no matter how popular or well-loved a player is, that player has to produce and earn his money. While his home runs and fielding have been great, they haven’t been anywhere near 22.5 million a year great when the dramatic drop in batting average and on base percentage are factored in as well as his pathetic postseason play.
The Yankees need Mark Teixeira to produce this year more than ever in order to succeed. Teixeira will likely be batting in the fifth spot in the order this season. Teixeira is certain to have many key at bats with runners in scoring position that Jeter, Granderson, Cano and A-Rod will provide. With an inconsistent Swisher and aged Ibanez likely following him in the order, Teixeira’s bat will be very important in both the regular season and postseason. Teixeira needs to return to the level swing that once made him a .300 career hitter and increase his mental toughness. Sure, facing the shift and hitting in New York under the microscope of the postseason are stressful. When you are making 22.5 million dollars a year you are expected to rise and meet those challenges. It’s time for Teixeira to start getting it done.