(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated atTheYankeeAnalysts.)
Back in May, I examined some trends that suggested Mark Teixeira was evolving into a much more one-dimensional hitter. Despite beginning the season with what was for him an especially hot start, the switch hitting slugger’s splits still seemed to suggest the continuation of a pull-conscious batting approach that started in 2010. At the time, only 41 games had been played, so the sample size was limited, but now that three-quarters of the season has passed, we can take a more definitive look.
The chart above looks almost exactly like the one from May 18. It shows a slight moderation in the number of balls pulled by Teixeira, but continues the more prevalent rise since 2007. The chart also continues to display the gradual decline in balls hit to the “off field”, although an inverse relationship between balls hit to center and the opposite field seems to exist. In addition, a moderate correlation between OPS+ and percentage of balls hit to the off field is also evident in the data.
Since the first analysis was run on May 18, Teixeira has been using the entire field a little bit more, especially as a left handed batter. Whereas the switch hitter had been pulling the ball in 57% of his at bats from the port side, his current rate stands at 55%. A more moderate decline has also been experienced from the right side (50% to 49%). However, there is a divergence in where those balls are being hit instead. As a lefty, Teixeira is now hitting the ball to left field in almost 19% of his at bats, an almost 2% rise since earlier in the season, giving him one of his highest opposite field percentages as a left hander over the last five years. Meanwhile, from the right side, the first baseman is using center field more, and mostly at the expense of the opposite field. On May 18, Teixeira’s split was 25%/25% to each sector, but now it stands at 30%/21% in favor of up the middle.
Now that we know Teixeira has been pulling the ball a little bit less than earlier in the season, the next question becomes, how has that impacted his results? Unfortunately, the answer is not so good, at least on the surface, which is indicated by his decline in OPS+ from 143 to 126 since May 18. More specifically, Teixeira’s batting average has either declined significantly or stayed relatively the same in every split. What’s more, his slugging percentage to the opposite field has generally declined, suggesting that even though he is going to the off field more, the result is often not for power. However, it should be noted that the one area in which Teixeira has improved his slugging percentage by a significant amount is when pulling the ball as a left handed hitter. Since May 18, his slugging percentage in that split has increased from .773 to .896.
So, what conclusion can we draw from the data presented above? The first, and most obvious, is Teixeira has become a more pull conscious hitter, even if that trend has moderated a little this season. The second, and perhaps more surprising, conclusion is that as Teixeira has used the opposite field it has mitigated against his increase in power to the pull field, even though that approach might actually be improving his pull-field numbers (i.e., a ball on the outside corner slapped the other way for a single, or even an out, might be removing a “roll over” ground ball from his pull data). If so, Teixeira is presented with a classic supply/demand scenario. Is it better to pull less with better results, or pull more, and hope the quantity makes up for the decline in quality?
It’s worth noting that Teixeira’s slightly modified approach hasn’t really altered his numbers, so it could be that absent a more drastic change, the switch hitter has settled in at his equilibrium point. After all, on May 18, when he was pulling the ball more, his batting average and slugging were .254 and .500, respectively, and now, when he using more of the field, those rates stand at .249 and .510. So, even if his approach has changed a little, the results have remained the same. Because Texeira’s decline in OPS stems almost entirely from OBP, which has fallen from from .378 to .346, it seems as if his use of the off field has simply been a vehicle to shift outs away from the pull side.
As mentioned in the initial analysis, Mark Teixeira’s evolution as a hitter is undeniable. Although he has remained deadly from the pull side, his ability to go up the middle and to the opposite field with meaningful success has diminished. Because of his powers, as well as his glove, Teixeira can still be a very valuable player, even if the trend is irreversible. However, it does suggest that the heights of his career production may no longer be attainable, all else being equal.