Mark Teixeira’s experiment with a new swing is officially over. After stumbling out of the gate with one of his worst and most prolonged slumps of his career, the Yankees’ first baseman has decided to scrap earlier modifications designed to use the whole field and return to his previous, pull-dominated approach.
I’m putting too many balls in play instead of taking that swing to hit a home run and drive the ball. I’ve never been someone who just wants to put the ball in play. In years past, a 1-0 or a 2-0 pitch, it’s maybe a little bit up or a little bit down, you swing and you foul it off or you swing and miss. Now I’m putting that ball in play, which (stinks).” – Mark Teixeira, quoted by the LoHud Yankees Blog, May 24, 2012
Considering how much he has struggled over the first 44 games of the season, you can’t blame Teixeira for abandoning his new approach, especially because his reasoning seems to be sound. Not only has the first baseman swung and missed at a career-low rate, but his contact percentage is also at a high watermark. Even more relevant, Teixeira is swinging at more pitches out of the zone, and, to his detriment, making greater contact when doing so. As a result, Teixeira’s patience at the plate has waned (as evident by a near career-low walk rate) and his quality of contact (more ground balls and fewer line drives and flyballs) has dropped precipitously.
Note: SwStr= % total pitches a batter swings and misses on; O-Swing = % pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone; O-Contact = % pitches a batter makes contact with outside the strike zone when swinging; Contact = overall % of pitches a batter makes contact with when swinging the bat.
Over the last three seasons, Teixeira has become a pet project for several Yankees’ bloggers, including yours truly (see here and here). However, unlike many others who have pined for the first baseman to use an all-field approach, my conclusion has been quite the opposite. Instead of lamenting Teixeira’s gradual transformation from an all-field hitter into a pull-happy slugger, my prescription has been for Teixeira to pull the ball even more because that is where he has always had the most success.
Ironically, by changing his approach at the plate, Teixeira has pulled the ball less as a righty and more often as a lefty, which is exactly the opposite of what he needed/wanted to accomplish. Also, even though he has actually improved significantly when hitting the ball to the opposite field as a left-handed hitter (albeit in a limited sample), that improvement has more than been wiped out by the precipitous declines in just about every other split. Although an all-field mentality sounds great in theory, putting it into practice is another thing entirety. That’s why I originally questioned whether Teixeira might be “sacrificing too much by going the other way”.
Teixeira should be credited for identifying a flaw and attempting to adapt. However, it isn’t easy to turn back the clock. For whatever reason, his ability to use the whole field has declined with age, so trying to recapture that approach is bound to be counterproductive. Instead, Teixeira’s best course of action is to identify what he still does well, and then try to do it even more. In other words, the first baseman should go to the plate swinging for the fences and not worry about the direction. There are lots of things Teixeira is not, but he still is a powerful slugger (who also happens to play gold glove defense). That’s something the team, its fans, and Teixeira should be more than happy to embrace.