For better or worse, the majority of baseball analysis is guesswork. With the aid of statistical analysis and observation, it is possible to refine and educate these guesses, but very little is ever going to be absolute. I offer this disclaimer as a result of the varying degrees of murkiness in what I have to say about Mark Teixeira and to acknowledge the fact that there are many differing conclusions to be drawn from the same data.
First thing's last, here is Teixeira's yearly BABIP-xBABIP breakdown:
- On one hand, I feel somewhat confident that Mark Teixeira will regress positively from his .239 BABIP going forward. His 2011 rate was not only easily the lowest of his career, but the biggest separation between his BABIP and xBABIP. One way or another, I'd bet that a higher percentage of his balls in play land for hits in the future, boosting his average and on base percentage, which were lacking in 2011.
- On the other hand, it is tough to deny that there is a major downward trend in the authority with which Teixeira puts the ball in play. Confirmed by a sizable dip in BABIP every year since 2007 and an increasing number of weak outs (subjective), it seems likely that there is more to this than ball in play randomness. Teixeira has become a fundamentally different hitter the past few seasons, and expectations of positive regression should be tempered accordingly.
The next thing that I want to tackle is some of the strangeness in Teixeira's splits. First, here is his yearly wRC+ against left handed and right handed pitching:
Again, it is tough to know exactly what to make of this. For the majority of his pre-Yankee career, Teixeira did not have much of a platoon split. Some years he was better against righties, some years he was better against lefties, but there was never anything that looked like a trend or pattern. Even in 2009, his first year as Yankee, Teixeira was equally productive against both types of pitchers, with the big split coming in the last two seasons.
But, what happened to create this dramatic loss of effectiveness against right handed pitching? Here are Teixeira's spray charts against right handed pitchers from 2009 and 2011:
As you can see, Teixeira did not drive the ball to center, left, and left center with much authority in 2011, while he did so in 2009. I'm sure many of you will be quick to point out the uppercut in his swing, but was his swing really any different in 2009 than it was in 2011? I'm not sure, but anecdotally, I haven't picked up on any major changes in Teixeira's approach at the plate. To me, he has always looked like he was waiting for a fastball to hook into the right field seats.
Before putting it all together, I have a few more thoughts that didn't really fit anywhere else:
- By Aggregate Defensive Rating (a compilation of Total Zone, UZR, and Defensive Runs Saved), Mark Teixeira's defense has been rated at +31 since 2005, and whether or not you give credence to defensive metrics, he has always been considered a very good first baseman. But, how important is that? Is it as important a part of his game as it is for someone like Brett Gardner, who only needs to be serviceable at the plate to be a productive player?
As first base is often used as a rest home for the John Kruks and Jason Giambis of the world, it is often considered to be a minimally important defensive position to hide sluggers who would otherwise be defensive black holes. But, is there any reason that first base defense should be considered less important? First basemen do not have to make nearly as many throws as other infielders, but they are responsible for handling throws of varying quality from all over the diamond.
Also, while first basemen will never need to field as many balls or affect as many double plays as middle infielders, qualified first basemen averaged around 180 plays in their zone, while third basemen were around 240 plays (middle infielders were in the 300-400 range). Therefore, having a first baseman with range can significantly impact the number of base hits that get through the right side, and I would posit that defense at first base is equally important to defense at third base.
- A big hit to Teixeira's value comes from the overall offensive proficiency of first basemen around the league. Teixeira's 124 wRC+ put him 9th in qualified first basemen, in the same stratosphere as Casey Kotchman, Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Santana. While, as previously stated, his defensive excellence gives him a leg up over a lot of these guys, for Teixeira to provide value for his position, he has a much higher offensive standard.