Slumps happen in baseball. In a game where failing seven out of ten times is praised, there are inevitable periods when the ball refuses to find a hole, regardless of any far-fetched superstition that may be practiced. Gold thongs or favorite songs: nothing prevents a slump.They are as much a part of baseball as the seventh inning stretch.
At what point does a slump cease being called a slump, and becomes something more? When fans see a player struggling at the plate who has shown their incredible ability to hit in the past, they patiently (for the most part) wait for the expected breakthrough where we see a return to form. The Yankees watched Derek Jeter go hitless for 32 consecutive at bats back in 2004. He was a proven hitter, and of course he would figure it out eventually. Jeter was also just shy of thirty years old, so the possibility of a permanent decline was doubtful. More recently, Angels superstar Mike Trout limped out of the gate to start this season, and to nobody's surprise, turned the corner and raised his batting average from .220 to .313. It was a typical slump that any healthy and capable hitter eventually escapes.
So what is going on with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, who were integral parts of the Yankees projected lineup on Opening Day? The two big bats for the Bombers have been dormant to say the least, but is there an end in sight? History says it is possible, particularly for Teixeira, who has been a notoriously slow starter at the plate. However, that logic is losing substance with each passing game. Here we stand in June, with the duo sitting below the Mendoza line, both batting a lowly .180 entering the weekend.
Teixeira is caught in the grips of the longest home run drought of his career, and Rodriguez is striking out at a higher rate than ever before. Is it a slump, or are their ages showing? For both struggling sluggers, it may be the latter. Teixeira is 35 years old, and has expressed interest in playing until he reaches 40, where A-Rod currently stands. That may be a tall order for the first baseman, who now finds himself in an unfortunately familiar place, the disabled list.
It had to be frustrating for Teixeira to see his MVP-caliber season abruptly end due to a fractured leg in 2015, and now suffer from torn cartilage in his right knee, just above that healed fracture. Some are quick to point to his great numbers last season as a glimmer of hope. Of course it is still possible to return to that form, and few expect these horrid numbers to last all season, but how much more can be expected if he is able to return from the DL? Is the absence of power a slump, or a more permanent presence of fatigue that comes with age and numerous injuries?
It is hard to cry slump when both hitters are failing to make much contact at all. Teixeira currently holds a strikeout rate of 26.2 percent, with A-Rod eclipsing that mark at 30.8 percent. To put that in perspective, the Astros are currently worst in the league in strikeout rate, sitting at 25.5 percent. At some point in a career, regardless of how successful that career has been, the bat slows down, and so does the production. Brian Cashman and the Yankees laid a lot on the shoulders of these two aging stars, mostly due to the production of last year's campaign. So far, it has produced disastrous results.
On paper, relying on Tex and A-Rod in the middle of the order was a solid plan, and perhaps the only plan due to their contracts. Looking beyond the stats though, these are two players entering the twilight of their careers, one coming off of a serious leg injury, and the other burned out after a terrific start to 2015. It can often be forgotten that A-Rod had a full season off due to suspension in 2014, and that rest could have contributed to his dramatic return to the Yanks last season. Exhaustion caught up after the All-Star Break, and it seemingly has not left. It may never leave.
Athletes are competitively arrogant. They continue on despite their body screaming "stop". Part of that arrogance once made them great, but grit and will only go as far as the body allows. This can be seen all around baseball. The Mets have been experiencing this dilemma in the form of their star David Wright the past two seasons, as he battles chronic health issues. The Yankees have this problem as well, only doubled. Their planned power presence has been anything but, and it is unclear if they ever will be again.
Rodriguez has endured surgery on both hips, where so much power is generated from. Teixeira is coming off of a fractured leg, and now has knee troubles. Both are playing in the home stretch of their careers. The Yankees may need to seek alternatives rather than wait out a slump, when it may not be a slump at all. It is a dangerous waiting game when it comes to hitters that are projected to be slated third and fourth in a lineup that is already struggling. The Yankees were prepared to live and die by their older bats in the middle of the order, and those bats have been fast asleep. Will they ever wake up?