On Monday, as I was continuing to gather research for the column I thought I’d be writing this week, Alex Belth sent me an e-mail with a topic idea that I found so intriguing, I had to put my other one on the back burner.
Why has Mark Teixeira received a free pass from the NYY fans and the NY media?
Interesting question, no? He hasn’t really gotten a free pass from the Bronx Banter community. We don’t apologize for anybody. Hell, I was still killing Brett Gardner when he was catalyzing the offense. But the question is warranted. It got me thinking.
Naturally, on my way home from work that night, I threw on WFAN and Steve Sommers had the recently engaged Sweeny Murti on to schmooze, and Sommers immediately asked him about, among other things, when Teixeira would start hitting. I wondered if Alex’s question had merit. When the Yankees arrived in Minny, Tex’s line was .209/.327/.378. Thanks to his efforts of the last couple of games, Teixeira is over the .215 mark and a little further away from the Mendoza Line. But the consistency hasn’t been there; he has gone hitless in exactly half of the Yankees’ 46 games. He had the big three-home-run game in Boston and has only four dingers in the other 45. We know Tex a slow starter, but April’s supposed to be the only bad month. We’re nearing Memorial Day, and Mark Teixeira’s numbers look like they should be on the back of Steve Balboni’s baseball card, not his.
(Speaking of the “baseball card” theory, can we put a moratorium on that whole thing? The premise that players off to bad starts will ultimately rise to the stats that appear on their baseball card is just tired. It’s not a real answer to the short term, even if that ultimately will be the case.)
And yet the majority of the local scribes, while maybe not letting him slide, haven’t heaped criticism upon him like the Boston writers have done with David Ortiz both last year and this year. Last season, when Teixeira got off to the slow start, the “he’s a slow starter” refrain was common, and he was still taking a lot of walks and getting on base, which helped deflect some of the criticism that could have come his way.
In all my years of Yankee fandom and in the time I covered the team, the only person I can recall who got similar treatment during this bout of adversity was Bernie Williams. Bernie would routinely hover near .200, .225 or .250 for the first six weeks of the season (in 2002, he was a .236 at the end of April and ended up hitting .333), and then when Memorial Day came around, find his stroke, usually from the right side of the plate, and go through long stretches when he’d carry the offense.
Alex offered up a list of reasons why he thought Tex was getting off easy:
1. The Yankees are winning.
2. He’s a good fielder.
3. He’s good with the media.
4. The Yankees are winning.
5. He plays with A-Rod.
6. The Yankees are winning.
Points 1, 4, and 6, are certainly applicable. I’d go one further and pose the question to our friends in the local media regarding a grace period in getting on Tex because not only are the Yankees winning, but they’re the defending champs. Addressing point No. 2: Teixeira is still helping the team win in the field. The only blip came two weeks ago, Craig Carton pointed to Teixeira’s drop of the line drive that led to the Twins’ comeback and lone win of that series at Yankee Stadium as being a turning point of that game. Carton said the eighth inning should have been over and the game should have gone to Rivera. He was right. Point 5 is an interesting one. Last year, it was thought that May 8 was the turning point of Teixeira’s season. That was the night A-Rod returned in Baltimore, hit the home run and finally, Tex had protection in the lineup. Four months later, Tyler Kepner was tweeting “M-V-P” after Tex’s go-ahead home run in Seattle.
Point 3, however, might be the most important: He’s good with the media. He also isn’t afraid to hold himself accountable, be held accountable — see the point above — or admit a mistake. He gives good answers, smiles, and by all accounts, is accommodating and cooperative. What’s not to like if you’re a writer, a card-carrying member of the BBWAA with the task of voting for MVPs or any other awards? A little courtesy goes a long way, and Tex gets that. He’s a pro.
The refrain this week has been that Teixeira has been working too hard to come out of his slump. When Mike Francesa asked Joe Girardi about it, Girardi said he suggested that Teixeira limit his pregame work to the point of almost taking the bare minimum amount of batting practice to clear his head.
On Teixeira’s Baseball Reference profile page, there’s an interesting stat item: Entering Thursday’s game, Teixeira had 211 PA and had 30 RBIs, the mythical telltale stat determining a slugger’s run production. While we know RBIs are a team statistic, Teixeira’s number was still 7 better than the league average of players with 211 PA. Similarly, Teixeira had 21 more at-bats with men on base than the average player with 211 PA, so with more runners on base, he should have more RBIs.
Perhaps the best “We’re not giving Mark Teixeira a free pass” article comes from Larry Koestler’s Yankeeist Blog. Koestler did some digging to find the reason for Teixeira’s .226 BABIP:
Pitchers have noticed that Tex is not making his usual contact. Whereas last year pitchers would feed Mark a steady diet of breaking balls when they feared him, this year he’s seeing more fastballs and cutters — pitches that mostly stay in the zone. He’s seeing fewer breaking pitches, indicating that pitchers feel confident they can get him out with the fastball…
…Tex appears to be seeing the ball well. He is getting more pitches in the strike zone, and swinging at them more. He’s also making contact more often when he swings, on pitches inside and outside the strike zone. The increased contact may help explain the lower BABIP. It may be that he’s overanxious, making weaker contact on marginal (and in some cases bad) pitches, and putting them in play for easier outs.
At least he’s not Nick Johnson, who may have set a record for differential between batting average and OBP with the amount of walks he took. Tex, as Koestler noted, is swinging the bat. But even his astute column isn’t really rife with criticism. Whatever the reasons — maybe it’s the items Alex mentioned, maybe winning covers it up and he can be hidden, as much as a guy with a $180 million contract can hide, maybe it’s the fact that he can make up for it with defense in a way that Jason Giambi did not and could not — Mark Teixeira, comparatively, is not getting blasted for his underperformance.
This week, Mark Teixeira just happened to be the embodiment of the team’s struggles, and the commentary had the tone of looking for an answer, a reason for his lethargic offensive output. If things don’t change on the field for him soon, they very well might in the papers, and in cyberspace.