"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky: Intentional Pass?

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.


1 Sliced Bread   ~  May 28, 2010 9:40 am

He has 6 hits in his last 4 games. He's coming around. He works hard, I think he's likeable. Why should anybody get on his case?

The Bernie comparsion works. Tex is a streaky hitter, like Bernie was. Fans know he's going to carry the team for stretches, like Bernie did.

Anybody who's complaining about Tex is just looking for something to bitch about in my opinion.

2 Cliff Corcoran   ~  May 28, 2010 9:58 am

[1] Yup, I think Will answered his own question by evoking Bernie. The baseball card argument can't be dismissed. Tex is getting a pass now because everyone knows this is his typical pattern (even if it might be a bit more extreme version of the usual). He struggles early, then turns it on and rakes. The fans will only get on him if he fails to do the latter, but we won't know if he did or didn't until probably August.

You know who else is getting a pass right now? CC Sabathia. Same reason.

And, of course, the fact that those two showed up and the Yankees immediately won a title helps a lot. They've got a grace period. They're trusted.

3 Alex Belth   ~  May 28, 2010 10:02 am

Yeah, if the Yanks miss the playoffs and CC and Tex have bad years, they'll hear it then...

4 Sliced Bread   ~  May 28, 2010 10:16 am

[3] nah. it'll be ARod's fault.

of course even if that's not the case you know that's how it would go down.

5 OldYanksFan   ~  May 28, 2010 10:43 am

"It may be that he’s overanxious..... "
Ya mean like swinging at a 3-0 pitch OUT of the strike zone?
Yeah... Teix is pressing, trying too hard. Like ARod, you can't 'try' to hit, you can only do what you normally do.

However, there is an important bat only producing .283 .324 .415 .739, and he is getting a pass too.

6 a.O   ~  May 28, 2010 11:10 am

Vazquez for Oswalt. Please, Briah Cashman, hear my plea.

7 williamnyy23   ~  May 28, 2010 11:16 am

I don't think Koestler's hypothesis has m uch merit. The differences in pitch percentages are so small that I doubt they have been a factor in his struggles.

I also took a look inside the numbers and am more of the mindset that Tex' struggles may be the result of a more prominent use of the shift when he bats lefty. If you look at his splits, Tex' struggles have mostly been as a lefty. Also, where he hits the ball as a lefty seems to be a factor. I think that's the root of the problem right now.

8 Link   ~  May 28, 2010 11:23 am

[6] and why would Houston trade a younger, more dominant pitcher straight up for an inconsistent pitcher that has pretty low value right now?

9 williamnyy23   ~  May 28, 2010 11:27 am

[8] Money...Oswalt makes more and has an extra year, I believe. It still wouldn't make sense, but we are talking about the Astros.

10 ms october   ~  May 28, 2010 11:39 am

[7] i think you are on to something william. tex has historically done a bit better as a rh hitter anyway, but the extreme shift that teams are employing this year on him as a lh hitter is part of the circular problem he is having as a lh hitter.

11 rbj   ~  May 28, 2010 11:39 am

[9] I think the only one who makes that trade is Steve Philips.

12 cult of basebaal   ~  May 28, 2010 11:43 am

[6] I think that plea is better directed towards someone with the necessary pull to make it happen, like maybe God, perhaps?

[9] Yeah, but I don't think it doesn't make sense in turn with the way that the Astros tend to not make sense. If that makes any sense.

13 cult of basebaal   ~  May 28, 2010 11:46 am

[12] Jayson Stark had a long Rumblings and Grumblings column that spent a bunch of space covering the angles of the Oswalt situation


14 Crazy8Rick   ~  May 28, 2010 12:00 pm

Tex is easy to like. Nice face, nice smile, always gracious. And he has a championship ring on his finger. You win a championship in NY and it buys you a stack of "Get outta Jail" free cards!

As long as the Yankees are wining, and Tex keeps flashing that boyish grin, this year will continue to be a love fest for him and CC.

But let us not make the playoff.... Oh baby. Victory has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan. They will still blame my man, A-Rod. Go figure!

15 williamnyy23   ~  May 28, 2010 12:01 pm

[10] I posted a bunch of numbers, but the nutshell is it seems as if Tex is doing two things as a lefty: making weak contact to left (i.e., forcing his swing to beat the shift) and hitting fewer deep flyballs to right (i.e., trying to lift the ball more than usual).

16 williamnyy23   ~  May 28, 2010 12:06 pm

[12] It could make sense if:

(1) The Astros can't trade Oswalt because is $18mn guaranteed for 2011 (with 2012 buyout) is too prohibitive;
(2) The Astros can trade Oswalt but will have to accept lesser propsects or eat some money because of the prohibitive contract; and
(3) The Astros feel they can more easily trade Vazquez.

I don't think all three assumptions are outlandish. It actually could make sense. Of course, I am not sure why we should expect Oswalt to do any better in the AL than Vazquez. If Oswalt bombs, the Yankees would be stuck with an $18mn pitcher for 2011.

17 The Hawk   ~  May 28, 2010 12:17 pm

The thing is, it's still relatively early. And that's the primary reason he gets a pass. He's known as a slow starter so the first month of ineffectiveness is almost factored in, we all know that. But it also means the clock starts ticking later for "attack mode". I guarantee you if he's still hitting like he has been in a month he'll start getting more attention for it.

18 The Hawk   ~  May 28, 2010 12:20 pm

I think at this point there are more sarcastic comments made about things being "A Rod's fault" than there are people actually saying it sincerely.

19 Iyasu   ~  May 28, 2010 12:22 pm

Agreed, last year's championship, Tex's big role in getting to the '09 postseason, his D and his persona have earned him a grace period.

but if the days start to pass by in June and there's no substantial upward trend, we can expect it to be gone...

Hopefully he can get enough hits to stop pressing.

Has anyone noticed any mechanical differences in his swing?
(haven't had the opportunity to watch the games much recently..)

20 OldYanksFan   ~  May 28, 2010 1:05 pm

[7] Agree 100% about the shift on Teix.
Watching Sox games, it's amazing how many balls Big Poopi has hit that off the bat looked liked hits, only to be an out to the 2nd baseman playing 140' foot deep in RF. Carlos Pena too. I believe these guys, Thome, and all the extreme LH pull hitters are at a distinct disadvantage against 'the shift'.

Did Teix ever go the other way as a LHB? 10 hits a year can cost 20 pts of BA, some RBI, and maybe a game or 2. As has been brought up here before, it's crazy that Teix (and that ilk) don't learn how to push a bent towards SS/3rd. Aside from a near automatic base hit, it might also force the defense to not 'shift' and open up the possibility of even more hits. To watch Teix make an out into the shift when the entire left side is unmanned is very frustrating. I honestly can't figure out why Girardi doesn't teach/have Teix bunt.

I mean, I know he's a doubles and HR guy, but I am perfectly happy with a bunt single, and leaving the big hit to ARod.

21 a.O   ~  May 28, 2010 1:08 pm

Re: Vazquez for Oswalt: You never know until you try. There have been far worse trades made by many teams. And it seems pretty clear to me that the second Vazquez tenure is doomed.

It was only the giant new stadium and the fact that several balls were hit right at guys (e.g., Swisher) that prevented last night from being a(nother) complete disaster. He was hit far harder than his line showed. At this point, I'd take a bucket of balls for the guy.

22 a.O   ~  May 28, 2010 1:12 pm

Re: Tex.

It seems we got to the bottom of the issue in 20 posts or less.

I'm far more interested in the issue of why he is a sacred cow who can't be dropped in the order until he pulls his head out of his ass. It's like we can't risk bruising his fragile ego or perhaps acknowledging that a guy who makes this much money might just not hit sometimes. Hit him 8th until he stops swinging at ball four on 3-0 counts and put the team first for a change.

23 williamnyy23   ~  May 28, 2010 1:31 pm

[20] I posted some directional numbers over at my place, and it seems like Tex' biggest drop has come from balls hit to left field as a lefty (he is currently 1 for 14 in that subsplit). I think he may be alternating between forcing things to left and trying to hit over the shift.

24 williamnyy23   ~  May 28, 2010 1:34 pm

[22] Hitting him 8th would serve no purpose, as Torre learned in the playoffs with Arod. I wouldn't mind moving him up to #2, however, if his struggles continue. Sometimes a small move like that can help change the mindset. Unfortunately, Girardi seems hell bent on using Gardner there, despite the fact that Gardner is not one of the team's better hitters and that spot in the order seems to inhibit his base stealing.

25 Larry Koestler   ~  May 28, 2010 1:40 pm

Hey Will,

Fantastic write-up on Tex's struggles; as usual I find myself agreeing with everything you wrote.

Additionally, thanks for the mention! Also, a point of clarification -- the Tex article you linked to on my site was actually written by my Yankeeist co-author, Mike Jaggers-Radolf. No biggie, just didn't want to be incorrectly credited with the piece.


26 Yankster   ~  May 28, 2010 3:42 pm

Not that I count, but I've been hating on Teix here and elsewhere all season. He's stinking up the joint given his payroll weight. But there are few solutions - he has a full no trade clause, a monster salary, and tons of years. Ortiz is in a contract year - it's fruitful to load up on him. Teix will be with the Yankees for many more years and there's no advantage to actually doing anything about him even if he stinks all year long - we would still have to hope he will be good next year. I was against signing him too, and I'm glad that I was as wrong as I was about that.

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