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Monday, August 27, 2012

Q&A With Kevin Long, the Yankees hitting coach, on Mark Teixeira

Scroll down for the part where “The Genius” has “Joey Bats” meeting “Tex’s Face”. (now if I could only find an Al Plastino splash page)

What happened with Mark Teixeira this year?

After all the talk this winter of changing his swing, trying to beat the shift more often, he’s gone back to his old style.
The only thing I can say is there was kind of a media frenzy. “He needs to hit singles. He needs to hit the ball the other way.” And a lot of people got caught up in it. And he’s part of who got caught up in it because maybe it was right. And it could have been. But you know what? After watching him and watching his swing, it wasn’t going to work.

Why wasn’t it going to work?

It’s not who he is. And I said it in the offseason. I asked, is he a better hitter if he hits .300 with 18 home runs and drives in 95 runs? And I got blank stares. It was like, “Well, he’s going to hit .300.” But he would not put balls in the seats, because he’s a pull hitter and that’s where he drives the ball. You look at almost all of his home runs throughout his career and they’re to the pull side. But he got caught up in it.

Do you have any idea why it became a big deal to him? Was it simply frustration with hitting balls into the shift and his career-low .248 batting average last season?

The same thing happened to Jose Bautista, and I asked him, “What are you doing?” And he said, “They’re playing shifts on me and I’m trying to go the other way.” And it just about ruined him. He put himself in a severe hole. I feel like certain people are better off staying to the pull side. There may be a few hits to the opposite field, but Mark wasn’t able to do it, and Jose Bautista wasn’t able to do it. And it takes away from what they do best. It takes away their power.

Did you try to talk Teixeira out of it?

He wanted to do it and I was behind him. There’s plenty of data out there to suggest it was worth a try, but it wasn’t in his DNA. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it wasn’t what was best for Mark Teixeira and his swing-type.

Thanks to Tango...

Repoz Posted: August 27, 2012 at 05:37 PM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics, yankees

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   1. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:00 PM (#4219504)
The simplest explanation, to me, is that Teixeira is a hitter in decline. The power is still there, mostly (his ISO is down a bit) but the batting average has dropped, taking his OPS with it.

I wouldn't want to be on the hook for four more years at $22.5 million per. But perhaps Ned Colleti is still answering his phone.
   2. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:00 PM (#4219505)
So the shift took a Hall of Famer and made him into a .250 hitter with some power?

Why didn't they shift on this guy before about 2009?
   3. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:02 PM (#4219509)
Why didn't they shift on this guy before about 2009?


Exactly. The theory makes no sense.
   4. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:28 PM (#4219526)
I asked, is he a better hitter if he hits .300 with 18 home runs and drives in 95 runs? And I got blank stares.


Now he'll hit .250 with 18/95.
   5. NJ in DC (Now unemployed!) Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:35 PM (#4219535)
So the shift took a Hall of Famer and made him into a .250 hitter with some power?

That's interesting.

All snark aside, I don't see what's so unbelievable about the shift doing a bit of damage to Teix's ability to hit for average. That coupled with age related decline seems like a fairly reasonable explanation given that his walks/power have remained somewhat steady.
   6. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:53 PM (#4219560)
Hall of Famer is maybe a bit far. But a gentle decline phase and he's Hall of Very Good. Now the only Hall he can realistically hit is the Hall of Mel.
   7. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:54 PM (#4219562)
That's interesting.


Well, he has a chance for an Eddie Murray - type HOF career if he keeps producing. (I'm talking about Murray's useful seasons, not his entire career.) His peak isn't _great_, but it's excellent and good enough to not look out of place in a HOF career _if_ there is a lot of bulk to his career.

He has 45 WAR already, though "only" 36 oWAR.
   8. SoSH U at work Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:55 PM (#4219565)
All snark aside, I don't see what's so unbelievable about the shift doing a bit of damage to Teix's ability to hit for average. That coupled with age related decline seems like a fairly reasonable explanation given that his walks/power have remained somewhat steady.


Me neither (particularly if teams started shifting in earnest after 2009 - did they?). It looks like most of his decline is in BA.
   9. Walt Davis Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:56 PM (#4219566)
Well, neither theory makes sense.

Long is exactly right that a lot of people, including a lot of people here, were rattling on about the magical power of the shift and that Teixeira and others needed to go the opposite way more. Whether Teixeira actually did try to adapt I can't say but I don't see any reason to disbelieve Long here. Going back to his old style can't really hurt Tex although there's no reason to share Long's faith in its curative powers.

Why didn't they shift on this guy before about 2009?

Teams are shifting a LOT more than they ever have. There's been a clear shift in positioning strategy, at least by some teams. Presumably video, field/FX, hit charts, PBP data, etc. are being used to position fielders. Whether it's working is an interesting question but I don't think there's much question that positioning is different.

Obviously "optimally" placed infielders would hurt any batter's BABIP on groundballs but "beating the shift" isn't that hard -- hit fly balls (and strike out). Tex has been hitting more groundballs this year so that's probably not good.

As to his decline ... He's an odd duck so I'm not sure applying any standard decline meme to him is going to work particularly well. His defense and baserunning (such as it is) haven't declined. As Ray notes, his ISO is down only a hair. The decline is all BABIP. And this is a guy who had a 318 BABIP from 25-28 and is now down to 255 from 30-32? I'm guessing you won't find more than 2 or 3 hitters who lost 60 points off their BABIP (1900 PA 30-32) and any guys we did find were probably injured.

Post-expansion, there are 24 guys aged 30-32 who are a decent match to Tex's current profile (low BABIP, good ISO), mostly 60s/70s sluggers (Cash, Colavito, Baylor, G Thomas, Mayberry) but almost none of them ever had good BABIPs in their careers (outside of fluke seasons). I'll admit I didn't check all 24 but I probably checked about 16 of who I thought were the most likely. The only good match is Ted Simmons who had a 304 BABIP 25-28 (but just 166 ISO) then 254 (183) from 30-32. Simmons had only one good offesive year after that (and one of the all-time worst). The next most similar is probably Carlos Pena who was in the 290s from 25-28 although that was in limited playing time and might have been platoon-inflated. Andruw might be third best but was usually in the 290-300 range when he was younger but threw in a stinker (240) every few years.

So the form of the decline we've seen from Tex is unusual. But his current profile is not that unusual. Many of those guys held on to be reasonably productive in their 30s but it's not generally a promising list. But as long as Tex continues to bring the defense, he can be an above-average player for the remainder of this contract. That's not a great outcome and it's a rosy outcome but I think I'd prefer owning the rest of his contract to owning the rest of ARod's contract.
   10. God Posted: August 27, 2012 at 06:57 PM (#4219567)
[Hall of Famer is maybe a bit far. But a gentle decline phase and he's Hall of Very Good. Now the only Hall he can realistically hit is the Hall of Mel.


A Hall whose motto is, "I'd hit that."
   11. Walt Davis Posted: August 27, 2012 at 07:02 PM (#4219575)
Clarify: as always, that comp list is not meant to be definitive in any way. One might find a bunch of guys who hit like Tex's prime and then hit the BABIP wall but not until their mid-30s -- i.e. Tex's arc may be reasonably common but he just hit the wall 2-3 years earlier than expected or he hit the wall but didn't adjust. Still such a severe and pretty sudden shift in BABIP (without injury) has to be pretty rare.
   12. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: August 27, 2012 at 07:04 PM (#4219579)
He's an interesting guy. He played for four teams in the most productive two years of his life - his "career year".
   13. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: August 27, 2012 at 07:25 PM (#4219602)
Also, if he were Dominican, we would all believe that he faked his birth certificate; that one so young could not collapse so completely.
   14. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: August 27, 2012 at 07:42 PM (#4219611)
A Hall whose motto is, "I'd hit that."
...whether they want me to or not
   15. Walt Davis Posted: August 28, 2012 at 12:10 AM (#4219781)
that one so young could not collapse so completely.

Then perhaps we're being silly. :-)

He hasn't collapsed "completely" by any stretch of the imagination. He's got a 115 OPS+ this year for crying out loud. That's at least an average 1B. And the only part of his game that has collapsed is BABIP. This "collapse" is really nothing compared to Giambi's "collapse" or Delgado's "collapse" or Ortiz's "collapse" or Andruw's collapse or Vernon Wells' collapse. By that criterion, Nomar collapsed at 27.

That his _decline_ may have come a couple of years early I will grant you.

Teixeira the baseball player is not a major problem -- 10 WAR over the last 3 years -- and almost every team would be better with him on it. And that will probably be true for at least the next 2 years. Teixeira is only a problem because he's got 4/$90 left on his contract.
   16. Repoz Posted: August 28, 2012 at 12:30 AM (#4219789)
Mark Teixeira was diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain of his left calf and expects to miss 1-2 weeks.

The back of his baseball card better have a pretty funny comic...

   17. Dan Posted: August 28, 2012 at 03:24 AM (#4219837)
The next most similar is probably Carlos Pena who was in the 290s from 25-28 although that was in limited playing time and might have been platoon-inflated. Andruw might be third best but was usually in the 290-300 range when he was younger but threw in a stinker (240) every few years.


There's a reason Peña is the most similar: he went through the exact same problem! Peña broke out in 2007 with TB and had a solid average. As his rep and the scouting reports got around the league, teams realized they needed to over shift on him because all of his singles were hooked to RF. And just like LH Teixeira, he was unable to counter it and his BA went to complete ####.
   18. Dan Posted: August 28, 2012 at 03:37 AM (#4219843)
Mark Teixeira's BABIP (as LHB/as RHB):

2008: .314/.321
2009: .290/.312
2010: .255/.290
2011: .222/.278
2012: .250/.269
   19. vivaelpujols Posted: August 28, 2012 at 05:45 AM (#4219857)
According to FanGraphs, Tex has still been a very good player over these past two years - 4.2 WAR last year and 2.7 WAR so far this year. However, a lot of that value has been on defense. Tex is certainly a plus defender, but probably not a +10 run defender like FG has him the past two years. B-R has him at 3.0 and 3.3 WAR in those years, with slightly worse defensive scores. Otherwise his ISO and K rates have been about the same. His walk rate has gone a little down and his BABIP has tanked. Could be a shift thing, or could be decline, or could just be random variation. I'm gonna put most of it on random variation as his LD% hasn't changed at all. It looks like he's been getting unlucky, at least to some extent. At any rate Tex probably hasn't been worth 20 million, but he's still been a good player.

Also according to FanGraphs, Tex has been worth ~42 WAR by age 32. B-R has him at ~45 WAR. Assuming a normal decline phase, he actually looks like a strong HOF candidate.
   20. vivaelpujols Posted: August 28, 2012 at 06:01 AM (#4219859)
BABIP by batted ball type: 2012, career

LD: .639, .714
FB: .081, .131
GB: .216, .210

This is kind of amazing - the entirety of Tex's BABIP decline this season is due to fly balls and line drives. I think that rejects the shift hypothesis as by far the biggest impact of shifts is on ground balls.



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