After their 0-3 start to the 2012 season, the New York Yankees have now won four straight and are tied for first place in the AL East. These wins happened even without the expected quality pitching of ace CC Sabathia (he of the new five-year, $122 million extension), and without any production from middle of the order hitters Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.
Robbie will come around soon as he adjusts his pull now/roll his wrists over approach, but it is Teixeira’s lack of production which should be very worrisome to Yankee fans. I will get it out quickly:
If Teixeira does not change his approach to hitting, his career is finished.
Oh, he will still be playing first base for the Yankees, but his usually offensive production will significantly decline. And that massive contract won’t be looking so good anymore. His playing time will be based upon his contract and defense, and less upon his ability to hit.
And this is not some random “small sample size” garbage either. Teixeira has been on the down slope since he signed with the Yankees, especially in the areas of batting average* (ooh, that terrible stat), and on base percentage* (the really good stat, right?).
*It’s funny how many sabermetric guys discount batting average and how it is “meaningless.” But doesn’t batting average compose the largest portion of hitters’ on base percentage? Usually, when formerly productive hitters OBP declines, it is usually due to a lower batting average, rather than walk rates, which are pretty consistent for established major leaguers. But if players become LESS FEARED by the opposition, then pitchers will attack these hitters and his avearge and walks will both decline.
Teixeira’s decline actually began during the World Series title year of 2009, a title which Teixeira was a big part. His batting average has declined from .292 in 2009 to .256 in 2010 and .249 last season. Subsequently, his OBP have been .383 (2009), .365 (2010) and .343 last season. He hit over .300 with a .400 OBP the prior two years, so the decline did start in 2009. Teixeira’s walk average** is consistently around .090. His slugging percentage shave also dropped, with his last two seasons being the only years since his rookie campaign where Teixeira has not slugged over .500.
**This is calculated by subtracting batting average from OBP.
Currently, Tex is hitting a meager .179, with a Yuniesky Betancourt like .303 OBP and ONE RBI!
It is unbelievable that the Yankees No. 5 hitter, who hits behind Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter, has ZERO home runs, one RBI. That one RBI, though, is the key to his future.
Everybody is saying “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. At the end, the numbers will be the same.”
No they won’t. Not if Teixeira doesn’t change his approach.
Teixeira has always been an upper body hitter. He collapses his back side and opens his hips early, but rarely uses his legs to generate power, relying on his bat speed and upper body strength. The result is an off balance swing using only his arms. That upper body strength allows Tex to overpower balls, even if he tries to pull outside pitches. I have viewed dozens of Teixeira home runs over his career where he pulled a pitch on the outside corner into the seats.
That is not easy to do.
But now that Teixeira is 32 years old (didn’t think he was that old, did you?), his bat speed has slightly declined and those pitches his used to be able to “rip” over the fence are now harmless fly balls to the outfield. That is if he actually gets under the ball.
See, most times when a hitters tries to pull an outside pitch, whether the hitter is fooled by an off speed pitch or, like Teixeira, they try and pull everything, seven times out of ten the hitter will roll his wrists over and generate a harmless ground ball to the pull side. If they do get under it somewhat, the result usually is a harmless fly ball or popup.
It’s an easy out.
Also, when a hitter attempts to pull an outside pitch, the hitter’s arms fly away from the body, limiting the chance for the legs to come into play. Remember when you used to hear, “The hitter wants to extend his arms?” and “the pitcher is throwing inside so the hitter can’t extend his arms.” That is a misnomer.
A good hitter DOESN’T want to extend his arms away from the body, at least not until well after impact. Good hitters want to keep his elbows tight to the body, which helps allow them to use their legs to help generate power. The extension of arms actually comes after the ball is struck and the bat comes through the hitting zone, and is extended towards the pitcher, not by pulling off the ball.
For an analogy, think in terms of power while lifiting weights. If you are doing dumbbell or barbell curls, can you left more wight when your elbows are tight to your body or when they are extended away by 6-12 inches?
Perfect example of this is Robinson Cano, who keeps his elbows tight to his body. This is how Cano can hit lefties so well, especially pitches inside. Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols also keep their hands in tight to the body, and all three use the strength in their legs to complete the swing and generate power.
Over the years, however, Teixeira has gotten away with bad hitting mechanics and used his uncanny eye-hand coordination and immense strength to hit for average and power, including 111 home runs in three plus years as a Yankee.
But those days are likely over.
Teixeira has always been a pull hitter. When he collapses his back side like that, there is no other type of hitter to be. You can’t collapse your back side and hit the ball the other way with any authority. Try hitting off a batting tee the other way after you collapse your back leg. It’s virtually impossible.
Really good hitters use the entire field, but at the very minimum, on pitches out over the plate and on the outer third, they try and hit the ball through the middle. They wait a little longer on the pitch, and then drive the ball through the middle. The only time Teixeira did that this season, he generated a line drive RBI single to right center in Baltimore, his only RBI. Tex stayed balanced in his swing, waited and drove the ball the other way.
When Teixeira tries to pull outside pitches, especially as a left-handed hitter, he hits “outside the ball,” where his arms come away from the body and the ball is struck. The hands are not used properly, but go out and around. Good hitting mechanics require the hands to say “inside the ball,” where the hands lead the bat straight and down to (and through) the ball. Wait and be quick.
When the hands go out and around, the hitter is susceptible to “rolling over” his wrists, lessening the time the hitter has the bat head in the hitting zone. As I mentioned earlier, the result is usually a ground ball to the pull side.
And when teams shift on a hitter, the results can be disastrous. The game is different now. Everything is on video and computers, with every team using spray charts and extensive advanced scouting. If you pitch certain hitters a certain way, that hitter will almost always hit the ball in the same spot***.
***I remember a time when I was managing in a college level and above men’s league in North Jersey. I used to go “scout” other teams when we didn’t have a game. There was a right-handed hitter on one team who I noticed always hit rockets into the right center gap when he swung at up and away fastballs. Nothing but line drives to right center. Know what we did? We gave him what he liked. We threw him fastballs up and away, the pitch he looked for and liked. But we also pinched our center and right fielder into the right center gap, and caught all those line drives he hit there. Oh, we would throw him “waste” pitches to change things up, but when we wanted to retire him, we did. He said to me after one game, “Man, I never seem to get any breaks against you guys.” No being lucky, but playing smart baseball. Point is that hitters are creatures of habit, who usually do with certain pitches what they always do.
Hitters need to adapt to how teams play them. Mark Teixeira needs to adapt to how the Tampa Bay Rays and other teams play him. Tex needs to begin to hit the ball the other way, by waiting a little longer on the outside pitch and begin to drive it the other way. That means eliminating the backside collapse, and hitting balls the other way. After a while of that, teams will have to move out of their shifts, which open up the entire field for Tex.
Tex will continue to be pitched outside, and if he doesn’t change his approach, he will continue to hit ground balls and some lines drives into the teeth of the defense. His averages will then continue to decline.
It is tough for major league hitters to adjust, especially if they are as established as Teixeira, but in his case is imperative that it gets done. It is obvious Tex doesn’t put much time into hitting sessions with Kevin Long, as Tex would have already eliminated the back side collapse, begun keep his hands inside the ball and using his legs more.
Recently, I used a drill for a left-handed high school hitter who had the same problem Teixeira has. He hands moved away from his body and he hit around the ball. I can’t even tell you how many times he grounded out to second base. We set up an L-screen about 15 -20 feet away and I quick flipped balls underhand to him on the inside half of the plate. But I had him hit the ball right back at me or the other way. No pulling of any pitches. This forced the hitter to bring his hands and elbows inside closer to his body in order to try and hit the ball the other way. It begins to help you get quicker to the ball on inside pitches.
After some time with this drill, the next game saw the kid line a shot right at the first baseman, then triple over the left fielders head in his next at bat. Both at bats prior his drill work would have likely ended up with a weak pop up and a weak ground ball to the second baseman.
This (and other drills) would work for Teixeira, too, but only if he wishes to change his approach.
There have been many hitters who have been successful without using good hitting mechanics. I can’t even believe all the major league hitters who fail to use their lower half when hitting. Lance Berkman had a HOF caliber career, but never used his lower half until he came to the Yankees in 2010. George Brett was very successful using another formerly popular hitting method. It is a testament to these players overwhelming ability to hit at that level doing what they did.
I know Teixeira has had a pretty darn good career thus far, with 314 home runs and 1,108 RBI. But if he doesn’t begin to change, he will not be adding to these totals like he has in the past. Batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, home runs and RBI will all decline. Do you realize that Tex only had 26 doubles last year, the lowest of his career?
If he doesn’t work to change things, Tex will still get his big hits, and will likely hit 20 homers solely based upon his strength. He will do this when pitchers make mistakes with their location and get the ball over the middle of the plate. But when they stay outside, Tex will continue to watch his BABIP erode.
I predicted demise for another New York corner infielder two years ago, when I wrote this piece about David Wright and how he shied away from inside pitches after getting hit in the head by a Matt Cain fastball. I said that if Wright was forever shying away, then his career would be over as pitchers would bust him in early then get him out away. But Wright improved his ability to stay in the box and once again he became fearless at the plate.
I just hope for Yankee fans that Teixeira can adjust his approach like Wright did and stay productive long term.