Parsing Mark Teixeira's Intentions

Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees argues strike three with home plate umpire umpire Adrian Johnson at the end of the top of the fourth inning against Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Mark Teixeira's attitude toward infield shifts has shifted, but one thing hasn't changed much at all: his performance, which hasn't matched his contract since 2009.

I read something deeply weird yesterday.

I mean, sometimes you read something that seems perfectly reasonable, until you wonder if anyone involved actually has looked at any of the numbers that are so readily accessible in these magical times.

Here's what I'm talking about ... In this piece, Newark Star-Ledger's Jeff Bradley interviews Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long about Mark Teixeira, and how he's reacted to the extreme infield shifts that so many teams have deployed against him. Teixeira, it seems, really got frustrated about losing hits to the shift, and so he started trying to hit the ball the other way. But apparently that didn't work out so well, either.

Okay, that's the setup. Here's Bradley and Long:

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.

When you read that -- and even more, if you read the earlier stuff I didn't excerpt -- you'll probably get the idea that Teixeira was doing really well, then struggled because of the shift, then struggled because he was fighting the shift, but now is doing really well again after he stopped fighting.

Except you can't see any of that in the numbers.

In 2009, his first season with the Yankees after signing a huge contract, Teixeira's numbers were exactly in line with what he'd done in the previous five seasons. All systems go.

In 2010, his OPS+ dropped from 141 to 124. Then from 124 to 120. And this year, from 120 to 115. Teixeira's decline has been more more precipitous and more consistent than we might have expected. But he has declined, and it doesn't seem to have much to do with his intentions regarding infield shifts.

Which isn't to say the shifts haven't hurt him. Teixeira's power is still there. He still hits 30-some home runs per season, and he's heading for his ninth straight 100-RBI season. As long as he keeps hitting home runs and driving runs home, most observers won't even notice that anything's wrong. But Teixeira used to also score 100 runs every season, and he doesn't any more for the simple reason that he's not on base enough to score 100 runs.

Teixeira entered 2010 with a .290 career batting average. But in these last three seasons, his batting averages have been .256, .248 and .256. Whether because of the shifts or not, this just seems to be the hitter Teixeira has become.

I came across the interview with Kevin Long via The Book Blog, where TangoTiger argues that Teixeira, instead of trying to hit the other way to beat the shift, should simply learn to bunt the other way. That way he would bolster his batting average without mucking about with his swing. Which makes sense to me.

After this season, the Yankees owe Teixeira $90 million. Monday night, he suffered a calf injury and is expected to miss a week or two. In the context of $90 million, a week or two is barely a trifle. In the context of $90 million, Teixeira's performance over nearly three full seasons seems like it might become an issue.

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