Legends On Deck

Mark Teixeira’s Hot And Interesting Start

As April nears it’s end, and the divisional races begin to take shape, the Yankees are in first place in the American League East. To the surprise of their many naysayers, they are currently four games above .500 after their first 22 games played, and one game ahead of  the Rays for first place. Their fast start has very much been due to the spectacular play of some of their veteran hitters who had previously been counted out by many.

Along with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira has either missed serious time or been ineffective in recent years. In 2013, he only appeared in 15 games, and in 2014, despite reaching 508 PAs, he only had a wRc+ of 100 (exactly league average), and a.711 OPS, way below his career wRc+ of 129 and OPS of .882. However, in 2015, he has gotten off to a fast start, once again showing his trademark power that hallowed him to hit 30 or more HRs in every season from 2004 to 2011. His eight HRs through his first 90 PAs of the 2015 season currently ranks third in the American League, behind Hanley Ramirez and Nelson Cruz.

However, Tex has not rebounded to his previous levels in all facets of his game, as he is still only hitting .216, despite his very impressive .608 SLG. Out of his 16 hits on the season, remarkably, only three have been singles, a very low percentage for a player who has typically had slightly over 50% of his career hits land for singles (around 55% to be exact). Exactly half of his 16 hits so far have been HRs, along with five doubles and the aforementioned three singles. Which leads one to question if Teixeira could keep up his power surge, and regain his place amongst the top power hitters in the game, or possibly fall back into the pit of ineffectiveness that has plagued him since 2012, his last season with an ISO (isolated power, a measure of how much power a hitter has shown) above .200.

Mark Teixeira

Obviously, Teixeira’s current ISO of .392 is bound to fall, as his previous season high was .279 way back in 2004 (a .279 ISO is still a very impressive number), and .245 for his career (also very impressive). However, to see if Teixeira’s power will continue at anything near a premier rate, I looked deeper into his statistics. So far, in 2015 Tex’s FB% (percentage of batted balls that have been fly balls) is currently higher than in any other season of his career, as it sits at 52.5%, way above his career mark of 40.8%.

Also, his HR/FB ratio has been 25.8% on the season, which would also be a career high, dwarfing his career mark of 18.1%. Which tells us the obvious; that Teixeira will not continue to hit home runs at the prestigious rate he has done so far in 2015, as both numbers should come back down to career norms, decreasing his future home run output.

However, somewhat remarkably, he also currently has the lowest LD% (% of batted balls that have been line drives) of his career this season, at 15.3%, which is much lower than his career mark of 20.8%. Since line drives typically have the greatest chance of falling in for hits, Tex should hit more singles in the rest of the season than he has so far; possibly raising his batting average above .216 (where it’s at currently) if it’s enough to compensate for the expected drop in power.

So no, I would not expect a hitter who has, for his career, had about 55% of his hits fall for singles, continue to only have that number around 20% for the season. However, as his FB% and HR/FB% fall back to career norms, and less of his hits end up going for HRs, his LD% should increase to his career norm; increasing the amount of singles that Teixeira hits, and bringing his percentage of home runs, doubles and singles per hits more in line with what he has done in his career so far.

But, I do not think that his impressive batting line has been a fluke (besides the incredible high ISO and SLG). His K% in 2015 is down to an impressive 15.6% so far, much closer to his career K% of 17.5% than his 2014 K%, which crept above 20% (21.5%) for the first time in a full season for Tex since his rookie year in 2003. Therefore, if he can preserve his lower K%, I expect a much better season in 2015 for Tex than the league average season that he produced (based on the wRc+) in 2014, as even partially sustaining his increased contact rate should do him wonders.

I think 2015 will continue to be somewhat of a renaissance season for Teixeira, and if he stays healthy, he may approach 30 HRs for the first time since 2011. He will not continue to have half (or even near half) of his hits be HRs, or have less than 20% of them be singles, but an increase in LD% should help offset the expected decrease in FB% and FB/HR ratio, raising his batting average despite a decrease in power. Plus, his K% so far has been much more in line with his peak years than his recent seasons, where he has struck out more frequently and has seen his batting average drop as a result.

Although the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium should help him continue to hit HRs at a solid pace, I don’t think he will be competing for the league lead in that category. However, I can definitely see Teixeira producing his best season since 2011, and hopefully for the Yankees, help carry them to a playoff berth. Just a month ago, as the 2015 season was about to begin, many people would’ve been skeptical of Tex’s comeback and the Yankees current divisional lead. But with each passing game, both events are starting to seem more likely.

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