Polo Grounds

Polo Grounds

Friday, August 12, 2016

Mark Teixeira's retirement

The last week has yielded a lot of headlines in the MLB, mostly regarding players who are reaching the end of their playing careers. Lost among the headlines about A-Rod's mistreatment by the Yankees, Ichiro's 3000 MLB hit and Prince Fielder's sudden (and very sad) retirement was the announcement by three time All-Star 1B Mark Teixiera, who announced on 8/5 that the 2016 season would be his last season in baseball.

Teixeira looked to be done after the 2014 season, after hitting a combined .209/.308/.391 with 25 home runs over 571 PA between an injury shortened 2013 and 2014. Tex bounced back in 2015 with 31 home runs, 79 RBI's, and a .255/.357/.548 line, good enough to earn him his 3rd all-star nod at age 35. After that season it looked like Tex might have a few years left, but this season has been abysmal for the switch-hitter. Through 83 games Tex has slashed .197/.287/.334 with ten home runs and 28 RBI's. Teixeira announced last Friday that he will be retiring at the end of the season, so he has about six weeks left on a career that has seen him amass 404 home runs, making him the 5th switch hitter with over 400 HR, joining Mickey Mantle, Chipper Jones, Eddie Murray and former teammate Carlos Beltran.

I have two favorite facts about Mark Teixeira:
1) His batting average throughout his career is the perfect example of why the shift works (explained below).
2) He was involved in one of the most lopsided "Star for prospects" deadline trades in recent memory.
1) From 2003-2009, Mark Teixeira was a monster. He averaged 35 home runs and 114 RBI's per season while slashing a blistering .290/.378/.545. He looked well on his way to 500 home runs and a Hall of Fame career. Then, something changed in 2010. The shift had begun to gain in popularity, and teams started shifting on Tex when he swung it from the left side. From 2010-2016, Tex has averaged 23 home runs and 69 RBI's, but his slash line has dropped to .239/.336/.461. Part of this can be contributed to age/injury/etc. but the drop between 2009 and 2010 is what really startles me:

2009: .292/.383/.565  39 HR, 122 RBI's
2010: .256/.365/.481  33 HR, 108 RBI's

2009 was Tex's age 29 season, and his first with the Yankees. 2010 was Tex at age 30, and also still with the Yankees. His power #'s regressed slightly toward his career averages, but what happened to his batting average? A 36 point drop in one season, especially when he was not injured (601 AB in 2009, 589 in 2010) is pretty startling. Digging a little deeper, Tex's BaBIP (Batting average on balls in play) in 2009 was .302, and it dropped down to .268 in 2010. His career BaBIP is .283, so it appears at first that Tex just got a little lucky in 2009, and a little unlucky in 2010 (since BaBIP is largely considered luck). However, this is where I think the shift comes into play: From 2003-2009 (the "pre-shift" era) Tex had a career BaBIP of .308. From 2010-current, it has dropped to .246, over a 50 point drop. There are plenty of other factors involved, including declining speed (which means less infield hits), more infield pop-ups (11% from 03-09, 15% from 10-16) and a slight drop in his hard contact %. However, I think the biggest factor is the shift. Teams realized that Tex gets a lot of his hits on ground balls up the middle or hard ground balls pulled to right field. Once they shifted a third infielder on that side of the diamond, Tex was making outs on grounders he used to get hits on. That would help explain such a dramatic drop in his batting average, especially since many of his other peripheral stats (K%, BB%, line drive %, etc) stayed relatively constant. The last factor that helps prove this point is Tex's pulled ball %, which has stayed constant at around 52% for his entire career. How could a guy who pulls the ball 52% of the time, with a pretty consistent % of line drives, and similar rate of strikeouts, lose 50 points on his batting average on balls in play? Well, if the other teams starts playing him to where he hits the ball, and he can't follow the old baseball adage of "hit em where they ain't" then there's your answer. Tex never adjusted and started going the opposite way (on his LH swing at least) and it cost him dearly in the batting average department.

2) On July 31, 2007 Mark Teixeira was traded from the Texas Rangers to the Atlanta Braves for four prospects, a move the Braves made in part to acquire a superstar in his prime for the stretch run of the 2007 season. Tex did not disappoint, hitting 17 home runs in only 54 games with a .317 BA. However, the Braves went 28-27 the rest of the season and missed the play-offs. Tex his .283 with 20 HR in 103 games the following year, before being traded again, this time to the Angels for fellow 1B Casey Kotchman. Over his brief time with the Braves, Teixeira hit .295/.395/.548 with 37 HR and 134 RBI's in 157 games, good for a 6.0 WAR. Not bad for just a couple of prospects right? Except when the four prospects go on to become integral pieces of a Texas Rangers team that came within 1 strike of winning the World Series (twice) - then your trade doesn't look quite as good. The four players the Rangers acquired for a year of Mark Teixeira were:

Elvis Andrus (22.4 WAR w/ Texas)
Neftali Feliz (8.4 WAR w/ Texas)
Matt Harrison (9.2 WAR w/ Texas)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0.5 WAR w/ Texas)

Adding this up, the Rangers got four players who were worth roughly 40.5 wins, and nearly a World Series title. Injuries to Harrison and Feliz derailed their careers, which could have made this trade even more of a loss for Atlanta. Meanwhile the Braves got a two great half seasons from Teixeira, but nothing to show for it. Just goes to show the dangers of deadline trades for prospects. This still isn't as bad as my all-time favorite deadline deal, when the Indians traded an aging Bartolo Colon (in 2005) to the Nationals for three prospects: Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips. Ouch.

Last point on Mark Teixeira: Is he a Hall of Famer? Teixeira will surely go down as one of the best switch-hitters of all time and was an outstanding defensive 1B. Early in his career, Tex could do it all: hit for power, for average, had decent speed, and was an elite defensive 1B. Injuries and the shift slowed him considerably, however, and as it stands he falls into the category of great, but not Hall of Fame great (also frequently referred to as the Hall of Very Good). There are many players who were as good or better than Tex who are not in the Hall, including Jeff Bagwell (who will be soon) Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff, Tino Martinez and Andres Galarraga.

I wish Tex all the best in retirement, he was a fun player to watch and will be missed.

1 comment:

  1. Teixeira has 25 career stolen bases. Don't know where you got that 15 per year number.