How Mark Teixeira Became an Elite Power Hitter Again
Alex Rodriguez isn't the only New York Yankee having a comeback season.
Mark Teixeira is having himself a year through early May. Teixeira's batting average (.223) doesn't really jump out as surprising (especially considering his career average is .273), but his 10 home runs sure are nice. Overall, 16 of his 21 hits this season have gone for extra bases: he has six doubles in addition to his double-digit dingers.
Batting average alone doesn't do his power hitting justice, so just how significant has Teixeira's bat been for the Yankees?
A Closer Look
Through 27 games, 94 at-bats, and 116 plate appearances, Teixeira has tallied a Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) of 149. That's significantly higher than the current league average (96), and Teixeira has maintained a higher mark just once in his career: his wRC+ in 2008 was 152. He hasn't topped 128 since 2010, and last year, his wRC+ was just 100.
Because of his power hitting, Teixeira sits near the top of the league in ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average). His ISO of .383 is second-best in the league behind only Nelson Cruz (.423). Teixeira's career mark is .245.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is just .153, which is usually indicative of bad luck and slumping. (Only Chase Utley has a lower BABIP (0.82). The league average typically sits just shy of .300 (it's .294 this year and was .299 last year). The actual reason Teixeira's BABIP is low is that he is practically homer-or-bust right now, and homers don't impact BABIP.
When and if his home run to fly ball rate drops from 27.0 percent (which ranks 11th among 189 qualified batters this year) and his contact starts staying in play, Teixeira should have some luck getting balls to drop in for hits -- or turn into doubles because he has more of those (six) than singles (five) this year.
That is, of course, if his line drive rate goes up. Right now, only 13.4 percent of his balls in play are liners, which ranks 181st among the 189 qualified batters in 2015. His career mark (20.4 percent) is similar to the league average this year (21.0 percent). He certainly has line drive potential, but right now, he's putting 45.1 percent of his balls in play in the air, which ranks 18th among the 189 batters.
Why the Comeback?
Teixeira had suffered a serious wrist injury in 2013, which limited him to just 63 plate appearances that year, and last season, a combination of wrist and hamstring injuries probably led to his worst ever season in batting average (.216), home runs (22), strikeout rate (21.5 percent), ISO (.182), on-base percentage (.313), slugging percentage (.398), wOBA (.316), wRC+ (100), and fWAR (0.9).
Basically every meaningful mark was the worst of his Major League career.
Still, rather than chalk it up to health, a close look at the metrics also help evidence why he is excelling.
Teixeira is seeing a fastball on 64.8 percent of his pitches, the highest mark of his career and significantly higher than his career average of 57.9 percent.
Perhaps the biggest catalyst of all his his plate discipline. Here are his numbers while with the Yankees (according to Baseball Info Solutions via FanGraphs).
So far this season, Teixeira has displayed his best plate discipline to date with New York, chasing just 21.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing%). A reason for that is that he's offering at a smaller percentage of pitches overall (Swing%). After all, he's swinging at the same percentage of strikes (Z-Swing%) as he did last season.
When he does swing, he's making contact with 92.3 percent of pitches inside the zone (Z-Contact%), which is tied for his best mark with the Yanks in 2010. His overall contact percentage (Contact%) of 84.3 percent trails only his 2012 season (84.4 percent) by a smidgeon and makes his mark from last year (79.3 percent) look like an outlier.
Teixeira has seen a first-pitch strike on 53.5 percent of his appearances (F-Strike%), a noticeable decline from the 58.1 percent mark he saw last year, and he's not helping pitchers get ahead either, as he maintains a 5.7 percent swinging strike rate (SwStr%), his best mark since donning the pinstripes.
It's great to see Teixeira back as an elite power hitter, but it's not as though he's just swinging freely and making contact. Rather, he's seeing fewer first-pitch strikes, not chasing balls (and swinging less frequently in general), and cashing in on his swings with a solid contact percentage, much like he had done prior to his 2013 and 2014 injury issues.
The Yankees are tied for eighth as a team in wRC+ (104) and rank sixth in ISO (.171). With 35 homers as a team, the Yankees are again living up to their Bronx Bomber moniker. Teixeira is a key reason why.