According to batting average on balls in play (BABIP), Yankees slugger, Mark Teixeira, is currently the unluckiest first baseman in baseball (with 140 plate appearances or more). Though his career BABIP is a healthy .305, Teixeira’s season number is significantly lower than that, sitting at .202. Examining his other statistics this year, there are few anomalies to consider outside of BABIP, as Teixeira’s walk rate, strikeout rate, batted ball percentages (liner, grounder, fly), and contact rates are all inline with established norms. There might be slight deviations – his contact rate is a bit higher than his historical average – however, there are no highs or lows that would work towards explaining the rough patch he is currently in. Therefore, perhaps his extremely low BABIP – often analogous with luck, and in this case, bad luck – is the main tell-all here. It is the only revealing stat, really.
If we dig a bit deeper and further probe the data, we might be able to find a better explanation than just luck, as it is a tremendously abstract – and for some, hollow – concept. Gazing over the stats, we see that Teixeira has had a particularly ill-fated stretch against right-handers this year. On the season, he is currently batting .157/.299/.281 as a left-handed hitter and his BABIP against righties is .169 (versus a career BABIP of .290). Is that luck? It could be, indeed. However, if we look at where Teixeira is hitting the ball – right field, center field, left field – the picture becomes clearer. As a left-hander, Teixeira has posted an .865 OPS to right field, i.e., he is pulling the ball fairly well. Beyond that, though, batting lefty, Teixeira owns a .222 OPS and .227 OPS to left and center field. For comparison’s sake, his career OPS batting to left is .712 and his OPS to center is .943. Obviously, his stats this season are not inline with those marks.
This is an issue I have alluded to before. Given these numbers, it seems reasonable to say that Teixeira is pull-happy. Don’t get me wrong, of course, as I am sure bad luck has something to do with it as well (to a certain degree). But, bad luck and a bad approach have likely intersected here. Whatever the case may be, Teixeira has shown signs of breaking out this month. He has a .955 OPS in May, and you can see that he is trying to hit some balls away and up the middle as a left-handed hitter. Still, whether he has actively changed his approach or his bad luck is finally beginning to turn – or maybe there has been a combination of these two – is uncertain.
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images