Mark Teixeira and the heart of the order

Despite ranking 20th in the majors with just 633 runs scored last year, the Yankees’ heart of the order will be unchanged to begin 2015. Some combination of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Mark Teixeira are expected to occupy the 3-4-5 spots again, although Beltran and Teixeira did spend some time on the disabled list last season. The Yankees certainly have table setters in Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, but can the guys behind them deliver? Another year of age certainly isn’t going to help Beltran, McCann, or Teixeira, but they’re going to be counted on anyway.

I have some faith in McCann bouncing back, given that he’s the youngest of the group and finished last season strong. On the other hand, my confidence in Beltran is almost nonexistent. Teixeira’s biggest question mark is his health. He hasn’t been the same guy in a few years now, and much of that is due to a wrist injury that required surgery in 2013. Yet, last season, he still showed some flashes of prominence. He was pretty darn good in the first few months of the season, and then dreadful from July onward. So what happened? Is it possible that Teixeira could still be the guy from April through June of last season?

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Teixeira fell off a cliff when the calendar turned to July. Up until that point, he was having his best offensive season since 2010, in which he posted a 128 wRC+. I’m not saying it would have held up all season, but it certainly looked like he had recovered from the wrist problems that ruined his 2013 season.

Something happened come July. After posting an ISO no lower than .225 in each of the first three months, Teixeira’s strength started deteriorating. He still posted a respectable .171 ISO in July, but it plummeted further in the next two months: .114 and .123 in August and September respectively. Moreover, his average fly ball distance went from 290 feet from April through June down to 277 feet for the rest of the season. We can’t know for sure, but he did deal with some nagging injuries throughout the year that might have finally taken their toll.

Teixeira Injuries
Teixiera’s 2014 injury report via Baseball Prospectus

Although he didn’t miss a ton of games, it’s plausible that these various maladies sapped some of Teixeira’s power. And that’s Teixeira’s calling card — without it, he’s nothing special. He can keep walking all he wants, but once the power goes, he doesn’t have much to offer. What’s worse is that Teixeira starting striking at a very high clip, going down 25% of the time from August onward. Simply put, he was a mess to finish the season. All told, his full season ended at a perfectly average 100 wRC+ (.216/.313/.398 with 22 homers). Very un-Teixeira-like indeed.

Turning 35 in a couple weeks, we know the Teixeira of old is long gone. But can he still be a pretty good hitter? Like, a 120 wRC+ hitter? He did better than that for basically half a season last year before his body let him down. I don’t see why he can’t do that again, but the question is how long he maintain such a performance for.

This offseason, Teixeira decided take action against his aging body. He’s made it well known that he’s gone gluten-, sugar-, and dairy-free, which is another way of declaring himself in the best shape of his life. Offseason workout routines and diets are often a hubbub about nothing, but nobody can blame Teixeira for what he’s trying to do. He hasn’t played a full year since 2011, and at his age, the odds are further stacked against him doing so. Hopefully, this new philosophy will keep Teixeira strong throughout the year. It’s far from a certainty that this change will do anything substantial, but kudos to Mark for trying something.

The Yankees are certainly banking on a better version of Teixiera compared to 2014. Based on what he did to start last season, he still has the capability to be a middle-of-the-order bopper. Is a full season of that type of production a long shot? Absolutely. The guy can still draw his walks and hit the long ball, but staying healthy will be difficult. It’s good to know that the talent hasn’t completely eroded yet, but Teixeira really shouldn’t be counted on as an offensive force anymore. In short stints? Sure, he can carry a team. For a full season, it’s  a pretty big gamble. Unfortunately, the Yankees have put their chips in on Teixeira without surefire help elsewhere in the lineup. Hopefully, Teixiera rewards the team for its faith.

Statistics via Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball Savant.

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