Domino effect of Teixeira’s injury causing problems for Yankees
On Tuesday night, the Yankees — a team with a $209 million payroll and 199 home runs for the season — fielded a lineup featuring a journeyman named Steven Pearce, who has 12 homers and a lifetime .237/.309/.372 line in 679 big league plate appearances, batting cleanup. With Alex Rodriguez already on the disabled list with a broken bone in his hand, Mark Teixeira out of the lineup with a calf strain and lefty Ricky Romero on the mound for the Blue Jays — thus rendering third base fill-in Eric Chavez and leftfielder/designated hitter Raul Ibanez virtually unplayable given their helplessness against southpaws — manager Joe Girardi was forced to juggle his lineup to include Pearce as his DH, with Nick Swisher at first base and Andruw Jones in right. A 29-year-old righty, Pearce had coincidentally been reacquired from the Astros the day before to provide a bit of extra depth down the stretch. He went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored as the Yankees eked out a 2-1 win despite collecting just five hits, matching the lowest total they’ve collected in a win all season.
Acquired primarily for his ability to hit lefties (.277/.347/.484 in 242 PA, compared to .215/.288/.311 in 437 PA against righties), Pearce could be seeing more time in the near future, because Teixeira may be out of the lineup for one to two weeks. The Yankee first baseman suffered a Grade I strain in the fifth inning on Monday night when he fouled a ball off his left calf; he ended up drawing a walk and coming around to score a run, but was hobbled to the degree that he was forced from the game. The forthcoming September 1 roster expansion date means he’ll avoid the disabled list, but his injury is just the latest travail of a team that ranks second to the Red Sox among AL clubs in terms of days lost to the DL, with Michael Pineda, Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner all missing the bulk of the season, Andy Pettitte losing more than two months and Ivan Nova having just landed there. A-Rod has been on the DL since being hit by a Felix Hernandez pitch on July 24, fracturing the fifth metacarpal in his left hand; he took full batting practice on Tuesday for the first time since the injury.
The Yankees have gone just 17-15 since Rodriguez went down, though they’ve outscored opponents 159-137 during that span, numbers that are more an indictment of a pitching staff that has also lost a few CC Sabathia starts to injury. Still, there’s reason to be concerned over the loss of Teixiera. While his .255/.335/.478 line hasn’t been All-Star caliber, his 23 homers are third on the team, while his .302 True Average — a measure of his offensive productivity in runs per plate appearance, expressed on a batting average scale — ranks second behind only Robinson Cano, and fifth among the first basemen qualified for a batting title. Though he missed three games earlier this month due to a minor wrist injury, Teixeira has been one of the Yankees’ most durable players this season; his 504 plate appearances are fourth behind Derek Jeter (586), Curtis Granderson (559) and Cano (547).
The Yankees have no shortage of options to fill first base while Teixeira is out, but doing so creates issues elsewhere in the lineup. The switch-hitting Swisher has started 10 games at first, including the three during the recent wrist injury, but his shift there generally means that two players from among lefties Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki and righty Jones are at the outfield corners. That’s a minor problem given that none is a complete player anymore, or anywhere near as productive; Jones (.267 True Average) is a liability against righties, Ibanez (.258) and Suzuki (.241) both flail against lefties. Chavez (.295) and righty Casey McGehee (.247) can also play first, but those two players have served as part of a productive third base platoon in Rodriguez’s absence; the latter was farmed out to make room for Pearce. Throw in righty Jayson Nix (.236) and the Yankee hot cornermen are hitting a combined .316/.350/.553 since Rodriguez went down, though they have just 12 hits, all singles, and two walks in 50 at-bats over the past two weeks after an initial surge.
The 32-year-old Teixeira is now the fourth season of an eight-year, $180 million deal signed prior to the 2009 season. Disconcertingly, his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage have declined almost without exception in every year since he signed, though once you adjust for the leaguewide drop in scoring via True Average, he’s actually on a slight upswing:
Teixeira’s rate stats have fallen off primarily due to low batting averages on balls in play. What was a .310 mark from 2003 through 2008 — covering his time with the Rangers, Braves and Angels — fell to .302 in 2009, then to .268 in 2010, and to .239 last year. Even with a rebound to .257 this year, that’s the 11th-lowest mark in the majors among the 142 hitters qualified for a batting title. His BABIP has fallen in part because teams have employed infield shifts against him with increasing frequency to counter his tendency to pull the ball, particularly while batting left-handed. During his time with the Yankees, his overall BABIP is .287 as a righty, .255 as a lefty; this year, the numbers are .269 and .249.
Last year, Teixeira spent time working with Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long in an attempt to overcome his pull tendency, but earlier this year, he scrapped the changes because they were making him less aggressive as a hitter, with his production suffering even more. After hitting just .228/.283/.386 with five homers in 159 PA through May 17, he sat out two games and retooled; since then, he has hit .269/.359/.524 with 18 homers in 345 PA. While his overall numbers haven’t rebounded to his 2009 levels, his .302 True Average is one point off his career mark.
Teixeira is still owed a steep $90 million beyond this year, and he hasn’t exactly been a bargain on the first half of the deal. For the roughly $85.3 million he has earned (including a $5 million signing bonus), he’s delivered 13.1 WARP, an average of $6.5 million per win — a bit above the going rate of $6 million per win on the free agent market. Unless he can recover some of his pre-2010 form, that number is likely to rise over time. Still, his contract is nothing to be ashamed of relative to some of the other recent megadeals for first basemen (all dollar figures in millions):
On an annual basis, Teixeira’s deal has been surpassed three times and matched once since he signed, with three of those deals exceeding $200 million. With the exception of Fielder’s deal, all of those are for less favorable age ranges given that ballplayers tend to peak in their mid-to-late 20s before settling into a decline phase. The best deal of the bunch will probably wind up being the earliest one, that of Cabrera, who was roughly three years younger than any of the others when their deals kicked in. Unlike the deals of Pujols, Votto or A-Rod, who is owed $114 million through 2017, when he’ll be 42, Teixeira at least won’t be lingering on the roster into his 40s while still making upwards of $20 million a year.
Nobody is going to weep for the Yankees being stuck with another suboptimal contract for an aging player, or for being a bit shorthanded due to injuries; the four other AL East teams have had their seasons reshaped by many a DL stint as well. Still, if the Yankees are to live up to the expectations that come with the league’s second-best record, they’ll need to be close to full strength down the stretch, and they’re much stronger with Teixeira than without him.