The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (24 HRs, 84 RBIs, .251 BA)
When you look at Mark Teixiera’s career numbers you see the amazing consistency he has provided since 2004, his second season in the majors. He entered the 2012 season as the only active player who had hit 30 or more home runs and drove 100 or more runs for eight consecutive seasons.
Teixeira, 32, was on track to make it nine this season when on Aug. 27 he incurred a Grade 1 strain of his left calf.
He returned to the lineup Sept. 8 and re-injured the calf trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended a loss against the Orioles in Baltimore. He did not return until Oct. 1, when the Yankees opened their final series of the season against the Red Sox.
Though he blasted a two-run home run in his first game back, Teixeira’s contributions at the plate during the playoffs may be limited. It is unclear how long it will take him to sharpen up his stroke from both sides of the plate.
But Teixeira’s presence in the lineup means far more than what he actually contributes himself. The lineup deepens when he is back in it and, no matter what Teixeira delivers at the plate, he provides world-class defense at first base and saves the pitchers runs and his infield teammates errors.
The only real knock on his game has been the steady decline in his batting average since he signed with the Yankees as a free agent in 2009.
After hitting .259 in his rookie season with Texas, Teixeira batted .281, .301, .282 and .306 in his next four seasons. Teixeira hit .306 and .308 in combined seasons with Texas and Atlanta in 2007 and Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.
But when he joined the Yankees in 2009, Teixera found the short porch in right very inviting, much like his predecessor Jason Giambi did. He hit .292 in 2009 but since then he has hit .256, and .248.
The criticism of his low average stung a bit and Teixeira vowed this season that he would take a new approach into the season with him. He would not be a strict pull hitter, but try to go the other way with pitches. This, he hoped, would raise his average while not hurting his production.
But it was obvious early in the season that Teixeira was struggling with the new approach. In his typically slow April, he hit .244 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
Teixeira abandoned the approach altogether in May and by the All-Star break he had 14 home runs 46 RBIs and a .247 average. Teixeira basically said: “I do not care what my batting average is. I am paid to hit home runs and drive in runs and that is what I am going to do.”
Judging by his numbers, Teixeira was on a pace in which he would have reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs had he not been injured. Injuries are new with him, too.
Teixeira had not played less than 156 games since 2007, when he played in 132 games.
So you take two things out of Teixeira’s injury this season: No. 1, it a rare occurrence and No. 2, it is just bad luck it happened so late in the season.
Though Teixeira has fallen a notch below the elite first basemen in baseball such as Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds, he is still one of the most productive hitters at his position and he is still considered the elite fielding first basemen in the game.
The proof of his fielding prowess is that Teixeira set a career low by committing only one error all season. That is not a fluke either. He has not committed more than five errors in a season since his rookie year in 2004, when he was shifted to first base by the Rangers for the first time and he was charged with 10.
The error totals don’t really measure how good Teixeira is at first base. He has unbelievable range, cat-quick reflexes, an accurate arm and an uncanny ability to scoop bad throws out of the dirt.
Over the years, the Yankees have gotten excellent glove-work out of first baseman such as Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez. Teixeira could be considered as good as those two if not maybe a bit better. The errors he saves his fellow infielders have become part of his legend now.
So even when Teixeira is slumping at the plate, he contributes so much in the field that it does not show unless he is gone for periods of time like he was this season.
Though Nick Swisher is above average at the position, Teixeira’s defense was missed when he was gone.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
SECOND HALF GRADE: I
OVERALL GRADE: C
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)
Despite the fact that manager Joe Girardi elected to use Swisher as Teixeira’s primary backup when he was injured, Swisher’s report card will be with the outfielders.
Chavez, 34, made six starts at the position and played in 10 games here during the season. The Yankees also used Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce at the position during Teixeira’s stint on the disabled list.
But Chavez is still considered the primary backup at first base and his season was magical. He avoided injury, which is always a plus considering he has not played more than 137 games since 2006.
Chavez was signed primarily as a backup at third and first base and an occasional designated hitter against right-handers. In those roles Chavez seemed to thrive because, though his midseason numbers were good (six home runs, 16 RBIs and a .270 batting average), his second-half numbers were even better.
He had 10 home runs, 21 RBIs and raised his season average 11 points.Chavez made 50 starts at third base and that is the position for which he collected six consecutive Gold Gloves with the Oakland Athletics from 2001 to 2006. First base is a little tougher for him though he committed only one error at first in his limited time there.
No one can come close to providing the defense Teixeira can at the position but Chavez does not embarrass himself either.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
SECOND HALF GRADE: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B
The fact that the Yankees were forced to trade for McGehee and sign Pearce as a free agent shows just how devoid of talent the Yankees are at the position in the minor leagues.
Pearce, 29, and former major league slugger Russell Branyan, 36, played the position at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. They combined for 22 home runs (11 apiece) there but neither obviously are considered are long-term solutions at the position for the Yankees.
Of course, Teixeira is signed through the 2016 season but the Yankees still need to be looking at grooming a replacement soon.
At Double-A Trenton the Yankees had a pair of powerful right-handed-hitting first basemen in Addison Maruzak and Luke Murton.
Maruszak, 25, had 16 homers, 59 RBIs and hit ,276 and Murton, 26, put up 25 home runs, 68 RBIs and batted .249. But the Yankees do not consider either player a prospect because they are playing at the Double-A level at a decidedly advanced age.
The Yankees do not have a first baseman among their Top 20 minor-league prospects so this position could stand to be strengthened.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
As long as the Yankees have Teixeira they can count on 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and a batting average in the .240s or so. In addition, they will get Gold Glove defense from arguably the best-fielding first baseman in the game.
Teixeira’s consistency is his hallmark. Up to this season, he also has been quite durable. But the Yankees are going to have to admit that as Teixeira gets older he is going to be more susceptible to injury and he will require more rest during the season.
What Teixeira will able to contribute in the playoffs is questionable right now. Because Teixeira has always been a slow starter when the season begins, it stands to reason he might be real rusty when the playoffs begin. He also is not playing at 100 percent on his left calf now.
But just having him in lineup makes it stronger and there is no doubt Teixeira can save runs and errors with is glove. So the sum of all the parts adds up to being a huge positive for the Yankees.