The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (14 HRs, 46 RBIs, .247 BA)
When Mark Teixeira arrived at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, he vowed we would see a whole new player this season. He said he would bunt against the shift teams employ against him and he would look to go the opposite field to bring his batting average up to his career average of .280.
But that never really happened.
Teixeira, 32, junked that strategy early in the 2012 season because it was not working. He decided the old way would produce home runs and drive in runs. Of course, that is the reason Teixeira is being paid by the Yankees.
What we have left in Teixeira is just a shell of what he was when he hit a combined .308 with 33 home runs and 121 RBIs for the Los Angeles Angels and Atlanta Braves in 2008, a year before he signed his lucrative seven-year contract with the Yankees.
Teixeira has altered his stroke to take advantage of the short porch in right-field in Yankee Stadium. The result is the same thing that happened to Jason Giambi when he signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Yankees in the winter of 2002.
Giambi was coming off a season in which he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player after hitting .342 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs in a not-so-hitter-friendly Oakland Coliseum for the Athletics. Giambi’s career with the Yankees was marked by precipitous drop in batting average while he remained productive in hitting home runs and driving in runs.
In his final season with the Yankees in 2008, Giambi hit .247 with 32 home runs and 96 RBIs.
Teixeira not only took the reins at first base from Giambi in 2009, he became Giambi – even down to Giambi’s annual slow starts in April.
It is a shame that such a talented switch-hitter that could hit with power to all fields has become a “pull-happy” hitter prone to pitchers who feed him a steady diet of breaking pitches in the dirt. But that is pretty much what Teixeira has become.
His numbers this season are just horrendous, too. He is on a pace to hit 28 home runs and drive in 92 runs after hitting 39 home runs and driving in 111 runs last season. Of course, Teixeira was plagued for more than a month with a bronchial infection that did sap him of some strength. He is fine now.
Of course, is does not mean Teixeira can’t go on a tear in the second half and improve those numbers. But he better get busy.
The issue with Teixeira is not just the drop in batting average and production, though. It is his .216 average with runners in scoring position.
He is not alone with this problem. It is pretty much team wide. But Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano are the players who are expected to drive the big runs and it did not happen, for the most part, in the first half.
For the Yankees to be able to succeed in winning the American League East and getting deep into the playoffs, Teixeira is going to have to step it up big time. Home runs are nice but it also comes down to hitting that two-out double in the seventh to tie a game or a single with the bases loaded to give the Yankees a lead.
Those hits are important and Teixeira has just not been getting them with regularity this season.
What you can count on with Teixeira is his exceptional defense. He nearly made it through the entire first half without making a single error. His first was on Monday and it cost the Yankees a game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
But that was the small exception to what has been a huge rule.
Teixeira’s glove at first is simply golden and he been decorated with four of them. If I was doing the voting this season, he would win his fifth.
Teixeira plays with exceptional range around first and his quick reactions allow him to stop a lot of line drives that would be rattling off the right-field wall if he was not there.
You add to that his ability to scoop bad throws to first out of the dirt and you have the consummate first baseman. In this respect, Teixeira is not anything like his predecessor Giambi. But the Yankees have come to expect flashy defense from their first baseman since they got so much of it from Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez.
Teixeira also is a durable player. He has started 74 games at first base and played in 77 of the team’s 81 games. At age 32, he can use a day off here and there to keep him sharp. But the Yankees really need his defense at first.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (6 HRs, 16 RBIs, .270 BA)
Chavez, 34, is primarily a third baseman by trade and he has played more this season there to back up Rodriguez.
But he also can play some first and he has made four starts there.
After a 2011 season in which he missed more than two months with a fractured bone in his left foot, Chavez has provided the Yankees with quality work off the bench this season.
He is hitting for a decent average considering he does not get regular at-bats and he is providing some power at the bottom of the batting order.
Chavez also has six Gold Gloves in his trophy case when he was third baseman with the Athletics so his value is immense with the Yankees needing to rest Rodriguez a lot and Teixeira some.
There is no way Chavez will provide Teixeira’s level of defense to first base. But he will hold his own here and he really is not needed to play the position much.
The Yankees are also fortunate to have Nick Swisher available to play first on occasion. Swisher has also started three games at first and there is no dropoff in offense when he is there. Oddly, enough Swisher is not really that bad a fielder either. He is no Teixeira, but then who is?
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
The Yankees do not have a high-ranking young first baseman in the minor leagues. At this time, they are fielding a platoon of former major leaguers at first base at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Lefty slugger Russell Branyan, 36, is hitting .298 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs. Righty slugger Steve Pearce, 29, is hitting .321 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs.
Branyan, who has the two longest home runs in the new Yankee Stadium, was invited to spring training as a non-roster player but injured his back as was unable to play in any exhibitions. Pearce was acquired a free-agent out of the Pirates’ organization.
Both are there as insurance in case of injury to either Teixeira or Chavez.
At Double-A Trenton, the Yankees have a right-handed line-drive hitting first baseman in Addison Maruszak, 25, who is hitting .278 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs, and a right-handed power-hitter in Luke Murton, 26, who is hitting .257 with 16 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Neither is considered a top prospect.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C
The Yankees’ success in the first half has been tempered by the slow starts of Teixeira, Rodriguez and Cano and their lack of production with runners in scoring position.
I guess the Yankees are just going to have to accept Teixeira as a 30 home run, 100 RBI player who is going to hit below .260 for the rest his stint in pinstripes.
That said, Teixeira can certainly improve on the 14 home runs and 46 RBIs he has produced thus far – not to mention his horrible .216 average with runners in scoring position.
Though Teixeira’s defense is exceptional, the Yankees need his bat if they want to succeed heading into the postseason. Teixeira’s season will be judged harshly if the Yankees fail to make it to the World Series.
He has got to step it up if he wants to bring a 28th world title to the Bronx.