The biggest story in baseball this week is the debut of Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday night. The first pick of the 2009 draft starts against the Pirates on Tuesday night and everyone is excited to see how the Nationals prospective ace does in the major leagues.
Locally, though, the big story is going to be on a veteran player who has been posting numbers that make him look like a clueless rookie just up from the minors for the first time. Monday's day off gave everyone some time to ponder Mark Teixeira's dreadful offensive stats and come up with thoughts about what lies ahead for the slumping first baseman.
The split of opinions is fairly predictable. Mike Lupica of the Daily News and Kevin Kernan of the Post believe it is time to shuffle Teixeira to a lower spot in the lineup because his slump is going on too long and becoming too much of a drag on the team, while the Wall Street Journal uses statistical analysis to argue for better days ahead. Teixeira's own assessment is in line with the latter school of thought -- "I’ve been through plenty of ups and downs and the back of my baseball card says it all" -- and he actually seems more upset by questions about his slump than he does when he strikes out in big spots during games.
So what's the truth? It appears to be somewhere in the middle.
His walk and strikeout rates are in line with career norms, as are the percentages of his swings at balls in and out of the strike zone. All of that means his plate discipline hasn't taken a turn for the worse and he's hitting just as many line drives as he has in the past, which is usually a good sign for a career .286 hitter. His batting average on balls in play is just .229, however, well below his career .304 mark. That indicates some horrendous luck that is likely to normalize as the season progresses.
It doesn't always happen -- see Nick Swisher's 2008 season -- and it would be unwise to say that Tex's problems are all just a matter of unlucky bounces. His isolated power (the difference between slugging percentage and batting average) is way down as are the percentage of fly balls that turn into home runs, two things that might be explained by his inability to hit changeups this season.
If you saw Saturday's five-strikeout game, you doubtlessly noticed Teixeira flailing helplessly at changeup after changeup from Ricky Romero. He's chasing changeups far more frequently than he has in the past, having less success with them when he does make contact and it seems plausible that his issues with that pitch is affecting both his approach and his ability to handle other pitches during his at-bats.
That's not bad luck, but it is fixable and doesn't do much to eliminate the feeling that Teixeira will turn the corner at some point in the future. Given how much attention is going to be paid to him in Baltimore this week and how much he's chafing at questions about the slump, it would be for the best if that turn happened sooner rather than later.