Following up on our Alex Rodriguez analysis from the other day we turn to another Yankee who turned in a disappointing campaign in 2010: Mark Teixeira. As Mike noted in his season review, Tex's 2010 wasn't atrocious, although his .367 wOBA (down rather significantly from 2009's heroic .402) was primarily propped up by two scalding hot months (July and August).
We know Tex was battling a host of injuries during the last month of the season, so I'm willing to partially excuse that month away, but his dreadful April (.270), mediocre June (.352) and slightly less mediocre May (.365, though most of that came during the first two weeks of the month) meant he was underperforming for more than half the season. I don't know whether to be thrilled that he still managed to turn in a near-.370 wOBA or horrified.
Curious as always for a deeper reason why, I turned to my new favorite site to see if I could make sense of what led to Tex's struggles in 2010. Turns out I didn't have to look terribly far for the answer: though Tex evinced a decline in performance against nearly every pitch type -- none more glaring than against the four-seam fastball -- Tex was absolutely terrible against the curveball, confirming what many of us witnessed firsthand throughout much of 2010.
Against righties, Tex saw a curveball 11.3% of the time in 2010 (the third-most frequently thrown pitch to Teixeira), swung and missed at 32% of them (his highest swing-and-miss rate among pitches seen more than 10 times), hit 37% of the pitches he did come into contact with on the ground (third-highest GB% by pitch type), lofted 42% of them (his total FB% was 45%) and hit 0.4% of them out of the park.
The numbers are even uglier against lefthanders. While the sample is significantly smaller (only 66 pitches), and lefties only was only the 5th-most frequently opted for pitch against Tex, he swung and missed at 50% of them, hit 75% on the ground and 25% in the air, and hit zero home runs against the lefthanded curveball. Things were a bit better for Tex against the curve in 2009, with HR%s of 1.3 and 1.2 against righties and lefties, respectively (though still below his 1.4% average HR%).
Back to 2010, of the 22 curveballs he put into play, his BABIP on ground balls was a measly .100, BABIP on live drives was .250 and BABIP on fly balls was .286. No doubt armed with this knowledge, lefties opted to go for the curve against Tex 21% of the time on 0-2 counts, behind only the four-seamer (44%). By comparison he only saw it 12% of the time on 0-2 counts in 2009.
A quick glance at Fangraphs confirms that Tex was indeed quite bad against the curveball in 2010, coming in at -2.8 runs above average, which was actually the 11th-worst mark among American League hitters against the curve. Tex was also below average against the curve in 2009, though not quite as dramatically so, at -1.4 runs above average.
Curiously, prior to joining the Yankees Tex had never had a below-average season against the curveball, and for his career registers at 6.8 runs above average, so there may be hope yet for Big Tex against the curve. Additionally, we're also talking relatively small sample sizes -- he only had to deal with 294 curves compared to more than 1,000 four-seamers in 2010, although the curve was his fourth-most frequently seen pitch.
Of course, as we noted above, the four-seamer was the other pitch that gave Tex fits in 2010. While he wasn't necessarily "bad" against the prototypical fastball, he fell all the way to 18.8 runs above average, after posting 32.2 runs above average in 2009 (not to mention a career-high 39 runs above average in 2008). Why Tex's run value against the most frequently-seen pitch in the game has been trending downward for the last two seasons is a bit troublesome, but also likely a post for another time.
In any event, given the random fluctuations inherent in small year-to-year pitch samples it's probably just as likely that Tex bounces back and has a reasonable year against the curve this coming season, although it appears to have been one of the primary contributors to his sub-par year in 2010.