Another year, another slow start for Mark Teixeira

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Mark Teixeira went hitless yesterday for the seventh time in eight games this season, going 0-for-4 to drop him to 3-for-31 (.097) on the year and earn him some boos once Yankees fans were sick of harassing Javier Vazquez.
Slow starts are actually nothing new for Teixeira and in fact April struggles have been a career-long story for the 30-year-old first baseman. For instance, last season Teixeira hit .200 with a .738 OPS in April and then batted .304 with 36 homers, 112 RBIs, and a .976 OPS in 137 games from May 1 on.
Here are yearly OPS numbers for April and post-April in Teixeira’s career:

YEAR     APRIL     MAY 1+
2003     .631       .836
2004     .984*      .926
2005     .807       .981
2006     .886       .886
2007     .686      1.025
2008     .797      1.000
2009     .738       .976
CAREER   .761       .944

For his eight-season, 1,068-game career Teixeira has a .761 OPS in April compared to a .944 OPS in all the other months, which is pretty amazing for a sample size of nearly 5,000 plate appearances. In five different seasons (2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009) his OPS in April was at least 170 points lower than his OPS after April, yet the only time his OPS in April was actually better than post-April was 2004, when injuries limited him to just eight April games.
Certainly figuring out why he gets off to such slow starts would be worthwhile for Teixeira and the Yankees, but short of that his being 3-for-31 after eight games shouldn’t really worry anyone. He does this more or less every season and yet for his career has still managed to hit .289 with a .377 on-base percentage and .541 slugging percentage to rank 13th among all active players with a .919 OPS.
Maybe he’s just giving everyone else a head start.

Major League Baseball limits mound visits, puts off pitch clock until 2019

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Major League Baseball just announced its much awaited pace-of-play initiative for 2018. The big news: no pitch clock, with Rob Manfred deciding, in the words of the league’s press release “to defer the implementation of a pitch timer and a between-batter timer in 2018 in order to provide players with an opportunity to speed up the game without the use of those timers.”

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be changes. In rules changes which were reached with the cooperation of the Players’ Union, teams will now be limited to six non-pitching change mound visits per team per game, and one extra visit if the game goes into extra innings. Also, a new rule is being introduced that is designed to reduce the time required for inning breaks and pitching changes.

The mound visit rule is NOT limited to coach or manager mound visits. It also includes position players, including catchers, visiting the mound to confer about signals and the like. It will not count the normal conversations which take place between plays, such as when a pitcher says something to a fielder as they throw the ball around the horn. It likewise does not include things like a first baseman coming to the mound to clean his spikes off with the pitcher’s gear on the back of the mound. Mound visits to check on injuries will not count either.

While six visits may seem like a lot, it really isn’t once you realize that a pitching coach may go out two or three times in a close game and that a catcher, especially in close games, may come out to talk about signs and things seemingly countless times. Heck, they could re-name this the Jorge Posada or Gary Sanchez rule.

There will be one big exception to the rule, which relates to catchers and pitchers truly being crossed up on signals after they have exhausted mound visits. It reads thusly:

3) Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a “cross-up”), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team’s total number of allotted mound visits.

This makes sense as a matter of safety, if nothing else, as you don’t want a catcher truly not knowing where a pitch is going. It’s also notable as one of the few rules changes in recent years that actually adds in an umpire’s judgment rather than takes a judgment call away from an umpire. It’ll be worth watching, however, to see how easy a touch umpires are about this. Again: if we have a tense September game between Boston and New York and everyone has used up their mound visits, I wonder if the umps will truly enforce the rule.

The big problem here is that there is nothing in the new rule which talks about the penalty for trying to make a seventh mound visit. To that end:

This is gonna lead, at some point, to a pretty big argument. Should be amazing.

As for innings breaks, There will be a timer that counts down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised regular season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised regular season games, and from 2:55 for postseason games. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break. 

There are set things the players must be doing at certain points on the clock. To wit:

  • When there are 25 seconds left, the umpire will signal to the pitcher to complete his last warm-up pitch;
  • When there are 20 seconds left, the batter will be announced and must leave on-deck circle, his walk-up music shall begin, and the pitcher shall complete last warm-up pitch;
  • When the clock gets to zero, the pitcher must begin his motion for his first pitch of the inning.

There will be “special circumstance” exceptions, such as when other random things are happening on the field that prevents this, such as in-between inning events going too long or something, and an umpire can determine that a pitcher or batter needs more time for safety purposes.

Enforcement of the clock will be handled by umpires directing players to comply. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline by the league. Put differently, no one is issuing automatic balls or strikes here. It’ll be handled by fines.