Has Teixeira finally learned to beat the shift?

mark-teixeiraThere is no sugar-coating the fact that Mark Teixeira has had a disappointing season, as he's battled injuries all year while producing career-worst numbers across the board.

His struggles have become even more acute over the past month, with .602 OPS since August 1 that ranks among the worst in the majors. Prior to August his OPS was a respectable .790 –- certainly not MVP-caliber awesome, but also not replacement-level awful.

However, there is perhaps one positive trend that has emerged from this most recent slump by Teixeira: it appears that he may have finally learned how to beat the shift.

[Note: Since the majority of the shifts that Teixeira sees come from when he is batting from the left side and to simplify the analysis here, I'm going to focus on just those at-bats.]

Teixeira's frustrations with the shift have been well-documented, and have undoubtedly contributed to his rapidly declining batting average since joining the Yankees.

The first four months of this season followed a familiar script as Teixeira routinely pounded the ball into the ground towards the right side, directly into the shifted defense.

According to video review by scouts at Baseball Info Solutions, from April through July, Teixeira hit 54 grounders and short line drives against the shift and managed just five hits, producing a .093 average on those batted balls. Since August 1, Tex already has more hits (6) against the shift in far fewer plate appearances, hitting .273 on 22 grounders/short liners in play.

There have been two key differences in his approach over the last month compared to the first four months that has helped him beat the shift. First, as you can see in the spray charts below, he's pulling far fewer of his grounders and short liners to the right side of the infield when batting left-handed.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information

Nearly three-quarters of his groundballs and line drives hit as a lefty to the infield were pulled through July 31; since the beginning of August, that rate has fallen to 60 percent while his percentage of grounders/short liners to the opposite field has nearly tripled.

He executed this approach to perfection last Thursday against the Red Sox, hitting a hard groundball to the shortstop-third base hole for an infield single. Xander Bogaerts was the lone Boston fielder on that side of the infield and was not in position to make the play because of the shift.

Simply put, he's more often "hitting 'em where they ain't", which goes a long way in explaining how his numbers against the shift have improved. But it doesn't tell the entire story.

Teixeira is also generating more solid contact on those groundballs and short liners since August 1, making it much easier for them to find holes in the defense. His hard-hit rate on grounders and infield line drives has nearly doubled from the first first four months (9%) compared to the last five weeks (17%).

While this newfound ability to beat the shift over the past month is a positive step for Teixeira, it is still just a small sample of plate appearances and its unclear whether it represents a permanent change in his approach. More significantly, the improvement is also merely a silver lining to Teixeira's dismal season and cannot erase the fact that he is clearly a slugger in decline.