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Matthew Leach

Teixeira needn't change his style completely

Leach: Teixeira needn't change completely

Teixeira needn't change his style completely
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- It seems that all the panic over Mark Teixeira's supposed new bunt-happy, Punch-and-Judy approach to hitting left-handed may have been a bit overblown. It's a good thing, too.

Hitting for power is a gift. It's one of the most essential tools in baseball, and it's one of the best ways to win ballgames. Teixeira has that gift, and if he has to hit for a relatively low average in order to exercise it, that's far from the end of the world. He'd like to hit for less of a low average, and so he's working on that. Still, he doesn't need to compromise the hitter he fundamentally is.

Teams will continue to shift their infields in an attempt to contain Teixeira. But he should be able to beat the shift without changing everything about his game.

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"It's really more about where I'm hitting the ball," Teixeira said after a 1-for-3 day in a 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday. "When I'm pulling the ball left-handed, my average is going to suffer a little bit. That doesn't mean I'm not going to pull the ball. It just means that when there's a pitch middle-away, instead of hitting into the shift, I can hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite field and get a hit."

The switch-hitting slugger, who is signed for this year and the next four, has seen his performance dwindle drastically against right-handed pitching over the past two years. As recently as 2009 he was a terror from the left side, but his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage against righties all declined precipitously over the ensuing two seasons.

That's a problem, if for no other reason than that most hitters see a lot more right-handed pitchers than lefties. It's also odd, since most switch-hitters are more effective facing righties. Teixeira and the Yankees believe it's largely due to opponents playing the "Ted Williams shift" against Teixeira, moving a third infielder to the right side of the diamond.

That's not all of it, though. Teixeira's line-drive percentage from the left side has steadily declined, the liners replaced by fly balls and, especially, popups. He's also gotten excessively pull-happy as a left-handed hitter, which may be the biggest issue of all.

In both 2011 and 2010, more than half the balls that Teixeira put in play as a left-handed hitter went to right field, according to STATS Inc. His rate was 56 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2011. Before then, he'd only had one season in his career where he was that pull-dominated as a left-hander -- 2004, his second year in the Major Leagues.

It's likely that part of that is due to the Yankees' arrival in their new ballpark, where the ball gets out in a hurry in right field. And so while much of the talk about Teixeira solving his left-handed issues centers on things like bunting and trying to hit singles, it's more about a different kind of change in approach.

He doesn't need to see opponents playing a shift in order to work on his plan. Most teams don't utilize those sorts of tactics in Spring Training anyway.

"It really has nothing to do with how they're playing," he said. "It's really my bat path. It's staying inside the ball a little better, so that I can hit the ball up the middle and the other way. So it has nothing to do with how they're playing me."

Teixeira isn't trying to hit softly to left field, not by any means. He's a power hitter. He can hit with authority to left -- this is a player whose college coach described him as having "light-tower power." So that's the goal.

Adjust the stance a little bit -- a little more closed. Adjust the bat path a little bit. And start hitting the ball hard to left and center field -- for singles, doubles and home runs.

"I never try to hit ground balls anyway," he said.

And if that doesn't work, well, there's always another option.

"I've got a lot of tools in my arsenal," Teixeira said with a sly smile. "I can do a lot of things. I might be the best bunter in baseball. I might not. So we'll see."

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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