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December 12, 2007
The 2006 season saw Mark Teahen make great strides offensively, but last year saw a drop in his output and a reversion to his pumpkin form. This situation presents some issues regarding Teahen's future performance, and those are what we will look at today.
Mark Thomas Teahen attended St. Mary's University in California, where he was a high batting average guy with middling power, except for in his last season:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2000 St. Mary's(NCAA) 195 .323/.444/.431 21% .108 9 16.3% 13.8% 2001 St. Mary's(NCAA) 186 .360/.460/.489 28% .129 19 15.9% 10.2% 2002 St. Mary's(NCAA) 194 .412/.493/.624 31% .212 19 13.2% 7.5%
Teahen showed excellent control of the strike zone, walking a considerable amount while seldom striking out, and his batting average and his power climbed each season. The right-throwing, left-batting Teahen was subsequently drafted by the Oakland A's in the famed Moneyball draft class of 2002. Teahen had always hit the other way-it's part of the reason he was able to control the zone and hit for high averages-but he lacked power since he avoided pulling the ball. The Athletics felt that Teahen could develop power if he began to pull the ball, but getting him to do that would prove to be more difficult than expected.
As Moneyball's author, Michael Lewis, wrote in this New York Times Magazine article, and our own Dan Fox recalled in a wonderful piece last year, the A's attempted to mold Teahen into a pull hitter, showing him how Jason Giambi used to be, but Teahen ended up putting on fat instead of muscle, and screwed himself up rather than improving his offensive profile:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2002 Modesto(A+) 234 .239/.307/.299 20% .060 10 8.2% 20.6% 2003 Modesto(A+) 381 .278/.377/.362 24% .084 23 12.9% 22.5% 2004 Midland(AA) 197 .335/.419/.543 38% .208 19 12.7% 19.2%
Not only did Teahen not develop any power at Modesto in two years there, but his strikeout rate increased drastically from where it was during his collegiate career. The 21-year-old Teahen struck out 101 times in 381 at-bats in 2003, which doesn't fly unless your Isolated Power is about 200 points higher than his was. An increase in BABIP each year-from .306 to .374 to .408 at the three listed stops-helped Teahen put together better seasons, and he was even promoted to Triple-A Sacramento for 60 at-bats, where he managed to avoid falling on his face, hitting .275/.383/.391 at age 22.
The A's either decided they couldn't turn Teahen into the power hitter they had originally envisioned, or felt they could get a better player via trade; either way, Teahen was sent packing as a piece in the three-way Carlos Beltran deal. He would finish the year as a member of the Omaha Royals with some decent numbers:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2004 Omaha(AAA) 246 .280/.344/.447 35% .167 16 7.7% 25.2%
There are a few issues here, namely the strikeout rate and lack of serious power. Without the power production people expected (or didn't expect, depending on who you ask) from Teahen, he would need to hit for a high average and walk often in order to be productive. Striking out in 25 percent of his plate appearances wasn't helping either cause, leaving his numbers in the realm of mere decency.
This didn't stop Kansas City from trying to show off a part of what they acquired in exchange for one of the better players in Royals franchise history, so Teahen was rushed to the majors at age 23 despite not yet having everything put together in Triple-A just the year before:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2005 Kansas City(MLB) 447 .246/.309/.376 36% .130 33 8.1% 21.8%Baseball Prospectus 2006 noted that Teahen improved as the season dragged on, but pointed out that he still had issues:
The centerpiece of the Carlos Beltran trade is at a career crossroads this year. His unimpressive rookie performance hides the significant defensive improvement he made during the season--he was eight runs below average at third base midway through the season--as well as the fact that he finally started pulling the inside pitch late in the year, smacking four of his seven homers (and .303/.352/.505 overall) from September 1st on. He's a disciplined hitter, but he must continue to hit for at least modest power, or succumb to Sean Burroughs Syndrome.
Between his actual performance and more anecdotal evidence presented in Fox's piece, it seems as if Teahen would do his best to hit for power and pull the ball when he was forced to do so-as in, when his job may have been in trouble and he needed to show some sort of progress, or he had a Hall of Famer watching him in the batter's box.
The Royals let him know in 2006 that his job was indeed in trouble, and sent him to Triple-A to work on things. Teahen responded with the kind of performance that more than likely put a smile on the faces of both Billy Beane and Allard Baird:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2006 Omaha(AAA) 79 .380/.500/.658 47% .278 12 19.4% 15.2% 2006 Kansas City(MLB) 393 .290/.357/.517 40% .226 28 9.2% 21.6%
His time in Kansas City was better than that line shows in a way, as he hit .260/.319/.448 before the All-Star break, and then .318/.392/.582 afterward. What changed in Teahen's approach that allowed him to do so well? He started to pull the ball more, for one, and this led to additional homers. He hit to all fields though, and even hit a handful of homers the other way. A shorter swing helped him add some more speed to his bat; though he still struck out plenty, he at least now had the power to back it up.
Baseball Prospectus 2007 detailed Teahen's story and future:
…after working with his Triple-A batting coach, Teahen morphed into George Brett for the rest of the year…until he was shut down in early September for shoulder surgery. He went from waiver bait to owning the second-highest EqA of any AL third baseman (behind Alex Rodriguez) in four months. Is he likely to keep it up? Great leaps forward are rare, but they're considerably less rare at age 24 than later in life. PECOTA is certainly optimistic, projecting him to keep most of his gains.
What PECOTA did not foresee was that Teahen would fail to keep the swing that made him so effective in 2006, instead reverting back to the one that earned him more liners than flyballs, as he had done in the past:
Year Team AB AVG/ OBP/ SLG XBH% ISO 2B+3B BB% K% 2007 Kansas City(MLB) 544 .285/.353/.410 30% .125 39 9.2% 23.3%
Considering that Teahen was now playing in a corner outfield spot instead of at third base, the drop in power hurts his status even more than it would have. The only reason the shine from his 2006 campaign hasn't worn off all the way yet is because we know he's capable of doing it again. Let's take a look at his batted-ball data for the past three years:
Year P/PA FB% LINEDR% GB% IF/F% HR/F% BABIP eBABIP Diff. 2005 3.9 23.8% 23.5% 52.8% 6.2% 8.6% .309 .355 +.046 2006 3.9 35.4% 15.9% 48.7% 6.4% 16.5% .331 .279 -.052 2007 3.8 29.2% 20.8% 50.0% 7.4% 5.8% .361 .328 -.033
Teahen increased his flyball production while losing out on some liners between 2005 and 2006. This gave him a serious boost to his power numbers, since many of those flyballs turned into homers rather than lineouts in the middle of the outfield. For 2007, we see Teahen lose out on some of those flyballs, while tacking much of the lost liner rate back on. In addition to that, we see that his rate of homers per flyball dropped lower than not only his 2006 rate, but his 2005 one as well.
Not just that, but Teahen also reverted to his 2005 form on flyballs turning into hits. After hitting .254 on flyballs (not including popups) in '05, Teahen hit .352 in '06 and then just .260 this past year in the same situation. If his swing reverted to the way it was before, then it's easy to see where this dip in production came from.
Looking at his Hit Charts from MLB.com, we see that Teahen did not get the same loft and distance under his flyballs and liners as he did in 2006:
In 2005, Teahen hit most of his flyballs to the middle of the outfield, keeping him from putting together high extra-base hit totals or adding any homers. In 2006 we see a shift, as many more flyballs start to make their way over the heads of outfielders, or at least much deeper. His 2007 looks like it is somewhere in between the two contrasting charts, and his opposite-field power all but disappeared, as did his power up the middle.
What can we take from this? Teahen is a hitter better served by trying to get loft under pitches in order to drive them deep into the outfield, as he just doesn't do enough with the ball when he tries to poke it with a line-drive swing. If he were still in the infield and getting on base while hitting for a decent average, you might be able to put up with the lack of power to some degree.
His defense helps his cause, but only to a point. The Davenport Translations love him defensively in right field, and John Dewan's Revised Zone Rating sees him as a bit above-average, but that doesn't change the fact that he can't out-slug Yuniesky Betancourt while playing an offensive position. The most frustrating thing about Teahen is that after seeing his 2006 season and noting the apparent changes in his style during 2007, we know he can perform better than he did in '07, but unless he sticks with what works for him offensively-and not what he prefers to do-we won't see that production again.