As we continue our series on Hall of Fame ballot previews with the MLB shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, today’s article will focus on Mark Teixeira. Teixeira was a first baseman with good production on both sides of the ball while playing primarily for the Yankees and Rangers.
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After a college career at Georgia Tech where he hit .400 with 36 home runs, 165 RBI and 178 runs as a third baseman, Teixeira was taken by the Rangers with the fifth overall pick in the 2001 draft despite a broken ankle midway through his junior season that year. He debuted as Baseball America’s #10 overall prospect in 2002 and moved up to the top spot after his only season in the minors. He hit .318/.413/.592 with 19 homers, 21 doubles and 46 walks in just 86 games between high-A and double-A. He earned an opening day roster spot in Spring Training in ’03 and debuted as the #1 prospect in their second game.
It would take Teixeira until his sixth game to get his first career hit, and he followed that up with a home run the following day. After playing third base at Georgia Tech and in the minors, he played mostly first base when he got to Texas with Hank Blalock occupying third and earning the first of back-to-back All-Star appearances that year. He played all over the diamond, though, as along with 106 starts at first base, he made 11 at third base, 10 in left field and eight in right to go along with five starts, including his debut, at DH. He showed some power, with 26 home runs and 29 doubles, but his .259 average was his worst until he got to New York and his .331 OBP ended up as the third-worst of his career, only ahead of two of his last three seasons. He ended up in fifth place in a crowded rookie of the year race behind Angel Berroa, Hideki Matsui, Rocco Baldelli and Jody Gerut as all five players produced between 2 and 3 WAR.
By year two, Teixeira was ready to excel at the plate. He took home his first career Silver Slugger Award by hitting .281 with 38 home runs and 34 doubles with offensive numbers starting to come back down out of the steroids era peak. In 2005, Teixeira earned his first All-Star and Gold Glove Awards, made it back-to-back Silver Sluggers and finished seventh in MVP voting as he hit .301 with a career-high 43 home runs and 41 doubles to lead the AL with 370 total bases. He would earn the second of his five Gold Gloves in 2006 before being traded to Atlanta at the 2007 trade deadline.
Despite posting OPS+ figures of 149 in 2007 and 152 in ’08, it wasn’t until Teixeira was in pinstripes that he would again make an All-Star game. In 2009, his first season in New York, he hit .292/.383/.565 with AL bests in home runs (39), RBI (122) and total bases (344) and was an All-Star, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner, and finished second to Joe Mauer in MVP voting. He didn’t hit great in the postseason, but he hit a World Series home run as the Yankees earned their 27th title in franchise history.
He would never again hit over .260 with the Yankees, and his eight-year, $180 million contract was criticized as injuries took away production offensively and defensively, as well as costing him nearly the entire 2013 season. His streak of eight consecutive 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons came to an end in 2012, and he would only have one more 30-homer season in his career. That came in 2015, when he was resurgent and exciting in hitting 31 home runs and being named an All-Star for just the third (and ultimately last) time in his career, but after hitting his 31st homer in just his 107th game of the year (the Yankees’ 115th) he played two more games before missing a week after fouling a ball off his right shin. He played two games upon his return and then was sat down for good, as an MRI in early September revealed a fracture in his right leg. Another disappointing year in 2016 saw him hobble more than ride into the sunset, ending his career at just 36 years old.
Teixeira’s career totals:
.268/.360/.509, 1862 hits, 409 home runs, 408 doubles, 1298 RBI, 1099 runs, 918 walks, 126 OPS+, 50.6 WAR.
So, is this guy a Hall of Famer or not?
Teixeira definitely deserved more than three All-Star games in his career. There were four seasons in which he received MVP votes without being an All-Star, and in 2004 even won a Silver Slugger without playing in the Mid-Summer Classic. Sometimes late-season surges happen, but Teixeira probably should have at least twice as many All-Star selections as he got in his career. At his peak, he was a great offensive and defensive first baseman, and that defensive value also likely got overlooked by All-Star voters.
Speaking of that defensive value, there’s an argument to be made that Teixeira’s five Gold Glove selections weren’t enough. You could have made good arguments for him in 2003, when him being a rookie and spending some time away from first base may have worked against him, and in 2008 when him switching leagues midseason likely held him back, though he still received MVP votes. We’ve seen players win Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers in spite of switching leagues before and he was probably the best defensive first baseman in the MLB in ’08.
That defensive value is best shown through WAR runs fielding, which Teixeira has the fifth-most all-time among first baseman behind Albert Pujols (also criminally undervalued defensively with just two Gold Gloves), Keith Hernandez (11 GGs, most among first baseman), John Olerud (3 GGs), and Fred Tenney (played from 1894-1911). The Hernandez and Olerud comparisons would be a problem for Teixeira getting into the Hall, as Hernandez had a 128 career OPS+, Olerud had a 129 and neither of them are in the Hall of Fame. They both won two World Series, had better postseason numbers than Teixeira’s .659 playoff OPS and Hernandez even won an MVP. They both had longer careers than Teixeira with 17 seasons each to Tex’s 14 and more than 500 more plate appearances for both of them.
My original thought was that Teixeira probably wouldn’t make the Hall of Fame, as his peak wasn’t long or high enough to get him in, and the comparison to Hernandez and Olerud seems to confirm that. Teixeira was a great player for the Rangers and Yankees while producing some highlights for the Braves and Angels briefly as well, but a Hall of Fame first baseman should have offensive numbers that jump off the charts at you and Teixeira doesn’t quite fit that bill.
Up next: Jimmy Rollins