Mark Teahen Steps Up

Mark Teahen was a marvelous young prospect who was already at Triple-A.
– Billy Beane
Athletics Nation (9/20/2004)

Tuesday night, when the Royals announced Mark Teahen would undergo shoulder surgery, ending his season, it marked the end of one of the more amazing seasons I can remember. In the span of five months, Teahen went from weak hitting, bottom of the order automatic out, to a superb number three hitter who leads his team in OPS.

Have you ever seen this type of transformation? I know I haven’t.

Check out Teahen’s career divided into thirds:

1st third (279 AB) .251 .312 .373
2nd third (281 AB) .242 .297 .384
3rd third (280 AB) .307 .383 .568

Wow. Just wow.

I like breaking down Teahen like this because it shows just how far he has come. The second line in the chart includes last September, when he hit .295 with a .505 slugging percentage. For his overall numbers to be that low in that split, he had to have been awful immediately before and after September of 2005. And he was.

But look at what he’s done lately. Something happened to flip that switch. It’s transformed him from one of the worst players in the league into one of the best third basemen around.

I do know that we had him projected to be a very good major-league player and an excellent defensive third baseman.
– Billy Beane
Kansas City Star (5/30/06)

It sure didn’t look like it on May 5. That was the date Teahen reported to Omaha. At the time of his demotion, he was batting .195/.241/.351 in 77 at-bats. He had five walks and 23 strikeouts, and looked completely lost at the plate. Maybe that was the problem. Every time up, he seemed to be changing his approach, looking to make that single adjustment that would make everything all right. Whatever he was doing, it wasn’t working. He was lost.

So, he traveled north to Omaha “to get his confidence back,” in the words of manager Buddy Bell. And something happened.

He began his Triple-A tenure with a 2-23 slump, an average of .087. But there was something different. He was becoming more selective at the plate. He was drawing walks. In his first seven games, he drew four walks. His OBP was .222.

Then he went berserk. For the rest of his time in Omaha, he went hitless in a game only once. For his time playing for the O-Royals, Teahen hit .380/.500/.658; monster numbers in any league. This was when he really began taking walks. In 24 games, he walked 22 times. That was by far the best walk rate in his career. Compare that to the 45 times he walked for the Royals in his 153 career major league games. It wasn’t something mechanical at the plate. It was his approach.

In Omaha, he hit exclusively in the middle of the lineup; he hit fourth or fifth in every game he played. And he hit everything. He was .364 against lefties and .382 against right-handed pitching. He hit .350 with the bases empty and .410 with men on base. He hit .381 with runners in scoring position. In close and late situations, Teahen hit only .222, but thanks to 10 walks in 22 plate appearances, his OBP was an excellent .462. He was dominating.

He hasn’t changed his approach since rejoining the Royals on June 3. In 82 games, he drew 35 walks. In other words, he’s drawn almost 44% of his career walks in his last 82 games.

The Incompleat Starting Pitcher
The end of the nine-inning start and how we got here.

This is my favorite table of the season:

4/3 – 5/4 .195 .241 .351
6/3 – 9/5 .313 .384 .557

That’s a 0.941 OPS since early June, representing a staggering 350 point increase. Oh, and the guy that he was traded for… The guy that is making $12 million this year… Carlos Beltran’s OPS is 1.024 over that time. Beltran is a great player and is going to lead the Mets into the post-season, but Teahen is giving the Royals more bang for their buck.

If he ever pulled the ball, the guy could be a monster.
Keith Lippman, Oakland A’s Farm Director
New York Times (4/24/2005)

Teahen was anything but a pull hitter when he arrived in Kansas City. His game plan was to look for pitches away and dink them into the opposite field. Every once in awhile, he would get out in front and really drive a pitch, but those at-bats were the exception.

Since his return, it has looked to me that he was more aggressive at the plate and getting his hands out in front of the ball. According to his spray chart, it certainly looks like he has been pulling the ball. On his batted balls in play, 16% have gone to right field, 19% have gone to center and 18% have gone to left. Those are numbers for the whole season. Before his demotion, the number of balls that went to right was closer to 15%.

And for Teahen, like most hitters, being able to pull the ball is essential to making it in the big leagues. It where he’s going to generate his power and truly drive the ball. Look at this chart from Hit Tracker Online that shows 12 of Teahen’s 18 home runs have been to right and right-center. It’s also interesting to note that the two home runs that Teahen hit before he was sent down to Omaha traveled to left field and center field.

Teahen by the numbers

Here are some stats to digest:

  • Teahen is currently the third best third baseman in the AL according to VORP. And that includes his horrible first half and his “lost” month in Omaha. His 29.0 VORP is only behind Alex Rodriguez (37.9) and Troy Glaus (29.2). Before ending his season, Teahen was gaining on Glaus and probably would have passed him in the next couple of weeks.
  • Teahen is currently good for eight runs created per game. That’s best among all AL third basemen. Hell, forget third basemen. Teahen is tenth best in the entire league.
  • Teahen is batting .331 when he puts the ball in play.
  • Teahen has a fairly low percentage of line drives. For the season, only 15.6% of the balls he hits are line drives. Most successful hitters are north of 20%. If Teahen can hit his current .290 at his lower than average line drive rate, what can he hit if his rate is just average? I can’t do the math, but I’d figure that would add almost 30 points to his average. It’s interesting to note that his percentage has climbed two full points over the last 30 games.
  • Quiz Time

    There have been only three Royals who have broken into the majors as a third baseman and have accumulated over 840 at-bats for the team. Here are the stats for those three through approximately their first 840 at bats:

    Player AVG OBP SLG Runs HR RBI
    Player A .267 .332 .442 130 25 124
    Player B .286 .325 .385 97 8 90
    Player C .321 .403 .459 138 18 109

    Each one of these guys had a decent start to the career.

    Player A is Mark Teahen.
    Player B is George Brett.
    Player C is Kevin Seitzer.

    After a horribly slow start, Teahen looks to be on his way. I’m as excited about him as I have been for any Royals player in the last 10 years. As long as he keeps working the count, drawing the walks and pulling the ball, the Royals could have one of the best players in the league at the hot corner for the next several years.

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