Thoughts on Mark Teahen
It was a dismal season for the Kansas City Royals. Chaos in the manager's office. Zack Greinke struggling. Jose Lima's run at a 7.00 ERA. 455 at-bats for Terrence Long. Lots of bad news for Royals fans.
But the campaign wasn't a complete failure. . .there were some bright spots. The bullpen was pretty good, and young, and should continue to improve. Mike MacDougal threw strikes on occasion. David DeJesus had a good year. Emil Brown turned out to be useful, outhitting Carlos Beltran. Mike Sweeney stayed healthy.
They drafted and signed Alex Gordon, a hitter who could be something like a cross between George Brett and Mark Teixeira and who should be ready for the majors within a year. The only question for Gordon is what position he will play. He's a good defensive third baseman, but he has Mark Teahen ahead of him. Right now, Teahen doesn't look like much of an obstacle. And if Mark Teahen wants to keep his job and force Gordon to the outfield, Teahen MUST get off to a good start in 2006.
First, let's review what was expected of Teahen entering the season:
Minor League Ball Community Proj: BA: .274 OBP: .348 SLG: .418 7 HR
Baseball Prospectus PECOTA Projt: BA: .251 OBP: .322 SLG: .375 7 HR
Baseball Forecaster 05Projection: BA: .272 OBP: .354 SLG: .395 5 HR
ZIPS Baseball Think Tank Project: BA: .265 OBP: .332 SLG: .384 6 HR
John Sickels Experimental Projec: BA: .263 OBP: .330 SLG: .386 6 HR
Actual Results: BA: .246 OBP: .309 SLG: .376 7 homers
Teahen's power production was exactly in line with expectations....homers and SLG were very close to what was expected. His batting average and OBP were disappointing, however. His plate discipline (40 walks, 107 strikeouts in 447 at-bats) was weaker than anticipated. His home/road splits were not remarkable.
Interestingly, his best month was September: he hit .295/.346/.505 in the last month of the season. I saw a lot of these games on TV, and he looked, visually at least, like a much better hitter in September than in previous months. He was really stinging the ball, driving it with much more authority. Supposedly he made a slight change in his batting stance to quicken up the bat head in the strike zone. His bat certainly looked quicker, more bat speed. It could be a one-month fluke, and given his struggles the rest of the season, I wouldn't pencil in a .295/.346/.505 line in for 2006. But I think he made real progress, yes.
When things are going well for Teahen, he uses the entire field. He will pull balls on the ground and many of his outs are of the 4-3 variety, but his hit charts show that he can drive the ball to all fields. He hit three homers at home: two were pulled, one was hit to the opposite field. He hit an opposite field homer in the Metrodome, and an opposite field homer at Comerica. He pulled a homer at Jacobs Field, and hit an opposite field homer at Anaheim. His doubles are the same way, evenly divided between fields.
The Royals like Teahen's glovework, and he can be quite impressive visually, showing good range for a big guy and a strong arm. Statistically, however, there are problems. He had the worst fielding percentage of any regular third baseman in the American League. He did rank second in range factor, but was dead-last in zone rating. Baseball Prospectus rates him as slightly below average as a defensive player this year, with an RAA of -1.
Visually he looks better than these numbers indicate, and he still has a good reputation. One way or another, the numbers and his reputation will eventually coalesce, either the numbers improving or his reputation weakening to match the numbers. It should be noted that the Royals have the worst defensive efficiency rating in baseball in 2005 according to Baseball Prospectus, so there is a lot of room for improvement all around on this team.
So, what's the bottom line here? Teahen basically has one year to prove that he can handle the job, else Alex Gordon will push him aside in '07. From watching him play the last three years, and from looking at the numbers, I think Teahen will improve in 2006, putting up numbers more similar to what was projected in '05. I think he'll hit something like .275/.330/.420 next year. I don't think he will ever be a big power hitter; indeed, for him to consciously try to hit for more power is probably counter-productive. The doubles and homers will increase if he just concentrates on hard contact. He can still be a Joe Randa type hitter.
Of course, .275/.330/.420 from Teahen is not going to hold Alex Gordon back, not unless Teahen's defense is Gold Glove caliber. And while Teahen's defense may be better than what the numbers indicate, it is certainly not Gold Glove caliber, not right now anyway.
Teahen must get off to a good start in 2006. I expect Gordon will be battering Double-A pitching come April. If Teahen doesn't have a good first half, he won't have a job a year from now.