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Thanks Mark Teahen

A question I'm asked frequently as an amateur baseball writer, is quite simply "why?" Why go out of your way toiling over data, combing the web for still more information, and putting your thoughts out there for a tiny smattering of like-minded individuals (i.e. nerds) for no easily discernable reason when most fans are content to watch 162 games, slap a pennant on their wall and call it good? Outside of my canned, "I could start drinking again" response, I don't have the answer to that somewhat existential question.

But sometimes I do have an answer. And when someone asked me that same question upon seeing Mark Teahen stat sheet print outs across my desk I was able to say, "I kind of feel like I owe this guy." You see, last season I was in yet another fantasy league, and after a hot start that ran through May, my hopes, predictably, headed straight for toilet. Rolling up some combination of the treasury notes used for the $150 entry fee and smoking them seemed like a more sensible thing to do as the baseball season entered the summer doldrums.

Combing the waiver wire in an attempt to keep a promise that I wouldn't "waste" any more money on fantasy as we scrimped pennies to flee an exhausting life far away from home in the nation's capitol, I came across Mark Teahen. The Royals' third baseman was just getting into a red hot June, and I snatched him up with the idea of riding his hot streak until it ended. Except it didn't end. He just kept producing and producing. Eventually, shoulder problems ended his season, but his sturdy presence saved mine. And so I wondered, was the guy for real and could he again be a rock for whatever version of the Fightin' Scumballs I would assemble this season? I owed it to myself to find out, and just maybe I could say thanks to the guy along the way.

Year   batting line       K%     BB%   Contact Rate   XBH%
2005  .246/.309/.376   22%   8.2%    76%                36%
2006  .290/.357/.517   19%   9.2%    78%                40%

Minors
2003  .283/.377/.380    21%   12%    75%
2004 (combined)          23%   10%    74%

Teahen started off last season hitting .219/.271/.406 through the first month, and before May closed, he was back in Omaha. During a 24 game stint in Eastern Nebraska, Teahen hit .380/.500/.658 after jumping out to a worrisome 2-23 start. Back in AAA, Teahen worked out issues with his swing as well as a crash course in plate discipline, and he was back in Kansas City within the month. (Craig Brown has a great piece at THT from 9/11/06 looking at the three parts of Teahen's 2006). The 3% drop in his K% and the 1% rise in his walk rate are solid evidence that he found something infectious in learning improved plate discipline and settling into a consistent swing.

Okay, that's great, but is he likely to sustain his 2006 numbers? And for a guy who never had more than 14 long balls in a full season, where did the 18 major league home runs come from?

First, the home runs. Without a doubt the changes in his approach that made helped him pull the ball helped. As the THT article cited above notes, 12 of his 18 homers went to right or right center. His new approach allowed him to put more umph into his swing. (Check out this home run from September 1, 2006, here). The change impacted his overall ability to hit for extra bases, as noted in the 4% increase in his XBH% between 2005 and 2006.

In an article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine in April 2005, Michael Lewis noted (as well as in the book Moneyball) Teahen's lack of power keeping him low on ranked scouting lists along with his marked preference for pitches outside. Teahen's new, successful approach addressed this, and the ability to hit those inside pitches was a key part of his rehabilitation as a ball player. Note the inside location of the pitch in the video clip linked to above. What happened that made it different from the approach employed by Oakland or the session with George Brett that Lewis mentions his article, I don't know. After putting up with years of schooling in my own right, I think that a person receives so much instruction that it takes some time away from being taught for the dissonance to fade and knowledge to sink into the subconscious. Teahen certainly seems to have carried a determination himself that slowed the learning process as well.

Batted ball data reveals Teahen's changes at the plate, and the difference is mind blowing.

            LD%      GB%      FB%      BABIP
2005    23.2%    53.1%    23.7%    .309
2006    15.9%    48.7%    35.4%    .331

Look at the dramatic leap in his fly ball percentage, almost a 12% jump! Combined with his new found ability to pull the ball, his fly ball rate ensured more round trippers.

As for the question about whether or not Teahen's magical 2006 season is repeatable, the batted ball data makes you wonder. The high fly ball rate and the drop in his line drive rate, makes one think that his batting average will drop some, and his walk and contact rates aren't consistent with a true .300 hitter anyway.  His BABIP also shows that he had a little luck on his side last year. It's logical to assume the XBH% will remain, but the .500+ SLG doesn't seem as likely based on the drop in total hits. Still, it's not a stretch to envision good things for Teahen. The changes in his game are for real. PECOTA agrees, forcasting a .283/.357/.475 line for the much profiled player in 2007.

A move to Kansas City's crowded outfield and successful recovery from shoulder surgery pending, Teahan's always got a spot reserved for him on my fantasy team.