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Is Mark Teixeira worthy of Cooperstown?

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Teixeira combined offense and defense at first base like few have, but the position has some all-time great hitters to compete with.

Mark Teixeira
Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

As you are probably well aware of, Mark Teixeira has announced his retirement after 14 seasons in the league. It will bring to an end a great career that came with a World Series title in 2009.

But is he a Hall of Famer? Let's take a look at some of Teixeira's career highlights.

  • 14 seasons, .269/.361/.511, 127 wRC+
  • 404 HR
  • Best seven seasons average a 141 wRC+
  • All-time great defensive first baseman with 104 DRS at the position
  • Part of 2009 World Series Champion Yankees
  • 52.1 WAR/ 37.9 WAR7/ 45 JAWS
  • Ranks 28th all-time among first basemen by JAWS

Teixeira combined offense and defense like few first basemen in history have. Generally, first base is where you put big bats because that’s where their poor fielding skills will do the least amount of damage. If we take a look at some of the best first basemen all-time by JAWS, we see some terrible defenders such as Willie McCovey, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, and Mark McGwire. More recent examples are Jason Giambi and Prince Fielder. What they all had in common is that they raked. McCovey and Thomas crushed the ball so hard that it deservedly landed them in the Hall of Fame, and Thome will likely join them.

There’s a lot of factors working against Teixeira. He did hit very well in his career, but his 127 wRC+ ranks only 47th all-time among first basemen with at least 5,000 PA. Coincidentally, he’s tied with Hall of Famer Eddie Murray. There are 20 first basemen whose entire career wRC+ are equal to or better than Teixeira’s seven-year peak average of 141.

It’s difficult for defense to make up for offensive shortcomings with an offense-first position like first base. Keith Hernandez is the best example of this. He’s arguably the greatest defensive first baseman ever and he has a higher career wRC+ than Teixeira, but he couldn’t even last more than nine years on the ballot, let alone get anywhere close to election. Don Mattingly and Gil Hodges are two other players who brought good defensive skills to the field, but whose offensive contributions fell far from the standard at the position. They didn’t get anywhere with voters either.

Teixeira wasn’t just “good” at first base, though. He’s one of the greatest fielding first basemen ever. Let’s take a look at what the advanced metrics have to say about how his defense ranks all time among players who played at first base at least 70 percent of the time via the Play Index.

Player Rfield OPS+ BA OBP SLG
Albert Pujols 139.7 157 .310 .394 .574
Keith Hernandez 116.8 128 .296 .384 .436
John Olerud 103 129 .295 .398 .465
Mark Teixeira 100 127 .269 .361 .511
George Scott 85.1 114 .268 .333 .435
Wally Pipp 80 104 .281 .341 .408
Mark Grace 76 119 .303 .383 .442
Todd Helton 74.4 133 .316 .414 .539
Bill Terry 73 136 .341 .393 .506
Pete O'Brien 69.3 104 .261 .336 .409
Vic Power 65.8 97 .284 .315 .411
Adrian Gonzalez 65 133 .290 .363 .492
Frank McCormick 62 118 .299 .348 .434
Tino Martinez 61 112 .271 .344 .471
Eddie Murray 60.9 129 .287 .359 .476
Bill White 57.3 116 .286 .351 .455
Jeff Bagwell 53.6 149 .297 .408 .540
High Pockets Kelly 52 109 .297 .342 .452
Fred Tenney 52 112 .278 .365 .337
Wally Joyner 51.8 117 .289 .362 .440
Frank Chance 51 139 .298 .397 .396
Ed Konetchy 50 123 .281 .346 .403
Gil Hodges 48.2 120 .273 .359 .487
Rafael Palmeiro 48 132 .288 .371 .515
Anthony Rizzo 46 130 .264 .363 .482

It’s important to note that fielding runs are taken from Defensive Runs Saved since 2003. Before that, it’s taken from Total Zone Rating. It’s less accurate but provides a good enough estimation. I also couldn’t set the search for fielding runs only when they were playing first.

As an aside, I’m shocked that Albert Pujols is at the top of that list. I knew he was an excellent first baseman in his prime and that he didn’t get nearly enough credit for it. Obviously, advanced defensive metrics are not absolutes, but I wasn’t expecting that.

This table shows us a few things: 1) It’s very difficult to combine great defense at first base with elite offense. Only Albert Pujols and Jeff Bagwell have an OPS+ over 140 on that list. 2) Mark Teixeira was truly a monster defensively.

The table emphasizes how Teixeira is likely to fare with voters. He’s very similar to Keith Hernandez and John Olerud. I already discussed Hernandez, and Olerud got a mere four votes on his one and only year on the ballot. They both rank higher than Teixeira by JAWS.

Unfortunately, Teixeira does not compare favorably to Hall of Fame first baseman. By WAR, he falls well short of the Hall average for career and peak. The fact of the matter is that first base has provided many all-time great bats that set the bar too high for Teixeira’s defense to overcome. Being part of the 2009 World Champion Yankees will help, though I’m afraid it’s not nearly enough to make up the difference.

Voters put more weight on counting stats than I believe they should, but there isn’t much there to help Teixeira either. A career total of 404 HR doesn’t really stand out at first base. He doesn’t even have 2,000 hits, and his 14 seasons aren’t very high when evaluating his longevity.

I believe that Mark Teixeira doesn’t meet the Hall of Fame standard at first base. My prediction is that he’ll last a few years on the ballot before falling off. At best, it’ll be several years. With voters becoming smarter and smarter, I just don’t see how he even gets close to induction. He’s firmly a “Hall of Very Good” player. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s still pretty awesome. He had a great career of which he should be extremely proud.

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Luis Torres is a Contributing Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.