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MIAMI, FL - JUNE 15: Mark Teixeira #25 of the New York Yankees bats during the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on June 15, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

Mark Teixeira’s hot June

It’s become a familiar sight to Yankees fans: Mark Teixeira smashing a pitch for what should be a single through the right side of the infield only to see a second baseman shifted into shallow right field easily field the ball and throw the plodding first baseman out. Defensive shifts have been part of the reason for Teixeira’s tumbling average: after posting a .290 batting average from 2003 to 2009, he’s hit .243 since 2010. As defensive shifts caught on in this decade, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) went from .308 in the first seven seasons of his career to .245 in the next six. For reference, the league average batting average on balls in play over that time is .297. Among hitters with at least 2,500 plate appearances since 2010, Teixeira’s is the lowest by fifteen points.

The same trend had been even more pronounced this season. Through 197 April and May, Teixeira’s BABIP stood under the Mendoza line at .198, far lower than his .239 batting average. When a hitter has a BABIP that low over such a span, it’s not usually a sign of bad luck—it’s a sign that there’s something wrong. Indeed, Teixeira’s low BABIP put him with the likes of Luis Valbuena, Stephen Drew, Chase Utley, and Jose Ramirez—all far below average hitters. And yet, Teixeira’s overall performance at the plate had still been good enough for a 146 wRC+. Put differently, 46% better than league average. This prompted FanGraphs’s Craig Edwards to write that ‘Mark Teixeira Has No Use For BABIP.’

And, at that point, he really didn’t. The team would live with his constant groundouts as long as they came with the .907 OPS. And yet, it seems in 53 June plate appearances that Teixeira would like a little BABIP here and there after all. Since the Yankees’ June 1st victory over the Mariners in which Teixeira smacked a grand slam off of Felix Hernandez, his BABIP is .333.

53 plate appearances is a pretty small sample size, and it could be that such a surge is a result of a fluke. However, there are signs that Teixeira has made substantive changes at the plate. Overall, Teixeira is hitting fewer groundballs, hitting a wormkiller on 26.5% of his balls put in play this month versus 43.6% of the time in the first two months of the season.

Teixeira has hit his fair share of groundballs in his career, with annual rates ranging between the mid-30s and low-40s in the 2010s. However, in the past month, he’s increased his line drive rate from 17.1% in April and May to 29.4% in June, helping to fuel his .318 batting average for the month. He’s also doing a better job of hitting those line drives to all fields. His pull rate, which has usually hovered above 50% over the course of his career and was 57% through the first two months of the season, has been 44% since the beginning of June. He’s hitting about the same percentage of balls to the opposite field, but he’s increased the amount of balls driven up the middle by nearly 12%. Line drives up the middle are always desirable, and Teixeira has hit plenty this month:

That’s not true for all of Teixeira’s types of batted balls, as all four of his home runs—starting with the big fly against King Felix—were pulled to right field from the left side of the plate. However, no one’s complaining, as a home run is a home run, no matter where it’s hit.

Teixeira’s also begun to hit the ball harder this month. With the release of MLB.com’s statcast this year, Rob Arthur of FiveThirtyEight quantified the intuitive notion that hard-hit balls are more likely to be hits.

This month, Teixeira’s hit the ball much harder, as his exit velocity off the bat has risen from 88 MPH in April-May to 92 MPH in June. According to FanGraphs, Teixeira is making soft contact only 6% of the time this month, down 16% from the beginning of the season. He’s made contact classified as hard or medium 94% of the time.

It’s unlikely that Teixeira will sustain such a BABIP throughout the season. He’s only hit one ground ball from the left side of the plate this entire month, and while I could go for the rest of my life without seeing Mark hit one to shallow right field again, chances are that it probably won’t happen. However, if he can continue using the whole field, hitting the ball hard, and keeping the ball off the ground, Teixeira could see his batting average rise.