Miguel Tejada is the face of the franchise. He's a capable defender at a premium defensive position, he has a cannon for an arm, and he has the longest active streak for consecutive games played. Yet, none of these are the reasons why Miguel Tejada is a household name. Rather, it is his prowess at the plate that sets him apart from other shortstops in the major leagues. There is no doubt that Tejada has remained an elite hitter thus far into his contract with the Orioles, but it is interesting to note that he has remained effective despite a marked difference in his approach over the past few years.
In 2004, the first year of his contract, Tejada slugged 34 homeruns and set a new record during the All-Star Home Run Derby. It's sometimes hard to believe that this is the same player whose batting line now looks more like Ichiro Suzuki's than a cleanup hitter. Let's look a bit deeper to see if we can pinpoint the changes in his approach.
PA- Plate Appearances
BA- Batting Average
IsoP- Isolated power (SLG-BA=IsoP)
IsoD- Isolated Discipline (OBP-BA=IsoD)
P/PA- Pitches per plate appearance
LD- Line Drive
HR/F- Homeruns per flyball
BA/BIP- Batting average on balls in play
Despite the absence of hardware, this was arguably Tejada's best offensive season. He drew only 48 walks, but otherwise excelled in every area. Moreover, the performance couldn't be considered "lucky" because of a flukey BA/BIP. In general, a player's BA/BIP can be expected to be about (LD% + .120), which fits perfectly with this season.
In 2005, Tejada hit a few more groundballs than the previous season, but the main difference was that he just didn't drive the ball as well. His 8 fewer homeruns on the season are the result of his HR/F dropping 2.9%. He was still an elite bat for a premium defensive position, but it was a slight drop from 2004's production.
This is where things start to get interesting. In 2006, Tejada hit the fewest homeruns he had since he was 23 years old. Although his HR/F% was within his career-established normal range, he simply hit many fewer flyballs than in seasons past. His LD% jumped 3.0%, while he also pounded more balls into the ground than he had previously, which explains the absence of some of those flyballs.
While fewer flyballs meant fewer homeruns, it also meant a new career-high batting average for Tejada. At first look, it might look to be the result of a flukey spike in his BA/BIP, but it was actually the result of the spike in his line drive percentage. A .349 BA/BIP is actually quite reasonable for a player that hits line drives 22.1% of the time, so you could say that Tejada was a true .330 hitter.
The transformation of Tejada from a power hitter to a potential batting title champion appears to be the result of a high contact, line drive oriented mentality. By hitting fewer flyballs, Tejada's power numbers were going to suffer. However, Tejada is skilled enough as a hitter to succeed in a different, and not necessarily less productive, way.
Now, here is the question that Orioles fans want answered: Will Miguel Tejada continue to succeed with an approach conducive to high batting averages instead of power? Well, it is tough to tell with this small of a sample, but things look good right now. Tejada is off to a .344/.392/.427 start that, while devoid of power, is nonetheless impressive from a shortstop. However, there are a few caveats that need to be made.
Tejada is hitting even more groundballs so far this season, which has brought his LD% down to 2005 levels while only minimally affecting his flyball rate. While Tejada has done plenty of damage hitting 19.0% of batted balls for line drives in the past, it is extremely unlikely that he will be able to sustain a .377 BA/BIP. Put simply, this means that Tejada's sparkling .344 batting average is likely to come down a bit as his luck evens out.
Of course, not being able to maintain a .344 batting average is hardly a damning thing in the big leagues. The more pressing concern is that Tejada's power output continues to decline. Although he is hitting slightly more flyballs than he did in 2006, only 6.0% of them are finding their way out of the ballpark, which is well below career-established levels.
With his batting average propped up by a few seeing-eye singles and his power continuing to dissipate, Tejada may not be the hitter the Orioles signed in 2004. If his approach goes unchanged, Tejada can still be among the top offensive shortstops in baseball; he just might not be an MVP candidate anymore.
With such a limited sample, though, Tejada still has plenty of time to return to his previous levels of production. He'll have to either increase his power output to at least his 2005 level or produce line drives at a rate closer to his 2006 season to do it. Either way, Tejada has proven quite capable in the past and it would be premature to discount him.
It will be interesting to see if 2006 proves to be an aberration or if Miguel Tejada is able to return to his ~30 homerun, >.200 IsoP ways of the past. Either way, Orioles fans will one day be able to remember the prime years of a likely Hall of Fame career.
Michael Hollman is the Senior Writer for Inside The Warehouse and can be reached via email at Publisher@InsideTheWarehoue.com