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Archive for May 6th, 2010

So much attention has been paid to the almost excessive patience exhibited by Nick Johnson, that no one has seemed to notice that Derek Jeter is swinging at more pitches than he ever has in the past. Who knows, maybe the Captain is compensating for the glacial approach of the man he precedes in the lineup? Or, perhaps he took Joe West’s criticism to heart? In any event,  Jeter has definitely been swinging the bat.

Derek Jeter has been swinging the bat with much greater frequency.

Although Jeter has never been the most patient hitter, he also has never been a hacker. Jeter’s modus operandi has always been to swing at strikes and take balls. It sounds like a simple approach, but it is one of the key reasons for his success. This year, however, he has been swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone. A lot more in fact.

According to fangraphs.com data,  one-third of Jeter’s swings have been at pitches outside the strike zone. Not only does that rate exceed the league average of 27.1%, but it is by far the highest percentage of his career (the previous was 23.7% in 2008) and well above his career rate of 19.7%. Jeter is also making substantially more contact on all pitches. To date, he has made contact on 88.6% of all swings, a 5% bump over his career average, and put the ball into play in 84% of all plate appearances, up from his normal level of 72%. Jeter has also seen fewer pitches  per plate appearance: 3.58/PA versus 3.75/PA for his career.

So, how has Jeter’s new approach translated into performance? A cursory look at his numbers reveals a batting average and slugging percentage somewhat in line with career norms, but an on base percentage that is significantly lagging. Swinging at pitches outside of the zone will do that.  Jeter currently has a startlingly low five walks on the season. That translates to a walk rate of 4.1%, or more than half his career norm of 9%. For perspective, Robinson Cano’s career walk rate is 4.3%.

While Jeter is also striking out at an ultra low rate of 8.6%, he has not been putting the ball into play with as much authority. His line drive percentage of 11.2% is nearly half his career rate of 20.5%, while his GB rate has leapt to an incredible 71% (compared to 56.2% for his career). Not surprisingly, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is only .311, which is directly in line with his .310 batting average, but drastically below his career rate of .359.

Swings

Out of Zone Total LD% GB% BB% K% Pit/PA BABIP
2010 33.3% 53.8% 11.2% 71.0% 4.1% 86.0% 3.58 0.311
Career* 19.7% 48.1% 20.5% 56.2% 9.0% 16.8% 3.75 0.359
*Including 2010

By no means has Jeter been an offensive liability. In fact, his .833 OPS is still very good. Having said that, the trends toward swinging at more pitches out of the zone and putting the ball in play with less authority are worth noting. A lot of Jeter’s offensive value comes from his ability to get on base, so if his more aggressive approach is permanent, his contribution with the bat could suffer.

If Jeter continues on the same pace, he is likely headed for a down season. Since establishing himself in the league, the only other time Jeter exhibited close to as aggressive an approach was 2008, and that was perhaps his worst season. Clearly, the sample size is small enough that a correction could  soon be forthcoming. His deviation from the norm is curious, however. Could Jeter be pressing a little because of his contract status? Does he have extra motivation to put up bigger counting numbers? Admittedly, that’s pure conjecture and doesn’t seem to fit Jeter’s personality. Then again, no man is an island, and Jeter may be swimming in unchartered waters. This is, after all, the first time he is playing for a contract.

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The Yankees’ Core Four has been whittled down to one man standing. All within a matter of days, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte have succumb to strains and pains of various severities. Only Derek Jeter has been able to keep himself out of the MRI tube, so you can’t blame the Captain if he is sleeping with one eye open.

With the recent injuries to the Yankees core, along with the more serious injury to the younger Curtis Granderson, has come the usually panic over the team’s age. While the “mileage” on some of the Yankees’ better players is a real concern, it should also be noted that the Yankees age is not out of line with recent championship teams. Because of their impressive collection of talented players, the Yankees have the luxury of treating these recent injuries conservatively. As long as they can keep the bumps and bruises from developing into more serious injuries, age shouldn’t be an obstacle that prevents the Yankees from winning #28.

2010 Yankees Average Age Compared to Past Championship Teams

Year BatAge PitchAge Year BatAge PitchAge
2010 30.8 31.5 1951 28.5 30.8
2009 30.5 29.3 1950 29.2 30.6
2000 31.3 32 1949 28.4 29.9
1999 30.9 31.2 1947 30 29.9
1998 30.4 30.2 1943 28.3 30.1
1996 30.1 29.3 1941 27.4 29.7
1978 29.9 28.3 1939 27.7 30.5
1977 29.1 28.6 1938 28.3 30.1
1962 28.1 27.7 1937 28.5 29.9
1961 28.3 27.7 1936 28.1 28.9
1958 28 28.9 1932 28.3 28.5
1956 28.1 26.2 1928 28.1 28.8
1953 28.4 31 1927 27.7 31
1952 27.8 30.9 1923 28.1 28.8

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