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.
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.
|Out of Zone||Total||LD%||GB%||BB%||K%||Pit/PA||BABIP|
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.