Have you seen Derek Jeter’s talent lately? Recent reports allege the talent went missing during the 2010 season in what could have been an abduction orchestrated by Father Time. The Yankee organization has apparently offered a $51M reward for the lost talent’s presumed return, although hope among many involved has evidently been waning…
In all seriousness though, what the heck is going on with our beloved Captain? His game is rapidly becoming more somber than Peter Gabriel’s rendition of “My Body is a Cage” (which ironically is a rather befitting song for Jeter’s performance thus far). Jeter’s triple slash heading into last night’s bout with the Tigers was .242/.308/.263 (.260 wOBA), recorded over 107 plate appearances. Last night, he went 2-5 and looked largely overmatched (granted even a struggling Justin Verlander is one hell of a challenge). Of Jeter’s 25 hits on the season, 23 have been singles, and over a third (!) of those are of the infield variety. Need a visual? Here’s the spray chart.
It certainly isn’t pretty. The graphic reinforces what we all observe in the games – that is to say some major power deficiency – and it is highlighted further by Jeter’s meager .021 ISO mark. To put that ISO (isolated power) percentage into proper context, Juan Pierre has a career ISO of .068. The cynical side of me assumes this unfortunate downward spiral in production is resultant of age – plain and simple. Let’s be realistic; the guy is in his late thirties (soon to be 37 years old) and professional athletes can’t sustain elite levels of success forever, right?
Perhaps though, a more tangible (and potentially related) aspect of his offensive struggles can also be attributed to his overall plate discipline. In 2010 and 2011 Jeter averaged a 28.5% O-Swing% (swings at pitches outside of the strike zone) compared to a career average of 20.6%. As to be expected, his contact rate on pitches outside the strike zone has also experienced a small uptick this season (65.6% in 2011 compared to a career average of 60.4%) which makes sense given the fact that he’s never been a big whiff guy (career 7.8% swinging strike rate). As the proportion of opportunities to hit balls out of the strike zone increase, so does the rate of success.
In terms of pitch type, opponents have been feeding him a steady diet of fastballs this season (66.9% of the time) which is about in line with what he has seen over the entire course of his career. However, unlike years past, this is the first season which he has been completely baffled by the heater (-3.0 wFB). Consider the table below; in just 2009, Jeter was producing 27.8 runs above average off the fastball.
Frankly, it’s no wonder the results have been awful thus far – he’s making poor contact on pitches located outside of the strike zone. Unfortunately for Derek, unlike his recently-reconciled-teammate Alex Rodriguez, he simply does not have the strength to muscle a ball into any part of the field despite less-than-ideal contact.
The lack of selectivity may ultimately be indicative of declining bat speed and unnecessary ancillary movement in his mechanics (which a certain hitting coach tried to rectify earlier this season). I would not be surprised to find out that Jeter was trying to “cheat” the pitch by starting his swing sooner. He’d have less time to react and less time to discern which pitch is a strike and which one is a ball. The only difference now is as his bat speed decreases, all those remaining points of contact are underscored by less power resulting in copious infield squibs.
Unrelated but still important:
First and foremost, I’d like to give a huge shout out to my brother, Dan, who’ll be graduating from UConn this weekend! I’m really proud of you bro! I know you’ll do great in the professional world or with any graduate-level studies you wish to pursue. Great job and good luck!