Even when Derek Jeter used to struggle, he was hardly ever challenged with fastballs. Even if the shortstop’s bat speed slowed down, being late on a fastball with his type of swing was usually good enough to send the ball to right-field. Now that Jeter is approaching 40-years-old, pitchers are challenging him more than ever. But despite his opposite field swing, Jeter is getting beat by the velocity.
According to BrooksBaseball, Jeter has seen 178 four-seam fastballs and 108 sinkers out of 431 pitches (66% fastballs) so far. That number has gone up as teams have seen Jeter struggle against the pitch, and in the last series against the Rays, Jeter saw 31 four-seamers, sinkers, and cutters out of 38 pitches. 8 of these pitches were fouled off and another 8 were put in play, 5 of which were ground ball outs and 3 were fly ball outs. The good news is that Jeter swung and missed at just 2 of these fastballs.
The Rays clearly identified an early season weakness for Jeter, and through the first 26 games of the season, Jeter owns just a .256 batting average on four-seamers and a .150 batting average on sinkers. He is swinging and missing at these pitches around 9% of the time, which is well above his typical 6% rate, but the bigger problem just seems to be weak contact.
In this current series in Anaheim, the Angels have also stuck with a fastball-heavy approach. So far, Jeter has seen 17 fastballs out of 28 pitches, and he’s earned two hits on them, one at 91 mph and the other at 87 mph. In this short time, he’s 3 for 6 with a walk and a hit by pitch.
Jeter has always been known for his quick hands and opposite field approach, but maybe he’s finally lost the bat speed that made him so successful. He has the ability to wait back on balls and swing at the last moment, but the current fastball-heavy gameplan by pitchers indicates that scouts believe he can’t catch up to the fastball anymore. With his history of hitting, that does seem like a dangerous game plan if his current struggles are a product of rust, but if they’re a product of old age, Jeter will be in for a long and tedious season. He’s picked things up against the Angels of late, and perhaps he’s adjusting to the new gameplan. Keep an eye on the pitch selection and how he responds to fastballs over the next couple of weeks.