Derek Jeter turns 40 in less than two weeks but he is doing his best right now to prove to everyone that he is far from finished.
The west coast portion of the recent road trip was a good one for the Captain, who went 10-for-23 with two doubles and only one strikeout in six games since June 10 at Seattle and Oakland.
Of course this six-game stretch is an incredibly small sample, but it is worth mentioning that it is the first time he has had 10 hits in a six-game span this season and also the first time he had multiple hits in four straight games in nearly two years.
So has Jeter turned the corner and will the rest of 2014 look more like his standout 2012, or is this just a blip in a final year that is on track to be the least productive full season of his career?
A few key things stand out to support the optimistic view:
Jeter has improved his contact rate over the last six games, with only one strikeout in 26 plate appearances and just five missed swings out of 40. Prior to this stretch he had struck out in 16 percent of his plate appearances, which would have been his highest rate since 2003.
Jeter has put the ball in play on nearly 60 percent of his swings during this mini-hot streak, a significant increase from his 42 percent in-play rate before June 10.
These are all good signs that he is likely seeing the ball better now, and perhaps is feeling more comfortable at the plate than any other point in the season.
Hello, left field
Jeter is hitting more balls to the opposite field than at any time in his career this year, but his batting average on those balls hit to right (.299) would be his lowest over a full season.
His Jeterian inside-out swing that allowed him to punch balls to the opposite field for hits during most of his career was becoming a weakness this season, and he has been unable to pull those same balls with any authority to left field.
Yet in the last six games he has flashed that missing pull power, with four of his 10 hits going to left-center or left field. That includes two long doubles that reached the warning track in Seattle and Oakland, both of which came on inside pitches.
He is 7-for-14 in at-bats ending in a pitch on the inner half of the plate or off the inside corner over his last six games, a huge improvement compared to his .241 batting average on those inside pitches before June 10.
Handling the heat
One of the biggest issues for Jeter this season has been his supposed slow bat, which has resulted in him being unable to handle above-average fastballs.
However, over the last six games he’s seemingly had no trouble with the heat, going 4-for-5 against fastballs of at least 92 mph, including two hits in two at-bats on pitches over 95 mph. Prior to this stretch, he was hitting just .214 on fastballs 92 mph or greater, which ranked 146th out of 171 qualified batters.
Jeter has also not whiffed on any of his swings against these fast pitches over his last six games, after missing on nearly one of every five swings against above-average fastballs before the west coast trip.
Again, we have to remember that this is a very small sample of just six games and 26 plate appearances so there are no guarantees that Jeter has turned the corner this season. Yet based on some of his real improvements in contact rate and handling fastballs, there’s a chance he is on the verge of becoming the “good” Jeter we remember before his ankle injury.