For all the concern about how he'd be physically coming into spring camp this year, concern that I admittedly shared, it was a pretty quiet Spring Training for Derek Jeter. He was on his own schedule, he got into games early enough, he never reported any problems with his ankle or legs, never had any issues really. He worked at his pace, felt good, and was ready to play when the regular season started. What was a small concern was how quiet his bat was in ST. Jeter hit .137/.214/.157 in 51 spring at-bats, striking out 10 times and hitting a ton of groundballs.
Regular season production is what really matters and Jeter's was going to be watched closely regardless of how he hit in the spring simply because he was a shortstop turning 40 and coming off a season lost to injuries. He's played in 9 of the Yankees' first 10 games and so far that production has been pretty good. Jeter wakes up today with a .290/.389/.355 slash line, 3 runs scored, 2 doubles, 4 walks, and a .342 wOBA. After a weak-hitting spring camp, Jeter appears to have found his timing and his early contact rates are encouraging.
Last year, Jeter had a GB rate over 70%. In 2012, his last full season, Jeter had a GB rate of 62.5%. In ST, I think it was close to 80%. Through his first 9 regular season games, it's 59.1%. That's the lowest it's been since 2009, and coupled with a 22.7% LD rate and an 18.2% FB rate it adds up to a pretty typical Jeterian contact split. It's not like Jeter is tearing the cover off the ball, but he's definitely not making contact like somebody who's physically weaker or can't keep up. He's squaring up on the ball plenty.
Throw his spray chart into the mix and things look even more Jeterian:
The rule of thumb has always been if Jeter's going the other way regularly, he's on. Well he appears to be going the other way a lot in the early going and it's working out pretty well for him. Jeter's driving the ball to right for base hits, but more importantly he's hitting his groundballs there too. When Jeter tries to do too much and get ahead of the ball, he pulls his grounders weakly to the left side. To not see any groundouts to the left tells me that he's staying back on the ball, not trying to do too much, and focusing on driving the ball the otherway rather than trying to pull it and losing the strength of his leg drive.
There are a few hits back up the middle and a couple that he has pulled to left field and this is a good sign too. It means Jeter still has enough bat speed to get around on mistake pitches and still has enough pop to pull a misplaced offspeed pitch for power. Think about that double against Baltimore on Monday. Splitter that stayed up, boom. Jeter made the pitcher pay. Break his spray chart down to just 4-seamers, a pitch he's seeing 45% of the time right now, and you'll see it's almost all contact to the right side:
When you think about it, that's a pretty smart strategy for an older hitter to have. Stay back on the fastballs and take them the other way like you've been doing since you first came up, square up the offspeed stuff and try to pull that for power when you can. It's Jeter playing to his strengths and playing away from his natural age-related weakness, loss of power.
If you want to point out 1 black mark on Jeter's contact record right now, it would be the increase in contact he's not making. Jeter has a 24.3% K rate, almost 10% higher than his career average, and I'd venture a guess that some lost bat speed has something to do with that. If that's the case, then it makes even more sense for Jeter to use the approach he appears to be using early on. Stay back on the ball, stay patient (4 BB in 37 PA), don't try to do too much, and take what the pitcher gives you. It's not like Jeter has racked up all these hits by accident. The guy knows what he's doing up there, and that part of the game doesn't go away no matter how much the physical tools may deteriorate. Long story short, this has been a very positive start at the plate for Jeter. If he can stay healthy and keep doing what he's doing, he should be just fine.
(Charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers, photo courtesy of Getty Images)