Dave Cameron thinks so:
In fact, if we look at his underlying numbers, the decline doesn’t appear to be that dramatic at all.
BB%: 8.1%, 9.0%
K%: 15.6%, 16.9%
ISO: .109, .140
He’s both walking and striking out a little less than his overall career averages, and while his power is down slightly, it’s not like he was ever a guy who counted on driving the ball to produce value. The real areas where his numbers vary significantly from his established norms are the following two areas:
GB%: 65.8%, 56.9%
BABIP: .297, .356
He’s always been a groundball guy, but this year it’s been extreme. He leads all major league hitters in groundball rate, and it’s not even close – Elvis Andrus is second, five percentage points behind Jeter. And yet, even though groundballs have a higher rate of becoming hits than fly balls, Jeter’s BABIP is the lowest of his career, and by a large margin. Before this year, he’d never posted a mark below .315, and he has more seasons with a BABIP over .350 than under that mark. While BABIP is a high variance statistic, even for hitters, Jeter has a well established skill at producing above the league average. That just hasn’t translated onto the field this year.
Odds are pretty good that Jeter’s going to hit better next year than he has this year.
This is an important point to note. Jeter has performed to the very bottom of his range of projections, falling off a cliff rather than experiencing a slow decline. There are players who simply have the bottom fall out and never recover from a bad year at an advanced age, with Robbie Alomar serving as a good example of this phenomenon. However, most players tend to experience a more gradual decline, and I think the underlying rates Cameron points out suggest that Derek might just be having a poor season and will see some measure of recovery in 2011.
Additionally, it seems that Derek has experienced some bad luck as well. Looking at his BABIP compared to his career BABIP is not sufficient, as the quality of the balls that he has put into play impacts his BABIP, as do a number of other factors. xBABIP, a stat which looks a variety of factors to distill exactly which portion of a player’s BABIP is attributable to luck, is useful in this context. Jeter’s XBABIP, or expected BABIP, is .341, compared to an actual BABIP of .297. This suggests that the deterioration in his skills has been coupled with a measure of bad luck that has made his decline seem more steep than it actually is. While I do not expect to ever see Jeter return to his 2009 or even 2007 levels at the plate, I would not be surprised to see him put up a year like 2008 next season. That would be a subpar Jeter season, but it would represent a nice recovery from 2010 and fit in with a more gradual decline pattern.
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