In 2010, by all measures, Derek Jeter had what was probably the worst season of his career. His .270 batting average, .340 OBP, and .370 slugging percentage all represented career lows. He also hit ground balls at an incredibly high rate, nearly two thirds of the time, resulting in a BABIP that was almost 50 points below his career rate. Jeter has been such a consistent and successful player throughout his career that after posting a .390 WOBA in 2009 at age 35, many people believed that like his teammate Mariano Rivera, the aging curve was merely a suggestion. These expectations were brought back to reality by Jeter’s mediocre 2010 at age 36, prompting questions of whether the Captain’s best days are behind him, and he will finally enter a steady decline phase.
Such a terrible (by his lofty standards) season at age 36 certainly fits into the narrative of Jeter (and the Yankee roster as a whole) aging and becoming ineffective. To determine if 2010 was a fluke or a sign of likely decline, it would make sense to take a look at Derek’s swing to see what has changed. Luckily, Fanhouse’s Frankie Piliere has done just that, breaking down the changes in the famous Jeterian swing.
You should read the entire piece to get the full picture, but I will relay some of Frankie’s most important observations. Piliere notices that Derek is “starting the bat earlier to to compensate for a quickness that just may not be quite what it used to be.” This is a common phenomenon for older players who try to counteract their decreased bat speed. With this earlier start to the swing, Piliere observed that Jeter’s overall swing mechanics have changed, leading his swing to become more “upper-body dominant”, which has decreased his bat speed and made it more difficult for him to get inside the ball.
The question that Piliere’s analysis proposes but does not fully answer is whether Jeter’s changed swing can be directly attributed to aging (and loss of natural bat speed), or if he suffered from a correctable mechanical flaw. Kevin Long, the Yankee hitting coach, seems to think that the latter is the case. While speaking with Ben Shpigel of the New York Times, Long described his proposed solution to Jeter’s problems. Long is trying to get Jeter to remove his natural stride in an attempt to simplify the swing, which could allow him to improve his bat speed and make more hard contact. He compares Jeter’s situation to that of Paul Molitor, who made similar adjustments to his swing after a subpar .270 batting average at age 38 (the same average as Jeter posted in 2010). The following season, the 39 year-old Molitor batted a lofty .341.
It would be foolishly optimistic to expect Jeter to have a Molitor-esque bounceback season, but there is hope that 2011 could be better for the Yankee captain. If Jeter’s struggles in 2010 can be linked to a mechanical flaw, then correcting that flaw could potentially allow him to return to his familiar success. If his bat speed improves, then his plate discipline (significantly diminished in 2010) could return as well, once again making him a valuable leadoff hitter. However, if the attempted fix is unsuccessful, then the time may come for Yankee fans to accept the hard truth, and that Jeter’s slowed bat will prevent him from ever reaching his previous level of success. Here’s hoping that Kevin Long can work his magic on Derek’s swing, and another struggling Yankee batter can be #cured.
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