How the mighty have fallen. In 2009 Derek Jeter was still the Yankees’ golden boy. He posted a wOBA of .390, the third-best mark of his career, and posted a .947 OPS in the World Series, leading the Yankees to their fifth title during his tenure. In 2010, however, that all came undone. In his age 36 season he hit .270/.340/.370 for a .320 wOBA. Every single mark was a career low for The Captain, who looked every bit his age.
Jeter complicated matters in the offseason. He became a free agent for the first time after the 2010 season, and immediately found himself in a battle with the Yankees over money. Given that according to Baseball-Reference, Derek has made more than $205 million in his career, few Yankee fans felt sympathy for him. There were some cries to pay Jeter what he wanted and move on, but the Yankees took a hard line with their aging superstar to make sure that the team wasn’t once again saddled with an overpaid, declining superstar. In the end both sides agreed to a three year deal at $17 million a year with a player option for a fourth year. Jeter took a pay cut, but Fangraphs reports that Derek was worth only $10 million last season. The Yankees are likely over paying to keep their icon. Will he have anything left?
Lost in all the uproar over how much Jeter should be paid was the reality that the Yankees have no other Major League option at shortstop, and that even as he declines Derek remains one of the best shortstops in the game. According to Fangraphs Derek was worth 2.5 fWAR in 2010. Those are hardly the numbers he put up during his halcyon days of yore, but that’s still pretty good — good enough to be the ninth-best at his position in all of baseball, and fourth-best in the AL. The Yankees weren’t just keeping their only option at short; they were keeping one of the better options at that position in the game. It is a testament to how good Jeter has been in his career that his 2010 was seen as such a disappointment.
Unfortunately for the Yankees and their fans, the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture for Jeter in the immediate future. In 2009 he was worth 27.8 runs against the fastball. In 2010 he was worth only 1.4 runs against the fastball, or just about replacement level. That is one of the key differences between his 2010 and Alex Rodriguez‘s season last year. Both struggled, but A-Rod still murdered the fastball, suggesting he has more left in the tank. Jeter struggled to get around on the heater and was forced to start his swing early, to bad results.
In response to his travails against the fast pitch, Jeter began chasing breaking pitches outside of the zone. He swung at 28.2% of the pitches he saw off the plate, compared to 22.2% in 2009. Providing further evidence that he was laying off the fastball and looking for the slow pitch, Jeter actually swung at fewer pitches in the zone. That number dropped to 67.2% from 70.2%. Overall Jeter swung at 47.1% of the pitches he saw, which was in line with career numbers, but his selection changed, for the worse.
The hesitancy against the fastball doesn’t augur well. Most good hitters anihiliate fastballs, while staying alive against the breaking stuff. For his career Jeter has been no different. He was typically a good fastball hitter. Looking to hit breaking pitches now doesn’t play to his strengths.
No player on the Yankees will be more closely analyzed than Derek Jeter in 2011. He has been one of the biggest names in baseball since 1996. He is now struggling both on and off the field for the first time in his career. If he bounces back, then all this controversy will be forgotten quickly. If he struggles, however, the second guessing will grow louder and the scrutiny will increase. This past offseason Jeter worked with Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long to improve his timing. If he can get back some of his mojo against the fastball then Derek may very well be in for a good season, one that promises to see him become the first Yankee in history to collect 3,000 hits. If he cannot, then all the media will be curious to see how he responds to two consecutive bad seasons. Fortunately for us, historically the smart money has been on Derek Jeter.
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