NOTE: When I finished writing this post, I began to discuss it with Joe Pawlikowski of RAB, who informed me that Mike Axisa had written a substantially similar post yesterday. Being that I put all this work in, I opted to run the post anyhow. Here is the link to Mike’s post, which I encourage you to read, as it contains a few points that I did not address.
Coming into the 2011 season, many Yankees fans, myself included, thought Derek Jeter would have a bounce back season. While no one expected him to revert back to the level of his stellar 2009, we thought he was due to recover at least somewhat, possibly approaching the adequate production he achieved in 2008. Unfortunately, when Jeter went on the DL in mid-June, it seemed clear that he was done as an effective player, and that 2010 was the beginning of a precipitous decline rather than an anomaly. Jeter was hitting .260/.324/.324 at that point, and had 12 extra-base hits in 293 plate appearances.
However, since returning from the DL on July 4th, Jeter has been nothing short of fantastic, hitting .326/.380/.458 in 160 PA’s, with 13 extra-base hits helping him knock in 25 runs. While Jeter has yet to return to 2008 levels, he is back to where he was in 2010, which provides some hope that he is not quite a replacement player yet. So what is behind this hot streak on Jeter’s part? If you ask him, he’ll tell you that some swing adjustments have helped:
“Sometimes you get an opportunity to work on things when you’re not playing in a game,” Jeter said before going 2-for-6, which raised his average to .283. “It’s difficult when you’re trying to make adjustments in the middle of a game.”
While it is hard to determine whether the improvement is due to the swing changes or not, we can look at some data to try and break down the differences between Jeter’s first 3 months and the last 6 weeks.
The first thing you might notice when poring over Jeter’s splits is that his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is much higher than it was over the first three months. After notching marks of .271, .302, and .262 in April, May, and June, Jeter jumped to a .343 BABIP in July and a .429 in August. While some might attribute his recent good performance to luck, the batted ball data suggests another explanation. Over the last two months, Jeter has been trading flyballs for line drives at a startling rate, which is bound to lead to a higher BABIP.
Over the last six weeks or so, Jeter is simply hitting the ball harder. It is hard to look at the data and ascribe his recent performance to luck, particularly when dealing with a player who has a career BABIP of .354.
Another interesting thing to look at is spray charts from the two periods we are examining. Note that the first chart, spanning April-July 3rd, covers an extra 130 plate appearances, and is therefore more cluttered.
I don’t think this chart surprises anybody. A plethora of groundouts, very few balls pulled to left, a few hits dunking in front of the centerfielder, and plenty of balls to the outfield in right marked Jeter’s first few months. The spray chart displays almost no power and a limited ability to pull the ball or even hit it to deep center. Now let’s look at Jeter’s spray chart for the last 6 weeks:
See anything different? I see a lot more balls to the left side, meaning Jeter is showing a greater ability to pull the ball. Note that there are clearly more grounders to the left side than the right in this chart, and that there are more balls to left field in these 160 PA’s than there were in the previous 293. Other than that, these two charts look fairly similar to me (this is a fairly subjective exercise, so if you see something else, please let me know).
It seems that Jeter is hitting the ball harder and is pulling the ball more over the last 6 weeks. These two things are related, as the ability to pull usually leads to more hard hit balls. I see 3 possible explanations:
1) Derek has made swing adjustments that allow him to turn on more pitches.
2) Derek has changed his approach at the plate to focus on pulling the ball more (meaning, rather than a mechanical change, it is a gameplan change).
3) Derek has not changed anything, has happened to see more pitchers and pitches that he could handle lately, and this is just a typical hot streak that will soon fade.
While I tend to be a skeptic when it comes to older players and lean towards option #3, I do have to acknowledge that Jeter himself has claimed to have recently made adjustments that are paying dividends. While I need to see more of the same from Derek in 2011 to believe that he has actually recovered some of his effectiveness at the plate, I see at least a glimmer of hope in the data that points to Jeter providing some value as a hitter moving forward.
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