Jan
20

Can Derek Jeter aim his hits?

By

If ballplayers could aim their hits with any consistency, perhaps we’d have seen a few more .400 hitters in baseball history. But, as we’ve learned through years of studying the game, it’s not that easy. Hitters have little reaction time between when the pitcher releases the ball and when the ball crosses the plate. During that time a batter must decide where the ball will cross the plate, the velocity of the pitch, the break of the pitch, and then finally of whether he will swing. And then it’s a matter of hitting a sphere with a cylinder. But you know all this, and you know it makes it difficult for a batter to aim his hit to a particular portion of the field.

A hitter can help his case, of course, by generally going with the pitch. Some hitters seem to do this better than others, and over the past 14 years we’ve had the pleasure of watching Derek Jeter slap outside pitches to right field. When pitchers try to work Jeter inside, he can turn around and pull a ball down the left field line, just to keep them honest. In fact, before 2009 he hit more ground balls and line drives down the left field line than the right.

Today at FanGraphs, Dave Allen examines Jeter’s hit tendencies, specifically ground balls and line drives — the batted ball types that generate the most hits. He uses the following field slices to describe where Jeter hits his ground balls and line drives. The number represents the percentage of all GB and LD hit to that field slice, and the shading represents slugging percentage on those hits, the lighter the lower.

Allen makes a few notations about the difference in 2009:

The worst places to hit a grounder are straight at the second basemen or shortstop, those are the grayest slices and in 2009 Jeter cut down the the percentage of his hits to those two slices by 4% (2B) and 2% (SS). He had more hits right up the middle (25% versus 21%), which are singles and doubles more often than outs.

Again, the improvement comes in Jeter’s bread and butter areas, up the middle and to right field. While Allen noted his up the middle increase, Jeter also increased the percentage of GB and LD he hit between the first and second baseman. This probably played a large part in Jeter’s high BABIP, .369.

Allen follows the above block quote with the following: “I don’t think this is a shift in true talent: I don’t think Jeter is any better at ‘aiming’ his grounders.” I’m not as sure. There isn’t a real way to prove this, so for now all we can do is guess. Jeter did, however, display a more discerning eye in 2009 than he had in the two previous years, increasing his pitches seen per plate appearance. Does a keen batting eye allow a player to better aim his hits?

To the average Yankees fan, with the heavy bias that comes with watching a single team so frequently, Jeter does seem better at aiming his hits than other hitters. In 2009 he seemed exceptional, often jumping on the first pitch of the game and depositing it in the shallow outfield. No, he can’t hit a baseball anywhere at will. But it does appear he embodies the Wee Willie Keeler mantra of “hit it where they ain’t.”

Categories : Analysis

42 Comments»

  1. Christos says:

    Answer to name of post, yes.

  2. Derek Jeters other hit tendencies

    20% blondes
    50% brunettes
    5% gingers
    25% Black

  3. Can Derek Jeter aim his hits?

    Yes.

    Wait, you were talking about baseball, weren’t you? Then, no.

  4. danny says:

    Edited by RAB: Don’t care. It’s off-topic, and I don’t care what you preface it with.

  5. Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster) says:

    Wouldn’t the simple way to check this just be to see if Jeter’s BABIP is higher than an average hitter’s BABIP?

    • There is no average hitter’s BABIP, really. Different players put balls in play at different rates.

      I also don’t see how BABIP alone could tell you anything. We’re talking about a very precise measurement.

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster) says:

        What’s the baseline for a “normal” BABIP? Is Jeter’s BABIP that much higher or lower than “normal”? And if we don’t have a “normal” BABIP, what are we judging it against?

        • I think what Joe is trying to say is that comparing Jeter’s BABIP to the league’s BABIP won’t really tell us much because we’re just trying to find out about Derek Jeter. It would be better to compare Jeter’s ’09 BABIP to his career BABIP.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster) says:

      BABIP of Jeter’s 362. No idea what the MLB average BABIP is, though.

  6. pat says:

    Haha I definitely read the title as “Can Derek Jeter aim his shits?”

  7. Jay says:

    “When pitchers try to work Jeter inside, he can turn around and pull a ball down the right field line, just to keep them honest.”

    I believe that should be the LEFT-FIELD line.

  8. Steve H says:

    Can he aim his hits? Definitely not. Can he aim where he hits the ball, possibly. He can aim towards a certain area, but I highly doubt he has the precision to make sure he hits a ball into an exact area that a fielder can’t make a play. If he could, he’d be hitting .600.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      A batter can aim his hits in the sense that they can control whether they pull, go up the middle, or to the opposite field. You always see guys pulling breaking balls because they tend to be out in front of them, and go the opposite field with good fastballs because they’re late.

      • Steve H says:

        Yeah, I agree he can aim the ball, but not necessarily aiming the ball so that they become hits (or outs). Jeter probably aims several balls to the right side that turn into lineouts to 1st.

  9. Steve H says:

    I actually used to have a baseball coach who would give infield and outfield practice by hitting off the pitching machine. He’d call out before hitting it to the position he was going to hit it too, and was probably dead on 90% of the time. It was pretty ridiculous. If was of course on a pitching machine throwing 70 MPH straight fastballs.

  10. A.D. says:

    Yeah, Jeter just kept the avg at .334 for the good of the league, didn’t want to embarrass everyone

  11. Hughesus Cristo says:

    Derek Jeter can do anything. If we’ve learned anything since 1995, it is this.

  12. Poopy Pants says:

    Don’t forget that Swisher awesomely aims his hits out of the park!

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