The Cap’n kinda-sorta makin’ it happen

The aftermath of a Cliff Lee almost-trade
Yankees sign Colombian catcher Alfredo Castellon
Photo credit: John Froschauer/AP)

Quite a few noticed early in the season that Derek Jeter looked different. No, he didn’t get in the best shape of his life, receive Lasik eye surgery or anything like that — but his hitting approach was decidedly odd. No longer did you see the lithe future Hall-of-Fame shortstop with his trademark lashing of baseballs to the opposite field for a hearty helping of singles and occasional doubles. You didn’t see the trademark patience either; there was no working deep into counts.

Instead, we surprisingly witnessed first-pitch swings that ended up eliciting weak groundballs to shortstop. Some of this was masked by his inordinately high slugging percentage, which gave a big boost to his line. Still, at .330/.354/.521 coming into May, this was not the Jeter of old.

At the end of April, Jeter’s walk rate was at 3.5% (career rate is 9.0%), his pitches per plate appearance was 3.54 (it’s usually in the high 3’s) and his swing percentage stood at 53.5%, roughly 5 percentage points higher than his career average (h/t Matt Imbrogno at TYU). Perhaps the most egregious notation is by my calculation, Jeter was swinging at the first pitch in 53.9% of his at bats by the 1st of May. For a leadoff hitter, that’s dastardly and for the Cap’n, uncharacteristic.

Even if the initial results were positive (his average was a robust .400), it doesn’t often bode well for future success, as pitchers will adjust and the lower amount of pitches seen generally means the more length the starter can give the opposing team. It led me to wonder if his bat was slowing down, which, if true, could be big trouble for a player bound to get a new contract and whose value is largely derived from a plus bat with positional dearth. (His decline against fastballs instills such fear in me.) With suspect defense, he needs to hit.

On the positive side, Jeter’s walk rate, which climbed marginally in May at 6%, has jumped since then. In June and July he’s walked 12.7% of the time and 14.7%, respectively. Jeter’s now within his normal walk range, checking in at 8.3%. His swing percentage has since dropped to 48.1%, directly in line with career averages. With 296 pitches seen on an 0-0 count since 5/1, Jeter’s swung at 87 of them for a first pitch swing percentage of 29.3%. All in all, there are some encouraging signs that Jeter’s starting to get back into his former approach in batting discipline, if slowly.

Still, it’s not all peachy. Jeter’s still swinging at a lot of balls out of the zone (28% this year compared to his career average of 20%) and though he’s making contact, it seems a safe bet that most of those swings are going for easy groundouts. The groundballs are really the crux of the issue.

Jeter’s a career .260 hitter when putting the ball on the ground. This year, however, he’s at .222. Earlier in the season Jeter had been hitting an absurd number of ground balls — 71% of the time for the first month. He’s since dropped that percentage to a still-high 63.1% in May and 63.9% in June, finally falling back to 76% (!) in July (albeit, a very small sample). You’d expect better luck with BABip for groundballs moving forward for Jeter given his career rates and no noticeable loss of speed. Still, this has to be the most perturbing aspect of what we’ve seen out of #2 this season.

(Photo credit: Julie Jacobson/AP)

In spite of the ground-bashing, he’s upped his line drive rate to 17.2% on the season (still 3 percentage points lower than his career average), which has come largely at the expense of fly balls, down to 15.2% on the year. Perhaps some of the irony in his hit data is that Jeter’s been fairly successful hitting the ball in the air — of the scant few times he’s hit a flyball, he’s hitting .362/.354/.915 with a .244 BABip. For his career, he’s a .241/.235/.636 hitter with a .155 BABip. So really, he’s had phenomenal luck when lifting the ball and fairly poor luck when hitting the ball on the ground.

On the defensive side, the longtime Yankee captain was coming off a year in which his normally below-average to fringe-average defense was seen as a plus, registering an 8.0 UZR and a 4 on Total Zone, the former a career high and the latter just the third positive TZ score he’s had in his career. No one expected this at age 35. If interviews and media are to be believed, his success with the glove in 2009 was chalked up to a new exercise routine borne out of Jeter’s desire to improve after being called out by GM Brian Cashman. This year, while not a complete meltdown, it seems Jeter’s defense has again eroded to bare mediocrity. There’s no way to tell if there are nagging injuries or just general deterioration of quickness and agility.

But it does seem strange that he’d have such a spike after years of relative incompetence, then right back down again, no? Was 2009 an aberration? Seems like it, though one season’s worth of defensive metrics is hardly a sign of much (and certainly not one half-season, by that token). It’s no mystery Jeter has trouble ranging to his left, and the jump throws from his right are a sign of poor range. I’d love to see some data on the amount of jump throws Jeter does per season — it may give us a better sense of how his overall range is moving forward, a key piece of data as he’s in line for another contract. All in all, this can’t be considered a plus moving forward.

Reports of his ultimate demise may be exaggerated  — he’s had poor first halves before, he’s suffered from some poor BABip luck and his increase in walks, a better swing percentage (particularly on the first pitch), higher line drive rate must provide some solace for more success later this year — but with a possible four-year contract on the horizon, his July resembling his April approach (albeit in a small sample), and the death-by-groundball, even the most die-hard Yankee fan must be nervous about what Jeter will look like going forward.

Read more of the stupid things I write on Mystique & Aura.

The aftermath of a Cliff Lee almost-trade
Yankees sign Colombian catcher Alfredo Castellon
  • Ellis

    “…of the scant few times he’s hit a flyball, he’s hitting .362/.354/.915 with a .244 BABip.”

    Am I missing something? How can his babip be lower than his batting average on a certain kind of ball in play?

    • Ellis

      Ohh maybe because his flyball batting average can include HRs while babip does not. I wonder if that would cause such a stark difference..

      • Matt Imbrogno

        Bingo. And, it also includes his other fly balls and most fly balls (non Castillo/Figgins division) usually turn into outs.

        • Matt Imbrogno

          Oh, and, thanks for the H/T, JMK. Nothin’ but love.

          • JMK

            Blogger-to-blogger e-hugs!

      • ROBTEN

        That’s correct. It’s because BABIP doesn’t include HRs:

        BA: Hits (17)/AB(47) = .3617
        BABIP: [Hits (17) – HRs (7)/AB (47)- SO (N/A) – HRs (7) + SF (1) = .2439

  • Mike Axisa

    I’m terrified of his next contract. Jeter’s made more money than anyone in baseball history not named A-Rod (according to B-Ref), so I’m not of the belief that they owe him for everything he’s done.

    If he spent his entire career on another team and the Yanks pursued him as a free agent after the season, what would we want them to offer him? Like, $6-8M tops.

    • Total Dominication

      The Yankees should tell him 3 yrs 45 mil, end of story.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      If he spent his entire career on another team and the Yanks pursued him as a free agent after the season, what would we want them to offer him? Like, $6-8M tops.

      I think we’d still offer him way more than that.

      I’m trying to think of a good comparison and this is the best I can do:

      Imagine Manny Ramirez played centerfield, badly. And imagine this winter we needed a centerfielder and all the other CF options were utterly craptastic punch and judy hitters of the 2010 Chone Figgins variety.

      How much would you offer mythical CF Manny Ramirez?

      -He’s long in the tooth, decline is a real possibility
      -Defensively it’s an important position but he’s bad at it
      -His bat in the past has more than made up for any defensive shortcomings, and while he’s starting to slide in offensively he’s still firmly a top-3 performer at his position
      -He’s a proven playoff performer who delivers every October and has multiple rings and signature performances to show for it
      -Every other option is far less of a financial commitment but a huge, gargantuan step back offensively
      -Your farm system has nothing remotely possible of plugging the CF hole internally.

      I think you’d offer Manny Ramirez in that scenario way more than 6-8M, even if you discounted his bat from the 150 wRC+ that he is now to a more Jeterian 115 wRC+. You’d offer him market rates, even if those market rates were approaching 20M, and hope it doesn’t bite you in the ass.


      • JMK

        Maybe so, but this isn’t even about the AAV but more the years. You can deal with such a circumstance if it’s 2 years, knowing there probably will be better options internally or through FA or trade. But you’re in a more precarious position the longer it goes. I’d rather give Jeter $50 mil. over 2 years than $75 mil. over 4, even.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder


          I suspect, given Jeter’s status (even amidst a decline) as one of the top 2-4 shortstops in the game, we’ll have no problem paying Jeter 8 figures. It’s all about avoiding being locked into that 4th or 5th year that he’ll undoubtedly want.

          • Rick in Boston

            I’m really glad Hank isn’t calling the shots on this, or else Jeter would be looking at the 5/100 contract.

    • Lucci

      If he had spent his entire career on another team, I am guessing they probably would not bother pursuing him as a free agent after this season. I don’t think they would be willing to take a chance on a player entering his age 37 season as a middle infielder. I don’t know how the Yankees plan on approaching the Jeter contract (in terms of years offered), and I know if anyone warrants special treatment it is Jeter and Mariano. Still, Cashman only gave Bernie a one year deal after the 2005 season, and then 2006 was the end. He broke that one off pretty quickly, essentially taking two subpar years from Bernie and ending things before they got particularly ugly.

      • JMK

        I tend to agree on your earlier points, but Jeter is a far cry from Bernie, who had measurably declined due to injury and was never near the global Yankee phenomenon Jeter is. I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison.

        • ROBTEN

          Bernie’s drop-off from an OPS+ 136 (’93-’02) to an OPS+ 100 (’03-’06) is dramatic because it was so rapid and without any mitigating seasons. However, if not for Jeter’s resurgent season last year, and if his line continues to be roughly where it is now, we would probably be looking at a player that dropped from an OPS+ 122 (’96-’07) to an OPS+ of around 101.

          Of course, that’s not to say that it’s the same situation as Bernie–as TSJC points out, one has to evaluate Jeter in relation to available replacements and, in that respect, he’s still quite valuable to the Yankees.

          For instance, accounting for defense, position, etc., over the years I listed above Bernie went from a 4.5 WAR player to a .1 WAR, while Jeter’s gone from a 5.0 WAR player to a 3.4 WAR player (although, again, this includes the resurgent 2009 year in which he posted his highest WAR since 1999).

          So, long story short, I agree that although there are worrying signs Bernie’s and Jeter’s later years are unfolding differently and, more importantly, this entire discussion is a shot at Jeter.

          • JMK

            So, long story short, I agree that although there are worrying signs Bernie’s and Jeter’s later years are unfolding differently

            I’m not disputing that there aren’t parallels between the later years of Williams and Jeter, as there would be some for virtually any two players playing a prime defensive position and approaching their twilight after having been great for a very long time.

            That said, as you yourself noted, the situations have some notable differences. My point was more about the idea that performance notwithstanding, Jeter is received differently by both the fans AND the team. Bernie may have been an excellent and popular player, but he carries far less mystique than Jeter, who’s been the face of the franchise for about 15 seasons.

            That’s why I say the situations will end up looking nothing alike. Performance has less to do with it than you might think.

            more importantly, this entire discussion is a shot at Jeter.

            Is Jeter above criticism? Let me lay it out: he’s been a fantastic hitter for his entire career at a position where it’s immensely valuable. On top of that he’s been the most popular player in baseball, arguably of the modern era. That can’t really be quantified.

            But that doesn’t mean there aren’t very real concerns moving forward; knowing he’s looking for a new contract and that the team, due to PR reasons, realistically can’t “slight” him, could make this an untenable situation. It may not — who knows? His new approach has yielded less-than-stellar results this year. Is it just a weird fluke? Maybe, but given that he’s still a 36-year-old shortstop whose bat now is looking far less potent, and that he’s never really been a good defensive player consistently, on the verge of a big deal that may fundamentally alter the construction of the team — yeah, I don’t think this is a “shot” at him.

            He’s been great and I’ve loved his time on the team and I’m hopeful he can still be a tremendous asset to the club, but I’m not going to shy away from the data so as not to upset those worshiping the sacred cow.

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

              I’m pretty sure ROBTEN was joking about the “shot at Jeter” meme reference.

            • ROBTEN


              I was just trying to extend what you were saying by proposing that beyond the “global phenomenon” differences between Bernie and Jeter, even in his decline Jeter’s still more valuable at this point than Bernie was during his declining years.

              But I agree the team is likely to treat them differently regardless, just that it might not be as much as an overpay as it could be.

              this entire discussion is a shot at Jeter

              That was (intended as) a joke. Has it been too long since it was a regular meme?

              • JMK

                Well fuck me. It’s been too long. I feel like a fool having written all this.

                It’s funny because I thought to myself: “It’s weird ROBTEN would write that. He’s almost always spot-on. Maybe he was hit by a car or something the other day and hasn’t quite recovered.”

                • ROBTEN

                  No problem. I think what you wrote illustrates the importance of approaching things critically, regardless of what our eyes and memories might tell us.

                  Although, I won’t easily forget the “almost always spot-on.” There are some things that are just unforgivable. I’m putting you on my list…Oh, wait a sec…the phone is ringing…

                  (leaves to answer an imaginary phone)

                  (comes back)

                  So, what were we talking about? I forgot. I seem to be having trouble remembering things since the car accident yesterday. Or was it the day before. Oh well, lulz all around.

                  • JMK

                    You said something about Kevin Millar being a genius.

                    (answers imaginary phone)

                    • ROBTEN

                      Speaking of which, did I ever tell you about the time I talked quantum physics sandwiches with Kruk? The man’s a genius with sub-atomic particles mayonnaise, fried bologna, and bacon.

              • ROBTEN

                Has it been too long since it was a regular meme?

                Shoot…I just realized that’s probably a shot at Jeter too.

                /because he’s old’d

            • TheLastClown

              Might ROBTEN not have been invoking the ‘was that a shot at Jeter?’ meme?

              • TheLastClown

                Wow…major refresh fail.

  • Tiki

    I’m surprised the “tough NY Media” hasn’t been all over this day in and day out – on the other hand don’t you find it annoying that Swisher got 2 DH days this week and ARod continues to get DH duties, Cano got a day off, etc. It seems to me, Jeter could use a few more days off or DH days at the very least.

    • JMK

      Jeter is largely absolved from criticism. Beyond that, who in the mainstream NY media looks up groundball rates and swing percentage data? I’m not tooting my horn or anything, just saying it’s a different mindset and approach.

      • Matt Imbrogno


      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        I’ll have you know Wallace Matthews knows the ins and outs of EqBRR and the concept of regression to the mean and quite well. He loves dispassionate analysis and abhors overemphasizing small playoff sample sizes.

        [Ed. note: literally nothing at all of what Tommie just said is true.]

        • JMK

          I scanned through that and didn’t see one utterance of the word “A-Rod.” What gives?

      • Matt Imbrogno

        Isn’t it ironic, though, that none of the MSM guys used batted ball/swing data? I mean, those are things that are a lot more closely related to scouting/”feel” analysis that MSM writers tend to use a lot. So, shouldn’t they be using this stuff?

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          They’ll talk about it in scouting abstractions but steadfastly refuse to actually cite any accumulated statistical data about it.

          Because data is for nerds, you stupid poindexter mother’s basement dweller who’s never actually talked to a girl.

  • Matt DiBari

    I’m clinging to the hope of a great second half.

  • Smooth J

    I’d love to see DJ hit .330 again – but that’s just unrealistic. If you would have been told 5 years ago that he would still be playing adequate defense and hitting .280ish – you’d probably take it. This is SS after-all. We aren’t talking about a corner OF. Offensively, he’s still comparable to most guys in their “prime.”

  • hello9

    We might have a Derek Jeter-Brett Gardner Big situation here.

  • j

    Jeter’s career numbers in the second half (.324/.394/.465) are slightly better than those in the first half (.308/.380/.449). So maybe we’ll see a little improvement from here on out.

    He needs to start hitting on the road though. At home he is .317/.385/.484 which is close to his career .323/.397/.471. But on the road? There is a HUGE dip:

    Career: .309/.376/.442
    2010: .237/.303/.313

    • ROBTEN

      He probably just needs one of these to help him to achieve balance in his splits (SFW).

  • FL Yankee

    It was my understanding that the jump throws have more to do with a lack of arm strength rather than a lack of range. The jump throw allows you to use the momentum of your body, which is taking you away from first when ranging to one’s right, and redirect that inertia into your throw. It allows for a quicker release as you don’t have to set and go through the typical action of throwing. It takes a tremendous amount of arm strength and much more time to make that throw out of the hole after sprinting towards the third baseline, corralling the ball, planting, and executing the throw to get the runner. Just my two cents.

  • Mariano’s Pimp Hand

    It seems to me that Jeter is not nearly as quiet as he once was in the batter’s box. In particular the movement of his front foot seems to be more pronounced than I remember.

    Maybe someone who sees more games than me can tell me if I am wrong.

  • Kevin Ocala, Fl

    The Yanks should offer a mutual-option type of contract, year to year like Wakefield gets. Make the yearly number high so as not to be insulting to Jete’s large ego, and see how it goes. Jeter has been (of course) very well paid during his decade long contract. The Yankees certainly don’t “owe” him anything. These days even gods are mortal…

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Good luck with that shit.

      Derek Jeter: not Tim Wakefield

      • Kevin Ocala, Fl

        Cash & Co. have become like William Munny, ‘cold as the snow and doesn’t have any weak nerve nor fear’. This talk of throwing 50-100 million at Jeter because, well, he’s Jeter, is a fairy tale for children. NFW….

  • Mike Nitabach

    How *dare* you criticize EL CAPITAN!?!?!?!?!?!?!?


    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      (gets shiv from under mattress)

    • Kevin Ocala, Fl

      See above. I’m not trying to put The Man down, but this is big business…

  • Cy Farnsworth

    Maybe I’m just blinded by nostalgia, but I’m not too worried about Jeter. I mean sure, 220 hit, MVP caliber Jeter is probably gone for good, but I believe that he’s a smart enough hitter to make adjustments and stay productive. Even now, in his supposed decline, he’s still one of the best offensive shortstops in the game.

    • ROBTEN

      Maybe I’m just blinded by nostalgia

      I’m not sure. Are you wearing these? (SFW)

  • Cecala

    Can Cano play SS?

    • Ana

      If you’re being serious, then I’m sure he could. I believe he’s only at second base because he’s a Yankee. His arm is definitely SS/3B material. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the Yankees have 3 shortstops in the infield, am I wrong?

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        You’re wrong.

        ARod, Jeter, and Cano all have the arm to play shortstop. None of them have the lateral range, I fear.

        • Ana

          Good point. Next question, though: In some hypothetical world where Jeter would get moved from shortstop when his range is no longer acceptable there, would he play an adequate 2B?

        • Matt Imbrogno

          I once thought of this:

          A-Rod is traded to the Yankees and moves to SS. Jeter moves to second, and Robinson Cano is moved to 3B in the minors. He’s got the arm for it, that’s for sure.

          Meanwhile, back in never would’ve happened in a million years land…

          • JMK

            That would have actually made the most sense.

            • Rivera Venue Blues

              A-Rod would’ve had to move off of short way before now leaving us the same problem of fitting in 3 non-shortstop infielders into 3 infield spots including shortstop.

              • JMK

                He was the better shortstop than Jeter at the time and bulked up for power after moving to 3rd. You’re assuming he’d have injuries that have robbed him of quickness and range. Maybe, maybe not. There aren’t many decent-fielding SS’s at 35, but his offense would have been greater than that of Jeter and his defense may have measured similarly. You can’t pull out the fallacy of the predetermined outcome in such cavalier fashion.

                • ROBTEN

                  You can’t pull out the fallacy of the predetermined outcome in such cavalier fashion.

                  TWMKGFS (That’s what Michael Kay’s girlfriend said)

              • Ana

                o/t but your name is exactly how i always read this site’s name.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Too lazy.

  • David in Cal

    I’m with Kevin. Jeter should get a series of 1-year contracts.

    Suppose he finishes 2010 at his current batting and fielding level. What would you predict for the next 3 years? Even 2011 looks like a gamble. Given his reducing bat speed and foot speed, Jeter might be a below average SS in 2011. And, all bets are off regarding 2012 and 2013.

    Also, ISTM Jeter needs the Yanks more than they need him. If he re-ups with the Yanks, he’ll get his 3000th hit here as well as continuing to grow various counting records. If he goes elsewhere, he’s just an expensive, over-the-hill player.

    Instead of thinking about what to pay Jeter for the next 3 years, the Yanks should be thinking about how to use Jete’s current salary to get a new top-notch SS.