Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.
Earlier today we looked at the first half of Derek Jeter’s season, when he posted a measly .295 wOBA through the Yankees first 64 games before suffered a Grade I calf strain running out a fly ball. The injury was originally supposed to keep the Cap’n out for ten days, but it ended up shelving him for three weeks and 20 team games. Jeter rehabbed in Tampa and played in two minor league rehab games with Double-A Trenton before returning to the lineup on Independence Day.
Although that first game back against the Indians (the same team he hurt himself against) went poorly (0-for-4), the difference was noticeable the very next day. Jeter went 2-for-6 with a booming double the other way, and several of the outs were very hard hit line drives a well. Another double followed the next day. And then another the next game. And then came the fourth straight game with a double. In his sixth game back, Jeter took David Price deep for his 3,000th career hit, a no-doubt shot pulled to left. That was part of a 5-for-5 day. The time off seemed to do wonders, but it wasn’t just rest.
“Staying back,” said Jeter when asked what the difference was before and after the DL trip. “Stay back better and obviously you’re going to drive balls more. That’s what I’ve been doing since I’ve been back, so I just want it to continue. You can get a lot more work in when you don’t have to play games, so I sort of look at it as a blessing in disguise, I hope. I’ve felt good since I’ve been back.”
The results were stunning. Jeter was hitting the ball with authority after getting healthy, especially to the pull side, and the result was a .346/.393/.472 batting line in his first 38 games back. That’s not far off from the .334/.406/.465 batting line he posted during his MVP-caliber 2009 season. A sixth inning single against the Athletics on August 25th raised Jeter’s batting average to .300683, the first time he’d been over .300 since May 8th of last season, a span of 157 team games.
From the day he returned to the lineup through the end of the season, Jeter hit a remarkable .331/.384/.447 (.367 wOBA) in 314 plate appearances. His ground ball rate went from a 2010-esque 65.9% before the injury to 58.9% after, which is in line with the 57.6% grounder rate he posted from 2008-2009. The strong finished raised Derek’s overall season line to a very respectable .297/.355/.388, a .332 wOBA that ranked ninth among shortstops.
Whenever a player improves their performance after coming back from a DL stint, the vast majority of the time it’s just a matter of getting healthy. In Jeter’s case though, it was about taking advantage of the time off to work on some mechanical fixes, namely staying back on the ball so he can drive it with authority. Post-DL Derek Jeter was the Derek Jeter we’ve watched for the last 15 years, a dynamic force atop the order that hit for average, got on base, and would sneak up on pitchers with some power.