What Went Wrong: Pre-DL Derek Jeter

Rooting For The Enemy
Second order of business: 40-man roster crunch

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.

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

There’s no denying that 2010 was a down season for Derek Jeter. Just one year removed from a .334/.406/.465 batting line (.390 wOBA) during the Yankees run to the World Series, the Cap’n hit a punchless .270/.340/.370 (.320 wOBA) last season. His ground ball rate (65.7%) was the highest by a non-Luis Castillo hitter since the data started being recorded in 2002, and most of those grounders were weak, as you know. At 36-years-old, it was fair to wonder if this was the beginning of the end of one of the greatest Yankees ever, and early this season, it certainly looked like it was.

Jeter picked up just two hits through the team’s first four games, and just two extra-base hits (both doubles) through the season’s first month. His ground ball rate sat at a sky high 72.3% though April, explaining the utter lack of power. And yet, because he’s Derek Jeter, he remained atop the lineup despite a paltry .303 OBP in his first 211 plate appearances, essentially the first third of the season.

Every once in a while there would be a flash of the old Jeter, like the four-hit game against the Orioles on April 24th or the two-homer game against the Rangers on May 8th, but he was never able to build on it. That two-homer game in Texas was followed by a .247/.321/.301 batting line through the end of the month, and yet he continued to lead off. Joe Girardi stood by the Captain through it all, saying they would wait 150 at-bats, 250 at-bats, 350 at-bats, whatever it took until Jeter was right. Problem was, those arbitrary at-bat milestones kept passing by without improvement.

On the morning of June 13th, Derek was hitting .259/.324/.324 through 64 team games. The Yankees had one of the best offenses in baseball and were scoring boatloads of runs in spite of his presence as leadoff hitter, not because of it. That night, Jeter tapped a harmless fly ball to right to lead off the fifth inning in a game against the Indians, and appeared to have a little hitch in his step as he ran down to first. Eduardo Nunez took over at shortstop in the next half inning, indicating that the Cap’n did have some kind of physical problem.

The injury was announced as a sore right calf after the game, and an MRI confirmed a Grade I calf strain. The Yankees waited a day before placing Jeter on the disabled list, a move he strongly opposed. It’s not a big deal for the team to play a man short he said, but the team couldn’t afford to play short-handed with the NL leg of interleague play coming up. An injury that was supposed to take ten days to heal wound up taking three weeks.

At the time of the injury, Jeter was hitting a lowly .260/.324/.324, a well-below-average .295 wOBA. For a defensive whiz, that would be tolerable production at short. Derek is no defensive whiz though, and his age made his already shaky defense play even worse. The Yankees had one of the worst regulars in baseball not just suiting up for them every night, but also getting more plate appearances than everyone else on the team while playing a key position. In a way, the injury was a relief, almost like it put him (and us) out of his (and our) misery, at least temporarily. A little later today we’ll look at the other side of the Jeter coin, his resurgence following his return from the disabled list, but for now there’s no way around admitting that pre-injury Jeter went very, very wrong.

Rooting For The Enemy
Second order of business: 40-man roster crunch
  • Cris Pengiucci

    As a huge Jeter fan (it was great to have someone new to be a fan of after Donnie Baseball retired, who followed, Thurmon Munson as a favorite of mine, prior to that, there were slim pickings – Gene Michael, Horace Clarke, Roy White – I missed the best years of Mantle and others of the very early ’60’s) it was painfull to follow him the first half of the season. I was optomistic for a while that he’d turn it around, but as time progressed, I resigned myself to the fact that this was probably the best we’d see of him for the remainder of his career and even hoped he’d retire before his contract expired rather than subject himself and the fans to what he had become. Glad he got some time off to work on things and hope he can continue next season where he finished this season.

  • JohnC

    Do we really need to rehash this stuff?

    • Cris Pengiucci

      It’s the off-season for the Yankees. There needs to be something to write about.

    • Jimmy

      It was important enough that someone took the time to visit the site and complain about it in the comments section.

    • pat

      What else should they be writing about?

      • JohnC

        Lets look ahead, not behind us

        • Cris Pengiucci

          Plenty of time for that. Once the WS is over, the free agaent talk (and player “opt-outs”) will begin. We need to fill this time gap and reviewing what happened (good and bad) is an excellent choice for that. It helps put the season into perspective, whether your perspective was accurate or not.

          • http://www.thesubwayconnection.com Alex Taffet

            Also, one needs to look back to have a better perspective on the future.

    • nedro

      Upper right corner. Little red square with an “x” in it. Be my guest.

  • Bean Tooth

    The question I’ve got is what, exactly, changed things for Jeter. Was it something he did in Tampa to his swing or getting a break that allowed him to refocus or was it inevitable he would turn it around? I guess what I’m curious about is if he had convinced the brass not to put him on the DL and not gone down to Tampa to rehab, would the rest of his year been as crappy as the first half?

    • Ed

      He said the time off allowed him to spend more time in the batting cage than usual. He said his timing was off, and he used the time off to work that out. I think the problem was he was swinging too early, preventing him from getting a good read on pitches.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      He has stated that while in Tampa he worked on staying back on pitches, which allowed him to drive the ball better. Had he not gone on the DL, he probably would have been stuck in the rut he was in. Excellent decision by top Yankee brass. Sometimes a little time away can work wonders!

      • Monteroisdinero

        A little time away from Minka…..she was nagging him and dragging him down. Jeets committed to his game and not to her.

        Thanks Derek.

    • aluis

      My understanding was sending him to Tampa gave him the chance to work with Gary Denbo his old hitting coach. He had worked a lot with Jeter while he was coming up in the minors. I think that the adjustment had to do with staying back longer.

      The question I have is what if George S. was still around and relatively healthy. How would he have reacted to Jeter’s slump?

  • Jorge (needs a new name)

    I look forward to some “what went right”‘s mixed in here, since plenty did.

  • Greg

    I think Kevin Long kind of screwed him up. Worked in the offseason and ST on that “no stride” swing and it didn’t work out. He abandoned it after about month and it isn’t like you just flip a switch and start hitting again once going back to the old swing. it took another month and the DL time to get it back.

  • Rich in NJ

    Unless hell freezes over and Jeter eventually reveals that issues about impending free agency and then 3000 hits caused him to press, which affected his approach at the plate, the simplest explanation is that his (unforeseeable, imo) resurgence (after a season and a half) is the result of a mechanical adjustment.

    That said, there is no reason why he couldn’t have been moved down in the lineup while he wasn’t hitting, and then moved back up when he started hitting.

    Anyway, I hope his second-half production is indicative of what he will do for the remainder of his contract.

    • I

      That said, there is no reason why A-rod couldn’t have been moved down in the lineup while he wasn’t hitting in the playoffs, and then moved back up when the season started.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    I do not know what went wrong pre DL but I Know what came after. What he did was reach back to his inner self, his veteran status and overall experience to overcome a bad first half. I wish some of the other vets would do the same.