An appreciation of Jeter’s return to MVP form

Freddy's men on base problem
Pitching problem? Don't let the fielders off that easily
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Like I’m sure many of you, I thought Derek Jeter was getting dangerously close to being done last summer. He had not hit much since the start of 2010 and it was obvious watching him everyday that his hitting skills had deteriorated. Jeter was taking ugly swings at breaking balls, indicating that he was starting his bat early to catch up to the fastball. He wasn’t working the count like he had in the past; it just wasn’t the same guy. At his age, decline is normal. Boy was I wrong though.

Jeter has been, by far, the Yankees’ best player this season and one of their three or four best hitters since coming off the DL last Independence Day. He worked with Gary Denbo — currently a scout for the Yankees after spending years coaching in the minor league system and even one year of service as the big league hitting coach — to correct some mechanical flaws while away from the team. Denbo and Jeter go way back, and he was able to get the Cap’n to just stay back on the ball a bit better. Just wait a bit more before swinging. The adjustment brought that sweet inside-out swing back as well as Jeter’s historically great offensive production (relative to position).

Everyone loves to use the 3,000th hit game as a starting point for Jeter’s turn-around because it makes for a great story, but his resurgence started right when he came off the DL last summer. He had doubles in three straight games leading up the 3,000th hit game after hitting just nine doubles in his first 63 games of the season, and overall he’s hit .347/.394/.487 in 393 PA since coming off the DL. That isn’t too far off from his .334/.406/.465 effort in 2009, when he finished third in the MVP voting and was the team’s best player. The Jeter of old is back, it’s not just old Jeter.

Despite his struggles in 2010 and early-2011, Derek never did stop mashing left-handers. He tagged them for a .315/.396/.462 batting line in 318 PA during that time compared to just .246/.309/.311 in 714 PA against righties. The dominance of left-handers hasn’t stopped, so most of his improvement has come against same-side pitchers. Since coming off the DL, Jeter has hit .302/.358/.396 in 276 PA against righties. The power output hasn’t really been there, but that was never his forte anyway. With some help from Texas Leaguers, let’s compare Jeter’s spray charts against right-handers leading up to the DL stint and since the DL stint. Here’s Derek against righties in the year and half leading up to the calf problem…

Most of Jeter’s damage was done the other way with lots of dinky little ground balls hit to the left side of the infield. Depending on your definition of deep, there’s anywhere from 8-12 balls hit deep to left and center fields. That’s out of 548 balls in play against righties. Now let’s look at Jeter’s spray chart against right-handers since coming off the DL last June…

Again, depending on what you consider a ball hit deep to the outfield, there are something like 6-10 balls hit to deep left and center fields out of 254 balls in play. The exact number doesn’t matter, just the fact that Jeter has been driving the ball with authority to left side of the field more than he had before getting hurt. That’s because he’s waiting just a tiny bit longer before swinging thanks to Denbo. Compared to the previous chart where most hits went to shallow center and shallow right, the hits here look a little more uniformly distributed to all fields as well. Jeter always has been and will continue to be an opposite field hitter, but that doesn’t mean pulling the ball is a bad thing.

Anyway, Jeter’s biggest problem before going on the DL was his extreme ground ball rate. I’m talking 66.5% grounders against righties from the start of 2010 until he hit the shelf. It’s impossible to hit for any kind of power when you’re beating the ball into the ground like that. Derek still hits the ball on the ground a ton, he always has, but since coming off the DL he’s done a better job of getting the ball in the air and hitting it on a line…

Green is grounders, red is line drives, fly is fly balls.

Jeter’s ground ball rate was literally off the charts for a while. It was pretty bad. He calls last year’s DL trip a “blessing in disguise” and it absolutely was. Maybe it’s hyperbole, but the work he did with Denbo in Tampa while coming back from the calf problem probably saved his career, at least in terms of being a well above average offensive player. The Yankees have an MLB-best 132 wRC+ this year thanks in large part to their captain and leadoff hitter. Jeter has been setting the stage since last July and at age-37, he looks to be nowhere close to done.

Freddy's men on base problem
Pitching problem? Don't let the fielders off that easily
  • Cris Pengiucci

    I’ve been a huge Jeter fan since ’96 when he took over full time for Tony Fernandez. After a couple of seasons, it was really nice to have a consistently productive shortstop in the lineup. I’ve always believed in him, but as 2011 unfolded, I had to admit that he looked like toast. So glad he took the time to correct his swing (and perhaps let some nagging injuries heal) and that he’s returned to the form of his great past years. We can live with his defense as long as he keeps hitting. I hope he does so for the remainder of his contract. This year has been absolutely unbelievable to watch.

  • Bonnie Parker

    When I suggested last night that Jeter could win MVP this season people laughed so I’m glad to see you agree. This is a different Jeter. He has power to go along with his average. He will hit over .300. He’s 37 and if he plays a decent SS he’ll be right there for MVP. Everytime Nunez makes an error it just goes to show how important Jete is to this team. I know he made a throwing error last night, but that’s rare. He’s carrying the club right now and will be in the MVP race at the end of the year.

    • Long Time Lurker

      I think that people were “laughing” because you’re suggesting that this small sample size thus far is indicative of Jeter having an MVP season. You’re making assumptions (“He will hit over .300”), and this isn’t something we as baseball fans should be doing considering the length of a full season.

      I’m a huge Jeter fan, been one since I first started rooting for the Yankees as a kid, but even then, I’m well aware that he’s getting older, and there are cold streaks to match hot streaks, such as the one Jeter is on now.

      While there is a possibility of Jeter being in the MVP conversation by the end of the season, we should still keep these things in mind. For now however, let’s enjoy what he’s doing, and hope that it lasts.

      • Mike HC

        You are not assuming that Jeter is going to hit hit over .300 this year?

    • sevrox

      Teixeira should have had that one-hopper, being he’s a great defensive 1B ‘n sh*t.

    • thenamestsam

      The increasing influence of sabrmetrically inclined voters in the last few years is not going to help Jeter. He is a downright abysmal defender by any and all advanced metrics, and that is certainly going to hurt his candidacy more than it would have in the past.

      • hogsmog

        In a world where Matt Kemp doesn’t win the MVP, I think it’s safe to say that the voters are still not looking at all that many advanced stats, and a significant number of them are still going with their guts/tradition. The team one plays for is still a big deal, and that could only help Jeter.

        Although 10% of the season certainly isn’t enough time to make any claims about anyone, regardless.

        • Jim Is Bored

          Matt Kemp’s advanced defensive statistics have been below average his entire career, last year wasn’t an exception.

          Sabrmetrically inclined voters didn’t have to vote for Kemp last year. Ellsbury and Bautista were fine choices too(non-pitcher division).

  • blake

    Best SS since Honus Wagner…..sorry Cal.

    • CountryClub


    • CS Yankee

      Too bad he is no Michael Young, who everyone in the clubhouse goes to; if they need a pat on the back or a kick in the behind. You know, a real team leader who makes everything work.

      Rick Sutcliffe

      • Robinson Tilapia

        *Insert Jose Iglesias joke here*

    • thenamestsam

      If you ignore defense maybe…

  • Tomaconds

    Ernie Banks says hello.

    • CS Yankee

      I believe Ernie, Honus & Cal were removed from SS at/before they hit 35.

      No way he keeps up this pace, but I’m enjoing it while it is happening. Do believe in that a .350 year can happen and it is possible he plays past 40 while adding value.

      Highly unlikely, but so has his career been.

    • Steve (different one)

      He said best SS. Not “best hitter who played less than half of his career at SS”

      But tell him we said hi back, he seems like a great guy.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Ernie Banks promised my father-in-law a championship in, like. ’58, and he’s never forgiven him for that.

    • RetroRob

      It’s funny how Banks seems to have gotten lost in the conversation of best-ever SS’s. He was always right up near the top, but sometime after Cal Ripken and the Holy Trinity showed up, Banks sunk in the conversation. Probably one thing working against him is he played more games at first base than SS.

      • Steve (different one)

        Also funny about how we are talking about guys who were moved off SS and no one has mentioned the best one of all, especially considering he plays only a few feet away from Jeter…

  • David Ortizs Dealer

    His ground ball to the opposite field rate seemed so large last year I was waiting for Joe Madden to overshift Jeter to the right side of the infield daring him to pull.

    It never been said, but I wonder if somewhere along the way he had lasic surgery or new contacts et al, he doesn’t look fooled on breaking balls like he did this time last year.

  • blake

    he also says “I played 1B half my career”. If you’re going with someone who just played SS for a few years then Arod is the best ever.

  • Tomaconds

    Steve Ernie Banks was a tremendous ss with tremendous range. Not taking anything away from one of my favorite players of all time but Banks was insanely good.

    • JohnnyC

      Banks moved to first base not because of defensive shortcomings but bad knees in 1962.

      • CP

        Wouldn’t bad knees lead to fielding problems?

        And no matter what the reason, he was still moved off the position. Like A-Rod, who was moved off of SS to 3B not because of poor defense but because the Yankees already had a SS.

  • Jimmy

    If Phil Rizzuto says this kid is the real thing, who am I to argue?

  • blake

    Banks actually played more games at 1B (1240) than he he at SS (1036).

    Jeter has played over 2,400 games at SS and even has a higher career OPS than Banks……maybe Banks had a better peak….Jeter has had a much better career as a SS

  • jsbrendog

    seriously, I don’t think it will happen, but, jeter’s career has seemed ot have been so storybook and so everything going right at the right time that, if someone told me jeter will hit .400 this year I would most certainly say no way dude, but the doubt would be there. the, there’s no way he can pull it off and add another chapter to his story…could he? he has so far created the narrative..can he really do it again? naaaah………right?

    • Mike HC

      I bet a friend like 4-5 years ago that Jeter would break the all time hits record. It is a long shot, but I love betting on and rooting for Jeter.

      • Kosmo

        It could get interesting in the next few years if Jeter continues to play after his current contract expires. I see him somewhere between Wagner and Musial in career hits.

        • Kosmo

          I meant Tris Speaker not Honus Wagner.

      • thenamestsam

        A big part of it may come down to if he can find someone to keep running him out there if he has to move off shortstop. He’s still hanging on as a playable shortstop defensively, and really his lack of deterioration in that area is the most remarkable thing to me. But he’s still over 1000 hits short. Even at an unreal pace for a player his age, that would be five years. More realistically we’re talking about six years beyond this one.

        At some point in that time period he will become unplayable at shortstop, and if he reverts back to something even between 2011 and 2012 offensively he’s not going to have much (probably any) value at first base, or as a DH, or even in left field (big assumption that he could become a passable left fielder). Pete Rose from 1980 on was worth -1.4 WAR, but racked up almost 900 hits. Probably his only chance is to find teams to give him 500 plate appearances as a light hitting DH/1B those last few years, and I think it will be a lot harder to do in this day and age than it was for Rose in the 80s.

        • Jimmy

          He’s 1138 hits short to be exact. He’s not even 3/4’s of the way there. It would realistically take 6+ very good seasons or 7-8 good seasons to get close. We’d all love to see him get there, but it’s probably not going to happen.

      • Randi B

        I’ve noticed the romanticizing about DJ breaking that record, but I’m still skeptical. I’m still not convinced that he can keep the .400 average. The season is too young and there’s too much baseball to play. However, I will be a believer if he’s still hitting at this clip at the end of June.

  • OldYanksFan

    Was it K-Long who ‘worked’ with Jeter to reduce/eliminate his leg kick… which did not help at all, and Jeter abandoned? And then Dendo comes along and turns a horrible hitter into an excellent hitter?

    We could all see Jeter lunging at balls during his ‘dark days’ and not squaring up the ball. Is there that much difference between the talents of K-Long and Denbo, and what each saw as the defect in Jeter’s swing?

    • V

      Most hitting coaches have a single ‘schtick’ that works with some hitters but not all hitters. Kevin Long is a big part of Cano’s improvements over the past few years and Granderson’s resurgence in late 2010-present, but his fixes can’t work on everyone.

      • Mike HC

        He helped Swisher hit for more contact too.

        He has been working with Tex since he got here, with mixed results.

      • David Ortizs Dealer

        See the bat cast comment below (think unhinging your wrists early in a golf swing)… but also I think Jeter’s swing is so unlike most swings, inside outting almost everything, his ability to go the other way and move a runner over to me just screams 2 hole, anyway, Longs approach works with power guys, Cano, Tex (somewhat), Grandy, Swish,… not so much with contact guys, Jeter, Gardner

    • blake

      I think its more that Long just isn’t for everybody…..Jeter is a pretty unconventional hitter and Long’s MO is to simplify things with less moving part……etc….Jeter just wasn’t comfortable with it.

    • RetroRob

      For most of 2010 when Jeter’s problems surfaced, he wasn’t working with Long. Jeter really has never worked that much with the hitting coaches since making the Majors. There never was a need. He was a metronome when it came to hitting, ticking off very good and very similar seasons for fifteen years.

      He went to Long toward the end of the 2010 season and they made some changes that carried into the early part of 2011, although Jeter abandonded them pretty quickly. While the results didn’t show, he seemed to be driving the ball better in May of 2011, but then got injured. Perhaps it took Denbo to remind Jeter of that final step to get back to doing what he had always done. Perhaps not seeing Jeter every day made it easier for Denbo to recognize what Jeter was doing wrong. Or maybe it’s all a mirage.

  • #28 in 2012

    No one predicted this. Unreal. Every game I think, this is it, and he just keeps hitting. Those weak grounders to short and second drove us nuts but he is driving the ball like its 1999.
    Thank you for this thread, Mike!
    Jeter took a lot of criticism from every NY media outlet, including RAB, and i am just glad to see that I am not the only one who appreciates the old man.

  • Mike HC

    It was definitely getting bad there for a short stretch, but I never had a doubt he would get back to form (or so I keep telling myself, ha)

  • Bob M

    I noticed for years, Jeter would cast his bat (uncock his wrists) and point the bat back then drag the bat through the swing- which reduced bat speed and power. After coming back from rehab and working with Denbo, I noticed that he no longer casts the bat and he thus gets the bat to the ball much quicker with great speed and power. Thank you Mr. Denbo !!

  • .zip file

    “At his age, decline is normal. Boy was I wrong though.”

    As we all were. This is a time we are all happy we were wrong, though.

  • Rock

    I love how hit no 3,000 is obvious in the spray chart.

  • TLVP

    I’m a huge fan of Derek Jeter and he’s one of very, very few players that i’ve always been comfortable are clean, but 2012 so far is so unreal I keep having nightmares of headlines to the contrary.

    • mustang

      Lots of people I know have said the same thing myself included its hard not to think it at least a bit.

  • Jimmy

    Don’t know if it came up in the broadcast, but his RBI last night tied him with Bill Dickey for #7 all-time for the Yankees. I know the stat has little value, but the amazing thing is the list of names he is passing by in all of these offensive categories.

    • Steve (different one)

      It did. I noticed because Bernie is next up for Jeter on RBIs and they showed A-Rod’s HRs too, and Bernie was getting passed there as well.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        Arod’s actually been a Yankee for most of his career now. Amazing how time flies. He’ll also continue to set Yankee records over the upcoming seasons.

    • Kosmo

      In career hits he´ll probably pass 7 HOF players this season, in runs scored 7 or 8 players, and in career doubles 15 to 20 players.

  • DJ4K


    testing testing…

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Hey look, it’s Monterowasdinero. ;)

      • DJ4K

        DJ has been the second coming of Jesus. I am riding that train for as long as it lasts!

        • CS Yankee

          Glad your back with the mainstream.

          If I recall correctly, you referred to him as “Derek 4-3ter” or something like? I do enjoy your Montero & Golson Man-crush but couldn’t understand the Jeet stuff until about May, 2011 (when I started to wonder if i was looking at him with rose color glasses).

          Bottom line is, if Winfield can play 22 years on that large frame (& numerous other guys like that)…can’t a guy who is dedicated to only two things, play that long?

    • jjyank

      I approve.

  • gageagainstthemachine

    It’s been fun watching Derek this year. He sure has found the fountain of youth so far and I hope he keeps it up all season. With that said, I hope Jeter (and the rest of the Yankees line-up) “Hi-Rok Yu Like A Hurricane” tonight!
    (Yes, I’ve been dying to use that line all morning)

  • Mike from Jersey

    The way he’s playing now, he has an outside shot of breaking the all-time hits record. Jeet is the man!

    On another topic – is it me or does that eunich over at ESPHewww – John Kruk-of– come of as a proud Yankee hater? This guy needs to shut his pie-hole!

    • Cris Pengiucci

      What did he say now? Gotta give him some credit though. He did predict that Jeter would hit …. (not gonna say it. Don’t want to jinx it. Biting my tongue ….)

      • steve s

        He got all over Swisher for banging his chest after the go ahead double in the 15-9 win on Sat.

    • Steve

      Such a hater. He only thinks Jeter is going to hit .400 not .450!

  • RetroRob

    I came into 2012 I think a little more optimistic than most with Jeter since he did seem to be hitting the ball with greater authority the second half of 2011, but I was targeting a .290/.350/.400 season. I think we’d all have signed up for that for his age-38 season. I’m still sticking with those numbers, even though many now would be dissapointed with that after his blistering start. He is still turning 38 and plays a demanding position. There will be speed bumps along the way, but yeah, I’m hoping my numbers turn out to be conservative instead of aggressive.

    I have no idea what caused Jeter to seemingly lose it from May 2010 to June 2011, and I have no idea what caused him to regain it from June 2011 to now. I am going to remain a little bit cautious though since he may just lose it again.

    He is certainly padding his numbers with an insane stats against lefties, yet his numbers against righties are still solid. He will not maintain a .600 BABIP against lefties, yet his .282 BABIP against righties will also rise. That’s very low for him, so it should all balance out.

  • mustang

    ” At his age, decline is normal. Boy was I wrong though.”

    ” Jeter has been setting the stage since last July and at age-37, he looks to be nowhere close to done.”

    A giant smile on face and a tear running down it. What the predictions and projections can’t tell is when a guy is special. Like his friend who is the greatest closer in the history of game using 1 pitch even in his 40’s.

    In a world where people think they can predict everything its cool to see someone break the odds especially when they are doing it on the team you love.
    Still a long way to go but I’m loving 37 and declining even without the range.

  • Midland TX

    Thanks for this post. Great explanation, and respect is paid. What Jeet and Mo have accomplished is just so exceptional. It’s nice to take a minute, sit back, and appreciate the hell out of it.

  • Brad G.

    No chance he wins MVP. The voters simply hate acknowledging Yankees for anything. He’d have to hit .330, with 25 HR’s, and 120+ RBI’s to even get noticed by the voters. And we all know that won’t happen.