Derek Jeter on the decline?
On the 2010 season, Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ celebrated shortstop, is currently batting .286/.324/.436 over 31 games. And, at this moment, after an 0-for-5 performance last night against Johnny Damon and the Tigers, the beloved infielder is feeling the effects of a 4-for-27 slide. Now, obviously this is a small sample, however, there are some underlying factors at play that could be a cause for concern when one considers that Jeter is 35-years old.
For instance, in previous posts, I have pointed to Jeter’s abnormally high out-of-the-zone swing percentage as one of those factors. At the plate, Captain Intangibles seems to be hacking at a lot of balls and his O-Swing of 33.9% is representative of that (his career mark is 19.7%, though it has generally been closer to 22% since 2007). Inline with this is Jeter’s poor walk percentage, at 4.2%, while his career number is 9%. Compared to previous seasons, there is a noticeable lack of plate discipline this year. There is more, however.
In addition to patience, Jeter’s current line drive rate sits at 12.1%, which is his lowest on record (his career average is 20.5%). The line drives Jeter would normally hit have subsequently turned into extra ground balls, instead, as that rate has increased markedly from a career average in the mid-50’s to 69.8%. Jeter’s fly balls are also down, of course (18.1% compared to a career mark of 23.3%), another result of an inability to put the ball in the air. These items, when evaluated in relation to one another, might spell a decline.
Or—maybe, what we are currently witnessing is a simple slump over 31 games, or, perhaps it is a stretch of bad luck. After all, Jeter’s strikeout rate is actually below his average at 10.2% (career figure of 16.8%) and his ISO is a lofty .156 (career mark of .142). Plus, at 88.3%, El Capitan is still making contact at a higher clip when compared to his career average (83.1%). Also, his BABIP is a low .304 (Jeter has posted a career BABIP of .359). And, in terms of the batted ball numbers I cited earlier, maybe those stats will normalize.
Given Jeter’s age, though, it is difficult to tell. If he were 30, experiencing a poor start to the season, I would assume that his stats would trend appropriately – towards his career averages – with more and more at-bats. He is going to be 36-years old come June, however, so maybe what we are seeing is merely the first phase of decline. Basically, what we are witnessing could be nothing (a slump), or it could be something much worse (the beginning of the end). Obviously, you and I are both hoping that it is the former rather than the latter.
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