Thursday, March 10, 2011

Derek Jeter's New Swing: The Early Returns

Kevin Long always thought Jeter's swing was flawed.

But it seemed to work. For Jeter, his approach was to let the ball get deep into the zone before his quick bat would drive the ball—usually the other way—for base hit after base hit. He had a timing mechanics that let his left leg lift up and then move it forward as he drove the ball—usually to right field.

With Jeter's bat slowing just a touch, instead of driving the ball, Jeter ended up hitting easy ground balls. Long feels that Jeter's timing mechanism—picking up his left foot as he steps forward—is too time-consuming and no longer works. Long wants Jeter to leave the foot on the ground, simplifying the mechanics and giving Jeter extra time to swing.

After a disastrous September 10th game, where Jeter went 1 for 7, Long intervened and started to work on Jeter's mechanics. Shorting his stride and getting him to the ball quicker, Jeter batted .444 over the last 28 days of the season. So far this pre-season (and yes, it is only preseason), Jeter is batting .353.

Long also felt last year, that Jeter's taking too long of a stride left him leaning forward from his waist and swinging awkwardly at pitches outside the box.

Long is correct on that account—Jeter looked awkward a lot last year. But another reason why that was might be that, Jeter, realizing his swing was slower than before, was guessing more. The percentage of swings at balls outside the strike zone was the highest of his career by far. The percentage of "wins" on fastballs was Jeter's lowest of his career. All those signs point to a slower bat.

If Long can shorten his swing, Jeter should be able to catch up to pitches he couldn't last season. So far so good, according to Jeter: "You have more time because there's no stride," Jeter said. "Now, you've just got to figure out when to swing."

One interesting thing from the stats. After a fairly productive career at hitting grounders for hits—Jeter's BABIP for ground balls dropped precipitously. But not in 2010—in 2009. After a 2008 season which earned Jeter a .291 BABIP on ground balls, that number dropped to .236 in 2009. However in 2009, Jeter batted well at balls hit in the air. When that number (BABIP on line drives and fly balls) fell off in 2010, Jeter ended up with the worst batting season of his career.

What does this tell us? Well, some educated conjecture might lead us to believe that Jeter's bat actually began to slow down a bit in 2009, but that Jeter was able to cover it up. However, when 2010 rolled around and pitchers began to notice the slower bat, they changed tactics on Jeter and jammed him with hard heat up inside where he couldn't turn on the ball like he used to. Then they would catch Jeter guessing on breaking balls, down and outside where Jeter couldn't do much with it but hit soft grounders to second (A reason why Jeter leaned over the plate so much last season).

So......what the heck does this all mean? Not a heck of a lot in March. However, the early signs—from last September,as well as in spring training are good. Jeter feels that his has more time to get good wood on the ball and just needs repetitions. We'll see. Maybe Jeter can get back to MVP consideration. Stranger things have happened. But even if he can raise his batting average back up to .300 and his OPS+ to around 100-110, the Yankees will feel a whole lot better about the 51 million they gave their Captain this offseason.


blmeanie said...

While Jeter for me is in the same category as Munson, Mattingly and other Yankees that I respect completely, Jeter's swing and approach at the plate always left me wondering how/why he maintained such a high level of success.

I don't think any coach would ever really teach what he does.

When icons eventually have performance fall-offs it is tough. I remember dreading seeing Larry Bird fall off and wishing it wouldn't drag on and he would go out gracefully. If Jeter is falling off, my guess is he hangs on too long.

Pete S said...

Great use of stats to prove your point. The money they spent on Jeter was high, but the organizations makes way more off of Jeter than they are paying him.

Jeter has a great work ethic and, as long as his ego doesn't get in the way, I don't see why he couldn't make adjustments. He was never a power guy anyway, so a shorter stride can only help him.

As for Bird - I remember his back was so bad he had to lay on his stomach during games. That was sad, although he was the scourge of the Knicks for the entire decade of the 80's, so I wasn't all that sorry to see him go.

PilloryOfAutumn said...

There is nothing wrong with Jeter's swing per se. It is what he does on the pre-swing that is throwing off his timing.

Next time you watch Jeter at bat, take a good look. Just prior to Jeter swinging, you will see him wave the bat like an upside down pendulum followed by a shaking of the bat head. Sometimes, you will see that he is still shaking the bat when the baseball is already in mid-flight. It is no wonder he is often swinging late and hitting the ball weakly to the opposite field. His stride does not need to be eliminated. His swing does not need to be changed. It is what happens immediately before both that needs to be removed. I just do not understand how no one in the Yankees organization sees what is going on and points it out to Jeter. Is anyone else seeing what I am seeing, or do I just have a wild imagination?

Again, watch really closely Jeter’s next at-bat. There is a rhythm to it that goes like this: Pendulum ... Pendulum ... Shaaaake ... Swing! ... Out 4-3. LOL. I wonder if this pendulum and shake motion in Jeter's pre-swing was present before 2010 or if it is a recent addition.