There’s something quite odd about Derek Jeter.
I don’t mean the fact that he’s seemingly ageless, or that he’s actually a somewhat-likeable guy despite being the captain of the most evil group of players ever to walk onto a baseball field.
I am referring to the fact that the numbers Jeter has accrued so far this season simply don’t make any sense.
In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t seen Jeter play very much this year. As a Red Sox fan from Cleveland, I don’t get many opportunities to see the Yankees, and I don’t particularly care about them unless they’re losing.
Looking at his statistics, though, it’s clear that something really weird is going on.
For starters, Jeter has suddenly become a power hitter. He’s on pace for 26 home runs—he’s never hit more than 24 in a season—and 130 RBI (he’s reached triple-digits only once in his career). His ISO (.176, compared to his .142 career mark) is his best since 2004, and he’s slugging over .500 for the first time this millennium.
The obvious explanation for this would be that Jeter is hitting more fly balls, and that the supposedly unforeseen wind patterns at Yankee Stadium (come on, does anyone really think that was an accident?) are assisting his power surge. You’d be half-right; all of his homers so far have come at home, where he holds a comically and unsustainably inflated 58.6 percent HR/FB rate.
But the fly ball thing? Totally wrong. While almost half (44 percent) of Jeter’s hits have been in the air over his career, just 29 percent of his batted balls in 2010 have been fly balls or line drives. His 71 percent ground-ball rate is by far the highest in the majors; no one else with a GB rate over 60 percent has more than two homers. So basically, Jeter doesn’t hit fly balls except when they turn into home runs.
Confused yet? It gets weirder.
Never a terribly patient hitter to begin with (9.0 percent career BB rate), Jeter has taken just five free passes so far for a miserable walk rate of 4.6 percent.
The reason for this is obvious: He’s swinging at garbage. Jeter has chased less than 20 percent of pitches out of the zone since tracking began in 2002. This year, he’s swinging at roughly a third (33 percent) of what would otherwise be called balls.
In other words, he’s about 60 percent more likely to take a hack at a bad pitch than he normally is. That’s roughly the difference between Kevin “Greek God of Walks” Youkilis and Yuniesky “Worst Player in Baseball” Betancourt.
You’d think that such a change would have an inflationary effect on his strikeout numbers, right?
Wrong. Just like his walk rate, his strikeout rate (8.8 percent) is by far the lowest of his career and just over half his overall mark (16.8 percent).
How is this possible? Despite the fact that Jeter is swinging at more bad pitches than ever, he’s making contact at the best rate (88.4 percent) of his career.
You read that correctly—he's putting the bat on more balls than ever in spite of (or maybe, somehow, because of) the collapse of his plate discipline.
Does your brain hurt? Don’t be alarmed; that indicates only that you are still sane.
Let’s recap: at age 35, Jeter has found his power stroke while simultaneously hitting more grounders than Major League’s Willie Mays Hayes. Meanwhile, his plate discipline has gone down the toilet, but he’s making the best contact of his career.
I hope someone who has watched Jeter more than I have would be able to provide some answers. But from here, it seems that something is rotten in the state of New York.
Note: This was an attempt at an objective statistical analysis, not an incendiary piece of propaganda meant to rile up Yankees fans, as some have suggested. The inclusions of my personal sentiment were facetious. If you choose not to believe me, there's nothing more I can do for you, and I'm not going to waste any more of my time responding to these unfounded allegations.