Derek Jeter: This Yankee Icon Is Not Finished, but Needs To Learn To Adjust
A recent article by John Harper of the New York Daily News quoted two former players saying that Derek Jeter will play hardball with the Yankees over his next contract.
I am asking why would Derek Jeter need to play hardball?
Is he going anywhere else? No.
Will he ever wear another uniform? Of course not.
Jeter has said he eventually wants to be a part owner of the Yankees.
Do you think that will ever happen if he ever plays for another organization? I have said countless times that he is today’s Joe DiMaggio—great on the field, a multiple World Series winner, and quiet icon off the field.
So what is all the worry for? Is it that Jeter has been in a five for 47 slump over the last dozen games?
The idea is to win games, not have the best batting average or highest slugging or best WAR. And the Yankees are winning games. In fact, they have won more games than any other team in baseball—even with a slumping Jeter and little consistency in the rotation after CC Sabathia.
Jeter is now hitting .264 on the season, a full 70 points lower than he did last season, and his OBP is 76 points lower. People are now claiming Jeter is on the downside, because he is older and most other non-steroid hitters have all suffered the same fate.
It is one season—in fact, it is really only a couple months.
Besides not having his share of home runs and opposite field singles this season, everything else is pretty much the same offensively. Jeter is on pace for the same amount of runs scored, doubles, RBI, and almost as many walks.
It is mainly his lack of his trademark singles, that liner into right field or the hard ground ball which gets through the infield. Those extra hits have wreaked havoc with Jeter’s OBP and SLG. Yes, singles hurt slugging percentages.
Jeter is second among active players with 2,139 singles and has been first of second in the AL in singles eight times in his 15 full seasons.
I have seen the articles and heard the talking heads discussing Jeter’s demise, how he is on the downside, and how the Yankees can not give him a long-term deal and big money after a “terrible” season like this*.
- begin rant -
*No matter what Jeter’s season ends up as, and he could still have a great September and postseason, I give Jeter what ever he wants money wise. As I wrote earlier this year, I give Jeter a 10 year deal for $180-$200 million.
As I have said many times, Jeter is a prideful guy and would want Jeter-type money, even if he continues to hit like he has so far this season. But, Jeter is also like DiMaggio in that he will leave this game on top and not with his skills clearly eroding for everyone to see, even if millions of dollars are still on the table.
Guys like Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays suffered at the end of their careers. Mantle stuck around for a year too long, trying to help the Yankees fill seats at the Stadium. Mantle stayed on a year plus after he hit his 500th HR and eventually saw his career average fall below .300. Letting that average fall below that magic .300 number was always one of Mantle’s big regrets after his career ended.
Mays was a shell of himself when he played in New York for the Mets. Yes, he did play in one more World Series but the last thoughts of many baseball fans was Mays floundering around in that 1973 Series, showing his true age. For all intents and purposes, Willie’s last season should have been 1971. Luckily for him, his career average stayed above .300 after his final season.
Jeter will leave the game well before he is toast. It could be two years or could be five years, but either way he will not stay around just for the money. And playing baseball for a living is not like other occupations—people in most other occupations do not have their skills erode to the detriment of millions of fans.
If YOU were guaranteed a 10-year deal with your company, you would definitely stay on the job because you DO need the money and have no pride to stay around if you couldn’t do the work anymore. You would be George Costanza staying on at the playground ball company Play Now.
Jeter is not like that. He does not need the money and will not stay around just to collect a check.
And when Jeter does leave the game, the Yankees will not be liable for the balance of his contract, although I believe the Yankees will have Jeter on a personal services deal immediately after he retires. It is the only time a MLB player's contract is NOT guaranteed. Salomon Torres retired two years ago from the Milwaukee Brewers and left $3.75 million on the table.
- end rant -
What I haven’t seen or heard (especially from sabermetric guys) is how Jeter might be UNLUCKY this season. You know that thing saber guys use when they can’t explain why things happen on the field of play?
Why isn’t Jeter just plain unlucky? I showed above how all his other stats (besides HRs) are the same.
You see, Jeter’s BABIP has always been over .300 and last year it was an incredible .368, but this season it is only .298, below the norm of .300 and well below last season. His career BABIP is .356!
That means he is unlucky compared to last year and pretty much his entire career. So this year it will “even out” to what Jeter’s norm is, right?
So why haven’t I read or heard about how Jeter is unlucky? Is it because since Jeter’s BABIP this season is around the norm, this is what Jeter really is, a .265ish type hitter with little power? In fact, the Jeter detractors would probably argue that Jeter might be considered extremely lucky for his career!
Yeah, most guys who have 15 plus year Hall of Fame careers are always lucky when their BABIP’s are higher than .300, the major league average on balls in play. But the .300 BABIP mark is only an average and many guys do have higher BABIP’s and some have lower ones.
But what I have seen that for the most part, guys who are really good hitters usually have higher BABIP’s. They have better approaches and hit the ball harder more often.
Sure, hard hit balls are sometimes right at fielders and little bloop hits fall in and “find grass.”
But good hitters do not get themselves out on the hard inside pitch by getting jammed all the time, they don’t swing at too many pitches outside the zone on the inner half and don’t flail-swing at many bad pitches on the outside part of the zone trying to compensate for a slower bat.
Three things Jeter is doing this season, more often than he has before.
Good hitters, however, adjust their swings according to how they are performing and how they are being pitched, but Jeter does NOT do that and it is now causing him problems.
I have seen him all season. He still hits the same way he has his entire career and has not changed a thing**. He leans over the plate too much with his upper body. He is out on his front foot much more this season and when your bat slows down (and Jeter’s has), leaning over the plate and being out on your front foot is not a good combination.
**Unbelievably, Jeter even uses the exact same model bat, same length and weight, that he did his first year in the majors.
The swing is two distinct parts, working in tandem. First you step and then you swing. When I mean step, it could be an actual step, a toe tap or just an inward rotation of the front foot. When this happens, the hands move back to gain some separation. Then the hips turn, then the hands bring the bat forward and through.
The back side and front side are working together, but the bottom and top also need to work together. Think of your stance as a building with the waist as the midpoint, with the legs being the foundation and the upper body the steeple. The steeple needs to stay directly on top of the foundation for control and power.
Not leaning forward, not leaning backwards which leads to being off balance.
Jeter is too out of control when he swings, as he brings his upper body forward and too far over the plate—that is causing all the weakly hit ground balls.
What you do not want to do is lean forward when you begin the swing process as this brings the hands forward with the upper body. A hitter can jam himself on inside pitches by doing this. When hitters “can’t catch up with the fastball,” bringing the hands forward with the upper body is one of the faults which contribute to that.
When pitchers are pounding you inside early in your career, your quick hands can guide the bat through the zone and you will get those extra hits to right field and up the middle. But when your hands and bat slow down, those extra hits become dribbling ground balls and weak pop ups.
When I played in my late 30′s – early 40′s, my bat became slower and I had to compensate for my slowness by being more of a location hitter and starting my swing early. Since these college pitchers (and catchers) were throwing me inside, I had to “cheat” by looking inside and committing earlier than normal.
In college and up into my mid 30′s, I was a gap-to-gap guy, but ended up more of a pull hitter later in my career.
While it will not happen this year, Jeter needs to change his hitting approach after this season.
Jeter needs to begin to alter his swing and keep his upper body back more. That will help him become a better hitter by using his legs more to get around on that inside pitch. Early in the count, Jeter might want to begin to become a “location hitter.”
When he is looking for an inside pitch, Jeter usually gets around on it and makes better contact.
There have been stories that Jeter still wants to hit his way and does not seek much guidance from Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long. Guys like Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano eat up all the info from Long, but Jeter goes about things on his own.
That will change.
Seeing the effect that Long has had on all the above guys and with the recent quick results with Curtis Granderson, I bet Jeter works with Long over the offseason and comes back strong again next year.
Just like he got better two seasons ago with his defense by getting in better playing shape, Jeter’s pride to become better and not fall off will be too much not to seek Long’s help. Jeter has his pride, but is too smart to continue to let that get in the way of improving.
He will improve his game over the winter, the same way he has done it over the years. He is the perfect player, not doing much of anything incorrectly.
Jeter is so good at being a professional that the media took to having to rip him for not showing up at Bob Sheppard’s funeral. There was nothing else, until now with this late season hitting slump.
I believe that many people really want Jeter to fail, to have his skills erode so they can write him off. Jeter is the perfect player who has succeeded at most everything his entire life. He is a winner, a guy you can’t quantify via “advanced” statistical analysis.
Derek Jeter is a guy who has many big hits and great moments in his career, but according to his critics, might have been nothing more than a singles hitter with limited range on defense.
Overrated they say. But overrated players do not help their organization win five World Series titles, get to two others, and compile over 3,000 career hits over a 15 plus year HOF career.
As Yankee fans our BABIP has been high because we are “lucky” Jeter played in pinstripes all these years.
He will continue to do so in the future, for as many years as he wants.
Just let him play, finally adjust, and do his thing.
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