We all know what happened to Derek Jeter last season. He had the worst overall offensive season of his career. Then, last September, Jeter started working with the Yankees hitting coach, Kevin Long, and his season started to turn around.
What was the one thing Long and Jeter were focusing on? Jeter's stride when he was swinging the bat. Last year it seemed like every time Jeter was at the plate, he simply hit a ground ball and this was more than likely caused by his stride not letting him see the ball long enough. So, Long wanted Jeter to shorten his stride and it seemed to work. This year, Long wants him to eliminate it completely.
As players get older, they lose bat speed. A loss of bat speed means the player has to be able to see the ball longer to get a better swing on the ball. Jeter's strength in years past was the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field and in hitting line drives, both of which were lacking last season and this prompted the change.
The main problem Jeter seems to be having so far this spring is the mental aspect of changing something he's done for his whole life (Jeter, as of the morning of March 2, was 1-for-6 in the spring, all ground balls). However, no one on the Yankees is panicking yet; after all, this is what spring training is for. Kevin Long, Joe Girardi and even Jeter himself know it's just going to take time.
What does this mean for the New York Yankees in 2011? Well, if Jeter doesn't take to the new swing well, it could mean a further decline in his offensive production compared to last year and that will necessitate a drop in the lineup from leadoff to the bottom of the order.
However, if he does take to it and does it quickly, just how much will he improve over last year's stat line of .270 batting average, .340 OBP, .370 slugging percentage, .710 OPS and 90 OPS+?
Well, if he goes back to hitting line drives more, that should mean more singles (and possibly doubles) which will increase his batting average, OBP and Slugging Percentage. If he can get his batting average closer to .290, his OBP closer to .380 and his slugging percentage closer to .420, that would warrant him remaining in the leadoff spot.
With Jeter having those numbers in the leadoff spot, that means players like Teixeira, Rodriguez and Cano will have more opportunities with men on base and that should equal more runs scored for Jeter (and the Yankees) and more RBI for the heart of the Yankee lineup (last season Teixeira "only" had 108 RBI).
So, what do I think will happen this season? You don't have to look far to see what kind of effect working with Kevin Long for a full season can do for a hitter. Prior to 2010, Nick Swisher's best single-season batting average was .262 (in 2007), his best slugging percentage was .498 (in 2009), his best OPS was .869 (also in 2009) and his best OPS+ was 126 (in 2007).
What did Swisher do in those categories in 2010? He batted .288 with a slugging percentage of .511, an OPS of .870 and an OPS+ of 130, all career highs.
My prediction for Jeter in 2011, provided he's able to break though the mental barriers in regards to the new swing: .288 batting average, .370 OBP, .415 slugging percentage and an OPS of .785 (all significant improvements over 2010).
I personally don't think we'll ever see the Jeter of old at the plate. However, there's one thing all baseball fans know: you never count Derek Jeter out.