Kevin Long always thought Derek 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. Shortening his stride and getting him to the ball quicker, Jeter batted .444 over the last 28 days of the season.
So far this preseason (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 the lowest of Jeter’s 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 whole 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.