Back in late July, R.J. noted that Derek Jeter was having a resurgent offensive season and on his way to an excellent year. Jeter did not let up after that, either. He finished the season with a wRC+ of 142, his best since 2006 and second best since 1999. Combine that with excellent defense at short and Jeter had a 7.5-win season, his best year in the Fangraphs-WAR era and fifth-best among position players in 2009.
Jeter’s game at the plate combines excellent contact skills, a good number of walks, and a high BABIP. The 2009 performance increase was driven by more walks, a handful more HRs and a jump in BABIP. Here I wanted to look at that increase in BABIP in a spatially explicit batted-ball manner. Jeter’s hits are mostly GBs and LDs where the angle of the hit is more important than the distance. So I dissected the field into slices, rather than zone as I did in earlier posts. The number in each slice is the percentage of Jeter’s GBs and LDs in that slice, and the color shows the slugging percentage for those hits, ranging from 0.250ish for gray to 0.800ish for dark blue.
The worst places to hit a grounder are straight at the second basemen or shortstop. Those are the grayest slices, and in 2009 Jeter, cut down the the percentage of his hits to those two slices by 4% (2B) and 2% (SS). He had more hits right up the middle (25% versus 21%), which are singles and doubles more often than outs. I don’t think this is a shift in true talent: I don’t think Jeter is any better at “aiming” his grounders. My guess is he was just on the right side of luck more often in 2009.
That is not to say Jeter is not a wildly talented baseball player. After an average defensive season in 2008 and great one in 2009, we should reevaluate our perception of him from two years ago (in 2007 he was coming off three horrible defensive season) to being probably just -5 runs at short rather than the worst defensive shortstop ever. Add that to his good offense — although not as good as 2009 — and a safe projection is 3.5 to 4 wins in 2010. After that the Yankees have a tricky negotiation, as they will probably look to re-sign the aging, (although his skills should age gracefully) face of their franchise.
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