Jeter, Jeter, Numbers Beater

About a month ago, I wrote an unintentionally controversial article about some puzzling patterns in Derek Jeter’s early season numbers.

There were two main contradictions within his statistics: that he was on pace for the best power numbers of his career while posting his highest ground ball rate ever, and that he was posting a career-low strikeout rate while swinging at a dramatically larger proportion of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone.

My critics claimed that I was reading too much into the stats too early in the season. Under normal circumstances I would have agreed, but it was more than the numbers themselves that were puzzling. When a person hits more home runs on fewer fly balls and makes better contact with worse pitch selectiveness, the results contradict the logic, no matter how small the sample size.

Four weeks later, I think it’s appropriate to revisit the situation and see how things are shaping up.

Overall, the discrepancies have become less dramatic, but the contradictory trends are still in place.

As I predicted, his power numbers have come back down to earth. He’s now on pace for 16 homers (down from 26 at last writing) and 98 RBI (down from 130). Neither would be a career high, but both would be above his norm.

But Jeter’s unprecedented groundball tendencies haven’t abated. Over two-thirds of balls off his bat (67 percent) have been on the ground—by far the highest such figure in the American League. While that’s a slight decline from the 71 percent mark he posted last month, it’s by far the highest of his career and a full 10 points above what he posted from 2002-09.

Meanwhile, his 16 percent HR/FB rate is the highest it’s been since 2005. Coincidentally, the 2005 season was the only other time in his career that his groundball rate hit 60 percent. So basically, the more he puts the ball on the ground, the more likely it is that each fly ball he hits will clear the fences. I’m not sure if that’s really a contradiction, but it’s certainly an odd correlation.

One thing is clear: this isn’t a common trend. This year, Jeter is the only player in the AL who has both a groundball rate over 50 percent and a HR/FB rate over nine percent.

But the more dramatic (and interesting) statistical oddity stems from the collapse of Jeter’s plate discipline.

Over his career, Jeter has been one of the most selective hitters in baseball, hacking at less than 20 percent of balls out of the strike zone. This year, that number has ballooned to 31.3 percent. Simply put, he’s chasing bad pitches. That’s not an insult or a criticism—that’s an indisputable, objective fact.

The sample size isn’t too small to start drawing conclusions. Jeter has seen 288 pitches outside the zone and swung at 90 of them.

As one might expect, this trigger-happy approach has had a negative effect on his walk rate, which, at five percent, is a career low. It’s less than half of the walk rate he posted last year.

Similarly, you’d expect his strikeout rate to shoot up into the stratosphere, right?

Wrong.

While Jeter’s 14 percent whiff rate is a sizable increase from last month’s nine percent figure, it’s still inexplicably lower than it ought to be, given Jeter’s history and his newfound aggressiveness.  How is that possible?

My first thought upon revisiting these numbers was that, in addition to swinging at more pitches off the plate, Jeter was starting to be less discriminatory with pitches thrown in the zone. That made sense, and I was embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of it a month ago.

But it turns out that’s not right either—in fact, it’s actually the opposite. This year, Jeter has chased a career-low 69 percent of balls in the zone, compared to 74 percent for his career. Simply put, Jeter is swinging at more bad pitches and fewer good ones.

I plugged in the numbers and found that, while 80 percent of the pitches he’s swung at since 2002 were good, just 69 percent of balls he’s chased in 2010 would have been called strikes.

And yet, Jeter’s 86 percent contact rate is the best of his career.

This just doesn’t make sense.



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Lewie Pollis is a sophomore at Brown University. For more of his work, go to WahooBlues.com. He can be reached at LewsOnFirst@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @LewsOnFirst or @WahooBlues.


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Mike Savino
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Mike Savino

No, I feel like it does make sense. There’s a bunch of players who do exactly what Jeter does–think like Yuniesky Betancourt and that crowd. Never takes a walk, has a high contact percentage.

What’s curious to me is…why the change? Do you think its possible that Jeter has read the debate on whether or not he can break Pete Rose’s hit record? And, seeing the impossibility of it, do you think he might be trying to see how close he can get?

I know we’ll never really know but its just interesting food for thought. Well-written article.

Nik
Member
Nik

Yup, sample size can’t be stressed enough but this is funny stuff. I think the one thing everything can agree with is that Jeter is not as consistent this year, at least so far. If you check his traditional splits, everything is actually in line with his career averages, just to further extremes.

Joe M
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Joe M

As a Yankee fan, I’ve watched quite a number of his at bats this year. This is entirely observation / speculation but I think Jeter is trying to “go the other way” even more then normal. He’s doing this even on pitches toward the inside half of the plate and rolling them over to the short stop. I’m not sure how to look it up but it seems like pitchers are trying to pitch him inside to do just that. However when he’s looking to pull the ball, he’s made decent contact. Maybe he needs to adjust his approach and try to pull the ball a little more.

Then again, this might all be entirely wrong.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt

Jeff Francoeur has a similar trend this season-swinging at more pitches outside of the zone and fewer inside of it. His contact % is also very near a career high.

The difference between the two, for this year at least, is where they’re making contact. Jeter is posting a ridiculous 94.7% contact rate on balls in the zone, while Francoeur’s O-contact rate is a silly 73.1%. The resulting components come out looking completely different. Francoeur’s hitting a ton of flies with a low groundball rate, while Jeter is hitting very few flies. Jeter hasn’t had an IFFB yet this season while Francoeur is posting a ridiculous 18.2%. Jeter’s ridiculous HR/FB rate you’ve already noted, compared to Francoeur’s tiny 7.8%.

Francoeur is doing much better than Jeter on groundballs, but is horrible on his flyballs. Jeter is putting up a ridiculous .577 wOBA on his flyballs.

MikeD
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MikeD

The Yankees better hope that Jeter isn’t developing Betancourt and Francoeur tendencies. Those are two of the worst hitters in the game. The former is probably the single worst.

Interesting article. Not sure why some people would attack you for your initial observations beyond, as you mentioned, we are still dealing with a small sample size, and we’re comparing that SSS to a body of work that’s going on 15 years.

There’s no way that Jeter is becoming more agressive because he wants to challenge Rose’s hit record, and why would he? He cranks out on average 200 hits a year, as is. His 2010 issue of expanding the strike zone will ultimately lead to less hits. He’s a smart hitter. He knows htat.

Outside of the past couple of months, his overall approach to hitting is the same as it was going back to high school. Why the change? Who knows. He is turning 36 in a matter of weeks, so I have considered age as a possible reason, yet he doesn’t to have aged. Some players you can actually see their reaction time on pitches and their bat appears slow. Doesn’t appear to be the case with Jeter, yet perhaps he feels more overmatched on some pitches, forcing him to start his swing earlier. That would lead him to swing at pitches he normally wouldn’t in pat years. The loss of a split second in enormous in baseball terms.

That all said, I don’t think it’s age related. Mechanics might be slightly off. Could even be a slight injury. His range to his left dropped substantially in May just as he went into his slump, yet his range to his right didn’t. He right leg is critical to both his leftward motion and his hitting. Perhaps what he really needed was something he rarely takes: A few games off to allow his body to recover. He averages about 158 games a year at a demanding position. It might not be a bad idea to give another ten games off when it appears he’s starting to drag. He’ll never ask out, so it’s really up to Girardi to make it happen.

George Resor
Member
Member

I think the zone classifications change a bit year to year. compare jeter’s numbers to relative to the league average. jeter is still definitely swinging at more pitches out of the zone but this year the league aver O-Swing% is an all time high and the Z-swing% is and all time low, which makes me think that the zone has shrunk a bit which has skewed the numbers

Lou
Guest
Lou

The explanation is the new park. His 09 and 10 numbers are drastically different from his older numbers. Look at his splits for home and away…he has something like 3 times more HRs at home.

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