Sunday, September 12, 2010

Behind Jeter's Numbers

It's tough when your favorite player has fallen on hard times. It's especially tough when it's known that 98% of the world is rejoicing in your fallen hero. When the numbers fall of so sharply and so suddenly, the natural tendency is to look for answers. What's different? What's happening? And so the numbers were consulted and they are striking in what they say. Here are some pretty definitive reasons why Derek Jeter has fallen and can't seem to get up. The reasons listed aren't in any kind of order of importance. It seems when you add them all up, they paint the picture pretty completely.

Reason #1: Derek Jeter isn't hitting line drives as often as in the past and when he does, they are getting caught more often. Jeter has hit a line drive roughly 22% of the time he puts the ball in play in his career. His batting average on those line drives is .766 for his career. This year, Jeter has only hit line drives in 18% of his balls in play and his batting average on those line drives is at .603. That will knock the batting average down a few pegs.

Reason #2: Jeter is really struggling against Finesse pitchers. Jeter has batted .297 over his career against finesse pitchers. This year, he his batting only .236 against them. It appears the best way to get Jeter out this year is to throw him something off speed.

Reason #3: His success when hitting the ball up the middle is down. Over his career, Jeter has hit 57% of his balls in play up the middle and he has a .317 lifetime batting average on those balls in play. This year, Jeter is hitting the ball up the middle on 62% of his balls in play and his batting average is only .263 in those events and his BABIP on balls up the middle is only .247. That means one of two things. Either the infielders are bunching the middle more on Jeter than in the past or he is not hitting the ball up the middle with the same kind of authority as he has done in the past. The Fan thinks it's a combination of the two.

Reason #4: Jeter has taken the opportunity to turn on a ball and pull it with authority less this year than in his career. For his career, Jeter has pulled the ball 23% of the time. His batting average in those events is a staggering .448. This year, he's only pulled  the ball 15% of the time. When he does so, his batting average is still a hefty .387. This seems to indicate to the Fan that Jeter is more defensive and is not confidently looking for opportunities to turn on a pitch.

Reason #5: This one seems to back up #4. Jeter has hit the ball to the opposite field 20% of the time in his career. To the casual observer, you would think that figure would be higher. But this year, that figure is up to 23%. If you combine this number with his up the middle percentage, Jeter is pushing the ball away from him 85% of the time compared to 77% for his career. Again, Jeter appears to be more defensive in his approach than in the past.

Reason #6: Jeter has fared well over his career with pitchers that are considered ground ball pitchers. He has a .297 lifetime mark against them. This year, that figure is a woeful .216. This makes sense with #7.

Reason #7: Jeter is hitting way more ground balls than usual. Over the course of Jeter's career, he's hit a ground ball 55% of the time. This year, that number has jumped to 66%. Ground balls lead to more outs. More outs contribute to a lower batting average.

There you have it. Those seven reasons sum up Jeter's season and why he has fallen off so far from what he's done over his career. The three remaining questions all this data tells are: 1. Does he have anything to contribute for the rest of this season? 2. Is this just an outlier of a season for Jeter or is this a sure sign that he is on a big decline and is nearly done as a player. And finally, how will the Yankees and Jeter respond to this season in contract talks after this season. The Fan doesn't know the answer to any of those three questions and frankly, is too scared to consider what the real answers might be.


Josh Borenstein said...

Despite my aversion to pinstripes, I have always loved Jeter. Love the way he plays the game. A true gamer. Clutch. Hustles on every play. Competitive. Not overly concerned with individual success. I hope he can figure things out and this isn't the beginning of the end for him.

bobook said...

Great analysis, Bill. Your numbers quantify what many of us have suspected. What to do? The core four are revered in an organization which prides itself on tradition and loyalty. Clearly each is diminishing. Will the players feel entitled to be resigned at numbers which, from a pure performance perspective, are above value. Or will they realize their diminishing abilities and sign contracts allowing them to stay in N.Y.? Years ago 'the Mahatma', Branch Rickey, would trade well-known and popular players reaching advancing age for younger talent. Often fans would be upset but his Gashouse Gang teams continually grew fresh legs. When others complained of how 'lucky' he was, he replied 'luck is the residue of design.'