Derek Jeter is slumping badly. The New York Yankees’ shortstop is off to the worst start of his career, even considering this is a year where the league OPS is the lowest it has been in 24 years, and even with Jeter playing at the weakest offensive position on the diamond. The bad news is that he has been so bad he has actually brought negative value to the Yankees. The good news is that Derek Jeter can solve his slump.
If a very simple explanation is needed for why the future Hall of Famer has been off to such a rough start, there is one: age. Jeter will be 40-years-old come June 26, and the list of good hitters at shortstop who were age 39 or older can be counted on one hand. Only Luke Appling, Barry Larkin, Omar Vizquel, Honus Wagner and Ozzy Smith have managed to OPS over .700 as a 39-or-older shortstop, and in Larkin and Smith’s cases they barely lasted a half a season. No shortstop aged 39 or older has ever hit double-digit home runs, or topped 100 runs or RBI. Also consider the fact that Jeter missed most of 2013, and the end of 2012, with lower body injuries and it is easy to see why he is playing so poorly.
In spite of the lack of a precedent, Jeter has been such a unique player in his career that he offers plenty of hope for a moderate turnaround. Jeter’s numbers are obviously going to suffer from his declining physical abilities. His bat speed is slower, demonstrated by his career high strikeout rate as well as a career high infield fly percentage. Jeter does not get the bat around the way he used to, and pitchers are catching on as shown by the increased number of fastballs he has been thrown. His speed is diminishing, and as a result he is beating out less ground balls for hits.
However, Jeter’s bat control and hand-eye coordination still seem to be on point. Jeter’s line drive percentage is pretty much on par with his career numbers, as is his walk rate. On balls put in play, the Yankees’ shortstop has a career batting average of .353. This season the number is down to .301. Now that could just as easily be an indicator of poor performance as poor luck, but Jeter’s expected average, based on his batted ball data, is .322. That means that while Jeter’s numbers in 2014 are suffering from his increased strikeouts, reduced speed, and other age-related issues, his luck and his batting average may be due for an upward tick.
Jeter’s bigger problem this year has actually been his complete lack of power. He has a meager three extra base hits on the year, all doubles. For Jeter to break of of his slump, he needs to focus on getting his power stroke back, and worry less about putting the ball in play. That may require jumping ahead to pull fastballs, at the risk of faring a bit worse against off-speed pitches. Jeter is too good of a fastball hitter, even with his reduced bat speed. He can no longer wait until the last minute and drive the ball the other way in his trademark way, and so his approach needs to be altered.
There is no one waiting in the wings should Jeter continue to falter. The goodbye tour is going to continue, for better or for worse. Jeter, though, has shown enough to demonstrate that he can still put together a decent year, and with proper adjustments to his game he can solve his slump.
Commentary by Brian Moore
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering New York Baseball