Derek Jeter's Struggles, And Pitchers' New Plan Of Attack

4)     54.3%

Derek Jeter is finding himself in the news these days for a couple reasons - neither of them good. For one, his acting job on a near-hit-by-pitch against the Rays on Wednesday has stirred a bit of controversy over the matters of honesty and sportsmanship. And for two, as he heads into an offseason in which the Yankees will have to give him a new contract, he's having the worst year of his career, batting just .262 with a .698 OPS that is a full 139 points below his career mark.

Derek Jeter is getting the wrong kind of attention right now, and though the HBP controversy will blow over in time, at 36 years old, there's no knowing whether he might be done as a plus bat. It is possible, if not probable, that we've seen the last of Derek Jeter as the effective, consistent Derek Jeter.

What's going on? We've touched on this before. The biggest change for Jeter this season, relative to past seasons, is in his groundball rate. 65.8% of Jeter's balls in play this year have stayed on the ground - a rate that leads the league by a big margin, and a rate that's a great deal higher than his career rate of 56.9.%. Derek Jeter is hitting grounders. He's hitting more grounders than anyone else in baseball. When you hit a bunch of grounders, you aren't hitting many fly balls or line drives, reducing your chances of singling or hitting the ball near the wall.

So we've established that Jeter's become extraordinarily groundball-prone. As a follow-up, here I propose a possible contributing factor. Courtesy of Sportvision and MLB.com, we have public access to the PITCHfx information made available every day in MLB Gameday. Included in this PITCHfx information is pitch location data for pretty much every pitch thrown in a season. What I was curious about is whether Jeter is being pitched any differently in 2010 than he was in 2009 or 2008, which is as far back as the data goes. As a rough means of investigation, I split location into quadrants and identified each pitch as being low and in, up and in, low and away, or high and away. These are Jeter's results, for 2008-2010:

Location

2008

2009

2010

Low In

23.5%

24.5%

27.7%

High In

25.7%

25.2%

26.6%

Low Out

29.2%

30.6%

27.1%

High Out

21.6%

19.7%

18.6%


We see some changes. 27.7% of pitches thrown to Jeter this year have been located low and inside, as compared to 24.0% over the previous two seasons. We also see a slight uptick in pitches high and inside. Accordingly, there's a dip in pitches both low and away and high and away.

To make it a little simpler, 54.3% of all pitches thrown to Derek Jeter this year have been inside. In 2009, it was 49.7%. In 2008, it was 49.2%.

Does that explain it? I don't think that explains it in full. I do think it's a contributing factor. Jeter's famous for his ability to hit up the middle and the other way. If pitchers are trying to bust him inside more often, he'll have a more difficult time of spraying, and he'll end up hitting balls low on the bat, or rolling them over. In other words, I do think that Jeter's different pitch locations have in some way had a negative effect on his productivity.

Which, if true, is bad news for Jeter if he doesn't learn to adapt. But I don't want to speculate too much. We'll see how confident the Yankees are in Jeter going forward. We'll see whether Jeter's really finished, or whether he rebounds from this slump to excel in the future. That we can sit here and wonder about Jeter's bat, though - really wonder - is new, and, in a way, it's kind of uncomfortable. Jeter's supposed to be one of the game's great constants. I don't know if I'm ready for the variables.

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