NEW YORK - OCTOBER 18: Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees reacts after he struck out in the top of the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers in Game Three of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 18 2010 in New York New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
After batting .270 in 2010, Derek Jeter is retooling his swing for the first time in a long time.
"If he hits .320 last year, I'm not changing one thing," Long said ... "In Derek's case, he hit an all-time low, and this is something he felt the need to do. It's hard for me as a hitting coach to say that I did a good job with Jeet last year. I look at it like I failed him. He's on a mission, like he said, and so am I to get him back to where he needs to be."
The only thing that really concerns Long is Jeter's batting average, which plummeted 64 points last season to .270. The drops in home runs and slugging percentage, the spike in strikeouts, Long considers normal, or at least not abnormal.
If by eliminating his stride, Jeter, a .314 career hitter, can restore, say, 30 points to his average, his on-base percentage, an integral facet for a top-of-the-order hitter, will improve, too. Everything else is secondary.
Long's right. The decrease in home runs and the increase in strikeouts weren't abnormal at all, in context. From 2005 through 2009, Jeter averaged 65 walks per season; last year he drew 63 walks. Same five seasons, he averaged 99 strikeouts; last he struck out 106 times. The 10 home runs he hit last year? That was maybe just a little bit weird, since he'd hit 18 in 2009 ... but he also hit 12 homers in 2007 and 11 in 2008.
I suspect that Long has at least a passing familiarity with sabermetrics, and he probably understands that the real issue last year was that a .317 career hitter (entering the season) batted just .270. Batting average is overrated, but .270's not nearly as good as .317.
The mechanical causes of Jeter's .270 batting average? I don't have the slightest idea. Perhaps Kevin Long does. But the problem does show up in some other statistics, as Jeter's line-drive percentage was way down last season, his ground-ball percentage way up. We might guess that he was simply hitting the top part of the baseball too often ... except Jeter's fly-ball percentage was roughly the same last season as it had been in 2007 and ‘08, when he batted .322 and .300.
What I think is that Jeter suffered from more than his fair share of bad luck last year, and that he'll probably bounce back regardless of what Kevin Long does. I don't know that he'll ever hit .322 again, and the new PECOTAs are out and they've got him batting just .281 this season. But I don't think we should be real surprised if Jeter bats .300 again this season.
I hope that he does. For at least 10 years, I've been taking grief for my inability to ignore Jeter's flaws. Granted, for a long time it was easy to miss them, because there were so few of them and it wasn't easy to measure those. But everybody was saying Jeter was perfect, and if there's one thing I know too well it's that nobody's perfect.
Anyway, I seem to have developed a bit of a reputation.
Let me say this, then: Derek Jeter is one of the five or six greatest shortstops ever, and I'm really going to miss him when he's gone. I don't mean gone, physically. I mean gone, as an outstanding player.
Jeter's signed for three more seasons, $51 million guaranteed. I'm all for seeing the Yankees miss the playoffs at least once in those three seasons, but I'm really not up for watching Derek Jeter scuffling around for three years, just trying not to completely embarrass himself. This guy's been doing what he does for almost exactly as long as I've been doing what I do, and I'd like to see both of us still doing what we do for at least a few more years.