Ah, Derek Jeter. No Yankee will result in more spilled ink this offseason with perhaps the exception of presumed soon-to-be Yankee Cliff Lee. I've certainly made my feelings known on the Jeter contract situation, and have scrutinized his down 2010 season pretty thoroughly, but for as hard as I've been on Jeter this past season, a closer look at the numbers reveals a couple of positives, which hopefully will portend a stronger 2011 campaign.
Here's a smattering of Derek's advanced rate stats from 2010:
Derek did have one spectacular month in 2010, and that was all the way back in April, as he posted a monster .380 wOBA. I was wondering whether that mark was inflated by a preponderance of lefthanded starters in the month of April, but it doesn't appear that the Yankees faced an extreme amount of southpaws, with the opposition trotting lefties out in only 7 of their 22 April games.
Unfortunately the wheels quickly fell off for Derek in May, with his K% skyrocketing from 8.5% to 18.5%, and monthly wOBA plummeting to .321. His 6.4% BB rate was also painful to watch, ushering in a new era of Derek seemingly jumping on the first pitch of every at-bat and grounding out to short, leading many of us to call for the removal of Derek from the leadoff slot and subsequent installation of Brett Gardner.
Despite nearly doubling his walk rate in June, Derek had an even worse month at the plate, with a .318 wOBA, and just when we hoped it couldn't get any worse it did, as Derek bottomed out in July with a putrid .282 monthly wOBA. Jeter picked himself up slightly in August, but "improving" to a .302 wOBA is still awful. After bottoming out at a .693 OPS on September 10, Derek finally sought help from Kevin Long, and took a day off to retool his mechanics. Whatever Long and Jeter worked on seemed to take, as Derek went on to hit .342/.436/.392 over the season's last 19 games, but unfortunately the improvement was too little, too late to really salvage the rest of Derek's season. Jeter also wasn't able to carry the performance improvement into the postseason, hitting only .250/.286/.375//.295 wOBA.
So what the heck happened to Derek in 2010, one season removed from a monster .390 wOBA? As many have noted and agonized over, the primary culprit was Jeter's absurd propensity for hitting the ball on the ground. Not only did he hit the ball on the ground way more often than he ever has in the past (65.7% compared to 57% for his career), but he far and away led all of baseball in GB%. I'm certain if there was a statistic kept for first-pitch groundouts to shortstop Derek would've annihilated the record. In tandem with the spike in GB%, Derek also hit fly balls less frequently than he ever had before, at a career-low 18.2% rate (22.8% career).
Another problem in 2010 was that Derek went from one of the best fastball hitters in the league (27.8 runs above average, 7th-best in the AL in 2009) to barely above average (1.4). This likely led to the increase in fastballs Derek saw this season, with pitchers chucking the four-seamer 66% of the time compared to 64% the year prior.
Derek's plate discipline also fell off a cliff, as he swung at 28.2% of pitches out of the zone, compared to 20.5% for his career (and 22.2% in 2009), and made contact with said out-of-zone pitches a career-high 69.2% of the time. That at least partially explains Derek's approximately 3 million groundouts to shortstop. He also swung at fewer pitches in the zone (67.2%) than he has career-wise (73.4%). His overall swing percentage (47.1%) was slightly down from his career mark (47.9%), but his contact percentage (85.5% in 2010) was higher (83.3% career). Basically, the lesson to draw here is that Derek must become more patient, cutting down on his overall number of swings and especially his swings at pitches outside the strike zone.
Additionally, Jeter's power also vanished. Not that anyone has ever confused Derek for a slugger, but his SLG was a career-low .370; quite a drop for a player with a .452 career mark. I guess that's what happens when you hit only two home runs after July 1.
And I'm not even going to bother delving into Jeter's defense. We're all well aware that regardless of which advanced defensive metric you subscribe to, they all hate Jeter's defense pretty equally. According to Fangraphs, Derek's UZR was -4.7 and UZR/150 was -5.4; both marks place Jeter in the bottom four of AL shortstops. Baseball-Reference had Derek's dWAR at -1.1; a pretty significant dropoff from 2009's 0.3.
However, despite all of this negativity, Derek Jeter's season was still worth 2.5 fWAR, which, while not up to Jeter's lofty standards, isn't terrible for a shortstop, and also isn't too shabby considering the top shortstops in the AL in terms of fWAR, Alexei Ramirez and Cliff Pennington, were worth 3.8 and 3.7, respectively. bWAR's a bit less favorable toward Jeter, as Derek's 1.3 trailed Ramirez, Pennington, Jhonny Peralta, Marco Scutaro and Jason Bartlett.
So after reading paragraph after paragraph of bad news, you may be wondering to yourself where the good news is. Call me a Yankee homer, call me crazy, but for as down as I've been on Derek, I think he pretty much has to be better next season than he was in 2010. For a guy with a career .371 wOBA, nosediving by .051 points is a pretty steep drop, and while we expect productivity to decline as players age, no one foresaw such a precipitous fall. Jeter's most bearish projected wOBA last winter -- a .353 mark -- came from CAIRO, which we all know SG tweaks to make the Yankees look better.
While the days of Jeter wOBAing even .350 may be over, it's not necessarily out of the realm of possibility that he reaches Bill James' .295/.365/.410//.344 wOBA projection or SG's nearly identical .290/.360/.406//.342 line for next season. As illustrated above, Derek can go a long way toward correcting some of his problems by rediscovering his patience and regressing back to his career plate discipline numbers. And if he can't do that, it's going to be a tough several years for however long the Yankees end up signing Jeter to his final contract.