What’s Wrong With Jeter

As requested, today’s column will take on the much written about subject of Derek Jeter’s missing bat. The multitude of theories as to the reasons he is hitting below .200 can be broken down to these:

1- He has suddenly gotten old
2- His approach is hurting him
3- He is hurt
4- He has a psychological problem with sharing the same infield with A Rod

Let’s take a look at each one.

Jeter is 29 years old; about to turn 30, he has been in the majors for the past nine years and played over 1200 games. These are substantial amounts, but nothing that should have him worn out already. The fact is players of Jeter’s caliber do not suddenly flame out at thirty. A couple of years past thirty and they certainly do, but the clock has not struck midnight for Derek yet.

As to his approach, it is hard to think that something that got him 1500 hits and a career average of .317 before this season has suddenly turned against him. However, he is on pace to strike out 135 times and walk only 45. This may be more a factor of his pressing at the plate and not a sign of a flaw in his swing that pitcher’s have suddenly found and started to exploit. Jeter has always been a free swinger and it is hard to put too much emphasis on projections only one-quarter of the way through the season.

Injury is the most common reason given for his struggles. He must be hurt and not saying anything is the way the story goes. This is the hardest argument to believe as in watching Jeter it is hard to see any difference in his game. Last year, after he came back from his shoulder injury, you could see he wasn’t as aggressive on the basepaths or in the field. This year, your eye tells you something different. Furthermore, the statistical evidence doesn’t backup the injury hypothesis. Jeter is on pace to have one of his best defensive seasons ever. His current range factor is 4.8, an improvement of a point from last season. Yes, the Yankees are turning more double plays, and this helps increase his range factor, but the rate of increase in double plays is not as high as the rate of increase in his assists and putouts. For those of you who don’t like Range Factor as a measure of defense, his current Zone Rating (a percentage of balls fielded by a player in his defensive area) is .895, almost .40 points higher than the best mark of his career. I find it very hard to believe that he would be able to play that level of defense with an injury.

And that brings us to the last argument and the hardest one to prove, that A Rod’s presence is somehow affecting Derek’s offensive performance. It is hard to believe that someone who has consistently performed at such a high level and in high-pressure situations would have a problem with any new teammate, but I suspect that Derek may be pressing a little because of A Rod. Let’s face it, almost everyone (me included) said that A Rod should be the shortstop and Derek should change his position, not the other way around. I don’t care how accomplished a person you are, any type of criticism like that would cause you to want to prove people wrong. I suspect Derek has been trying to prove to the world that he is a great shortstop. As we have seen with almost all the new players coming to the Yankees in recent years, pressing like that doesn’t work well. (See Giambi in 2002, A Rod at the start of 2004 and Sheffield to date) Hitting in the majors is hard enough without having to lug any extra pressures to the plate.

Am I right? Only time will tell, if Derek starts hitting again and no other explanation is given, then I would say I am. If he continues to perform poorly in 2004 then perhaps he is suffering from a mysterious injury or something that I haven’t thought of in this column.

Peter’s columns appear Monday, Wednesday and Friday and he can be reached at peter@yankeesredsox.com