I’ll admit it, I thought Derek Jeter was pretty much washed up. After his dismal 2010, his numbers at the start of 2011 convinced me it was over. When he went on the DL in June hitting .260/.324/.324, I wondered if Eduardo Nunez would actually be an improvement. Well we know what has happened since. He hit .292/.347/.449 when he came off the DL in July. In August he increased that to .387/.435/.472 and in September he has hit .333/.368/.556. What’s his secret? I think the answer has a lot to do with Derek Jeter the person.
We know that Jeter is an intensely private guy. He doesn’t like to talk about any personal details about his life. When he is hurt, there is really no point in asking him if he is going to play because the answer will always be yes. In an era of over-sharing, Jeter is a refreshing change in some ways. But, his manner also leads to some stubborn behavior on his part. Consider his recent contract negotiations when he wanted a six-year deal coming off his worst season in the bigs. Things got a big ugly, as we all know.
And consider his response to his recent poor season. For the first time I can ever remember, Jeter went to someone, in this case Kevin Long, and tried to change his approach. Long made some suggestions and they changed his approach, but as we know, it didn’t work and Jeter abandoned it after a few weeks. Now, I think Kevin Long’s resume speaks for itself. Look at the numbers put up by guys like Granderson and Swisher since Long started working for them. But, as we have seen with Derek before, his trust doesn’t come easily. Long haasn’t earned it (no knock on Kevin intended) and so Jeter felt ok abandoning his swing and going back to what he always did. As I noted before, this approach wasn’t working.
And here is where fortune favored the Yankees and Derek in an odd way- he got hurt. Sure it was a minor injury, but the Yankees took the smart road and forced Derek to go on the DL to rest and to recover. (Remember, Derek didn’t want to go on the DL.) So Derek and his bad numbers intersected with an old friend in Tampa, Gary Denbo. Denbo was Jeter’s first minor league manager and a guy Jeter has worked with almost every offseason. Denbo got Jeter to stay back on the ball and the results have been impressive to say the least. (By the way, you can see some interesting snippets of their work together in the recent HBO documentary on Jeter’s 3,000th hit.)
You see it wasn’t the groundballs that were killing Jeter, it was the lack of line drives. In his career, Jeter has hit 20% of the balls he made contact with as line drives. Last year, that number fell to 16.1%. In 2011 He hit 9.6% as liners in April, 14.5% in May and 9.5% in June. In July that reversed to 19.7%, in August 31.6% and so far in September 38.5%. Groundballs almost always find a glove to die in, liners are far more elusive.
The league will of course adjust to this new Derek Jeter and Jeter will have to adjust back. The line drive rate is unsustainable, but here we do have a case of an old dog learning some new tricks. I just hope he keeps Gary Denbo on speed dial.