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Jeter May Be Too Old for Leadoff Spot

By Paul Catalano ~ August 12th, 2010. Filed under: Digest Contributors.

The Yankees are winning. Their pitching is pretty good. The bats are nice and they are leading in the AL East. All of which is covering the fact, that at the pate, Derek Jeter is having his worst year in….well, quite a while.

The sneaky truth that no one is talking much about is….Jeter’s batting average is down over 50 points from last year. And that includes the recent hot streak.

The stats go on. His R/C is the lowest since 1995, which really means, his lowest ever. His BABIP is his second lowest ever. His OPS+ is his second lowest ever. And his OBP is the lowest of his full-time career.

But two stats interest me the most. Jeter’s O-swing percent—percentage of pitches a batter swings outside the strike zone—is the highest of his career…by a long shot at 28.9%. And the second stat is that Jeter’s pitch per AB is the second lowest of his career. Which, to put it succinctly, means that Jeter is swinging at more pitches, and a lot of them are pitcher’s pitches, not hitter’s pitches.

Which would explain his low bating average and which explain why his LD% is the lowest of his career, while his GB% is the highest of his career. And why Jeter’s walk percentage is down from 10.1% last season to 7.9% this season.

Well, why is Jeter jumping at pitches? The most logical guess is that, at age 36, Jeter’s bat speed is finally slowing down. And Jeter’s wFB (runs above average per fastball) numbers are indicative of just that. Last year, Jeter’s wFB was 27.8. This year, it’s 2.2.

In an article that was astonishingly prescient, last February, theYankeeU warned of a Jeter decline. In an article quoting WFAN’s Sweeney Murti that talked about the decline of Roberto Alomar at age 34, theYankeeU compares that article to Derek Jeter.

But when some players lose it, there’s nothing ‘averaged out’ about it. Their bat slows down, and they can no longer get around on the fastball. So they adjust and start sitting on breaking pitches. Pitchers notice this, adjust accordingly, and give the player a steady diet of nothing that he can handle. They challenge him with hard strikes in the zone (that he has to swing at) and the breaking stuff gets put in places where the batter can’t do much with it. Next thing you know, he’s having an awful season and most fans can’t figure out why.

Sound familiar? Diving at breaking stuff out of the strike zone? Not being able to get around on the fastball? Let’s face it; Jeter’s bat speed is declining.
Which is not to say Jeter should be junked. But it might be time to switch Jeter from the leadoff spot. Perhaps getting him off leadoff might ease some pressure he might feel. And for the time being Brett Gardner could take leadoff duties. If nothing else, Gardner makes pitchers work harder than Jeter does at this point; 4.63 pitches per AB to Jeter’s 3.55. Jeter’s OBP is 343 and wRC+ is 105 to Gardner’s .386 and 122+. And of course, Gardner’s SB total of 32 dwarf’s Jeter’s 12.

In the long term, if Gardner can’t handle the 1-spot, Carl Crawford could be an option. Or someone from the minors may step up. But as for the 2010 Yankees, right now, it might be time to pull Jeter from the leadoff spot. He may too old for it anymore.

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Paul Catalano is an aspiring sportswriter who’s day job is as Production Manager for Field & Stream, Outdoor Life & Shot Business magazines. He has written often for his own blog at And a Player to be Named Later since 2007. His articles have been picked up by Dugout Central, Foxsports.com, Lindys.com among others. Before that, Paul got married to the lovely Elizabeth Ryan, got his Master’s in Writing from Emerson College, attended his first Yankee game at 9 years old, got his first base hit at 5 years old and was born.

5 Responses to Jeter May Be Too Old for Leadoff Spot

  1. Viper

    Don’t bet on the Yanks signing Crawford. He doesn’t really fit into their plans since he’s likely to command a $100M deal and he’s not that kind of player.

    Priority #1 is Cliff Lee and he’s going to get a $100M deal too. Doubt very much they give out two enormous contracts like that.

    Even the Yanks don’t want a $230-240M payroll.

  2. Paul Catalano

    Totally agree with you. But Crawford is a Cashman favorite (like Granderson) and when he falls in love, he usually goes after them. I would prefer Lee (obviously) but I have a feeling about Crawford.

  3. Anonymous

    that’s why he leads the league in runs scored.

  4. Paul Catalano

    That means the people behind him are doing their job and driving him in. Imagine how many runs he’d have scored if he was actually batting well.

  5. Steve S.

    Thanks for the link, Paul. Us squirrels find ourselves a nut every now and then.

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