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Can Derek Jeter Hit .400?

By Mike Silva ~ April 27th, 2012. Filed under: New York Yankees.

Steroids created a lot of “video game” type of results over two decades. Two records that still were elusive to jacked up hitters was Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak and Ted Williams .406 batting average.

When ESPN Baseball Tonight analyst  John Kruk said Derek Jeter can hit .400 earlier this month, everyone blew it off as crazy.  Thirty-four games into the season The Captain is hitting a robust .420 and leading the Major Leagues with 34 hits. Since July 9th, 2011- the day that Jeter went 5 for 5 and collected his 3,000th hit- he has 124 hits in 81 games, good for a .357 batting average.

Can Jeter hit .400? A lot has to happen and 18 games is simply not enough time to make a declaration. A .400 batting average is probably less attainable than Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. With small ballparks giving fielders less ground to cover, specialized bullpens that are difficult to hit and the absence of amphetamines, the task has become even harder than it was when Barry Bonds was at his enhanced best.

Beyond the Box Score ran an analysis about the prospects of another .400 hitter in a November 2008 piece. The author, R.J. Anderson, discusses the impact that modern ballparks, higher strikeout rates and the evolution of modern defense. I believe the biggest challenge is the lack of amphetamines and advanced technology. Playing 162 games in 180 days is a grind that will undoubtedly wear down even the best athletes. Tired legs lead to poor hitting mechanics and a slow bat. Add in how technology gives managers the ability to position their fielders pretty much where a player will hit the ball, and the odds of a ball finding green become slimmer than normal.

That’s not to say it can’t be done. George Brett was hitting .400 in late September of 1980. A few years earlier, Rod Carew made a late run and finished at .388.  Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 before the strike of 1994. Chipper Jones was hitting .400 as late as June 18th of the ’08 season. Ichiro Suzuki made a run in 2004, but finished well short at .372.

That brings me to Jeter. If there is someone that could do it today, it might be him. Putting the ball in play is the first key to reaching the elusive magic number. Jeter has a career .355 average on BABIP. For the non-statistically inclined, that means he collects a hit nearly 36% of the time when he makes contact. That is important since, unlike someone like Gwynn, Jeter is prone to the strikeout. He needs to cash in when he does make contact.

The biggest advantage he has in this quest is how Jeter can keep defenses honest. Former big leaguer Doug Glanville wrote in an ESPN column last season how Jeter can “dominant” a baseball game like Michael Jordan did with Chicago or Andre Agassi on the tennis court. “I knew he (Derek Jeter) was a great hitter, and I understood that what made him great was his ability to spray the ball all over the field,” Glanville said. “That meant I would have to cover everything, and I would have to position my other outfielders in areas that gave them the best chance to run down a ball in any direction. In other words, I had to put them in the dreaded “middle.” The middle is not good. It means you cannot predict much of anything, so you place yourself in some estimated place of wish. Then you get ready to run all night.”

That process outlined by Glanville tells us why Jeter has a high BABIP (the process drives the statistical outcome, sorry sabermetricians). It’s a process that gives him a better chance to sustain a high level of offensive output than probably any other active big leaguer. Jeter is also not asked to hit home runs, eliminating the long swings or temptation to shoot for the fences. This is especially important since he plays in the new Yankee Stadium, known as one of the league’s top bandboxes. Look at what the park has done to his teammate, Mark Teixeira, who went from an all-around complete hitter, to someone resembling a cleanup hitter for a Sunday softball team.

Now the cold water.

If Jeter collects 600 at-bats this year and just hits to his career average (.314) the rest of the way, he would finish hitting .328. If he performed at a career-best clip (.349 in 1999), then he would finish at .358. In order for Jeter to be in the conversation for .400, he would need to hit .397 the rest of the way. Jeter’s highest season of BABIP came in 1999 when he hit .396, but he also struck out 116 times that year, as well.  He would have to significantly reduce that strikeout rate, while still sustaining a high BABIP; not easy.

The one big intangible is the pressure that would result if he was flirting with the record deep into the summer. The media focus on any ballplayer would be immense - ESPN lives for this kind of story- but the fact that he is Derek Jeter, plays in New York, is a future Hall of Famer and plays for the Yankees makes this the perfect media storm. Look at how everyone tracked his 3,000th hit. Jeter admitted the pressure of reaching the magic hit total wore on him. Could you imagine the hysteria if he was making a serious run at .400? It might make 3,000 hits look like a day at the beach.

The good news is the Yankees have their Hall of Fame shortstop playing at a level we haven’t seen since his early prime.  The Yankees will accept him regressing to his historic.314 career batting average. That will help them win a lot of ballgames this summer, which is what the real long-term goal is in the Bronx.

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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2 Responses to Can Derek Jeter Hit .400?

  1. Alan

    Ridiculous speculation. If he hasn’t even come remotely close in a 17 year career why at 38 should he do it?

  2. Alan

    If you were to tell me he’d play 150 games in 2012 and finish at .310 I’d say; “where do I sign?”

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