Fantasy owners, and Yankees fans, held their collective breath this past season when shortstop Derek Jeter stumbled to a .250 average after April and had improved that mark to just .270 at the All-Star Break. It was only a few months prior that the lifelong Bomber had finished his 2010 season batting .270 with signs of rapid decline cropping up everywhere. In fantasy leagues desperate for offensive-minded shortstops to round out the bottom tier of starters, Jeter’s struggles were infuriating.
That all ended in the second half of 2011 as Jeter turned back the clock and batted .327 the rest of the way. By the time the Yankees’ season had finished and the team was getting ready for another playoff exit, Jeter had his average up all the way to .297. All-in-all, not a bad effort.
But just six home runs? Like the down average in 2010, can Jeter rebound to become the mid-teens home run threat he’s been for the entirety of his career? That’s what question 36 asks in our Top 100 Offseason Questions series.
This isn’t the first time I’ve said this and it won’t be the last, but a player’s home run total essentially boils down to three readily available numbers:
- Strikeout rate (or, rather, how often he puts the ball in play)
- Fly ball rate (FB%, pretty self-explanatory)
- HR/FB rate (how often do those fly balls leave the yard)
Because charts are easy to read (and easy to explain) I’ve put one together that will help us get a snapshot of Jeter’s 2011 season as it compares to his previous five seasons (2006-2010). Because Jeter’s getting up there in age, I elected to look at that five-season window as opposed to his career numbers (when he was a 20-plus home run threat).
Compared to Jeter’s recent seasons, 2011 saw a decreased fly ball rate and a decreased HR/FB rate. While he was putting a greater percentage of balls in play, it wasn’t enough to make up for his drop in the other two areas. So, we’ve established that Jeter’s power indicators were pretty low last season — and this isn’t shocking given his paltry six home runs — but is this a trend or a one-year anomaly? Let’s look at each of the six seasons above individually.
Jeter’s strikeout rate has been fairly consistent over the past six seasons, but his fly ball rate and HR/FB rate show some concerning trends. His fly ball rate has been on the decline every year since 2007 before last year hovering at its 2010 level. To get an idea of how bad an 18.6 percent line drive rate, consider that of the 145 qualifying batters last season, Jeter’s was the absolute lowest. The next closest were Ichiro Suzuki and Elvis Andrus at 21.1 percent apiece. Jeter’s in a league of fly ball ineptitude all his own.
If he wants to get back to that double-digit home run mark, he’s probably going to have to do a better job of making those fly balls count, and a seven percent HR/FB rate isn’t going to cut it. Like we saw in 2010, a 10 percent HR/FB rate is probably the absolute lowest he’ll need. He’s only done that in three of the last six seasons (if you include the 9.9% mark in 2010).
Can he get back up to that 10 percent HR/FB rate? Generally, HR/FB rate is a factor of ballpark and a player’s raw power. Jeter’s park did change, though the dimensions remain the same, so did his raw power change? We can evaluate that in two ways: batting average on line drives and average ball speed off bat on homers.
If you recall in our post concerning Mike Morse’s 2011 breakout, we saw that stronger batters tend to have higher batting averages on line drives because they hit the ball harder. Click here for a chart that recapped this. Let’s see what Jeter’s numbers have been over the last six years.
That .655 average on line drives was his lowest since 2002, the furthest back the stat goes. It should be noted that in both 2011 and 2008, the two years he showed serious decline in his average on line drives, Jeter played fewer games due to lingering injuries. The average ball speed off his bat on home runs has been fairly consistent from year to year, but this is skewed by small sample sizes in most cases (just six to 14 home runs we can evaluate in most years).
It appears Jeter’s lost enough raw power in his older age to the point where any injury is enough to drain him of his power (not a shocking revelation). If he was to have a completely injury free season he would likely become that 12-15 home run player again, but is that something we can expect from a shortstop who’ll be 38 this June? Probably not. For that reason I’m projecting Jeter for about 10 home runs in 2012. It’s not quite what we’ve seen from him over his career, but it’s certainly better than the six we saw last year in his 131 games and only a tad below his recent production.