It’s no secret that Derek Jeter is leading baseball in total hits, and it’s not particularly close. His 208 hits leads next best Miguel Cabrera by 13, and in all likelihood that lead will hold until the regular season ends. Not only is he hitting for contact, but Jeter is also seeing a resurgence in power with 15 home runs, his most since 2009.
But in September, though Jeter’s hits have continued to come, his power has all but disappeared. Take a look at some of his numbers by month:
Ok, I know that’s a lot of information to take in, but take a look at the doubles and home runs in particular. Last month, Jeter had 14 extra base hits, comprised of 8 doubles and 6 home runs. Before that, he only had one home run, but still hit 7 doubles. Before that, he only had 5 extra base hits, but his batting average was only .232. This month, however, Jeter only has three extra base hits (two doubles and one home run), but he has still managed to hit .316.
In other words, Jeter is hitting singles. A lot of singles. He’s hit 28 singles so far in September, one fewer than his monthly high this season despite fewer plate appearances. But in that month Jeter had five more doubles than he does in September. When we consider the percentage of all hits that are singles, September has been Jeter’s most single-friendly month. Over 90% of his hits have been one-baggers this month, compared to 67% last month and 78% on the season.
Digging a little deeper, we can see that Jeter’s line drive rate is very elevated this month. In April, June, July, and August, about 20% of Jeter’s batted balls were line drives, but this month that number is all the way up to 28.4%. The only other month in which Jeter had close to that high of a line drive rate was May at 26.3%. Interestingly, May was also the month in which Jeter had the next highest single/hit rate.
This isn’t the most ground-breaking statistical analysis in the world, of course. But based on the above numbers, combined with what I’ve seen of Jeter this month (yes, Rob Parker, I both like stats and watch games, thank you very much), it seems apparent that Jeter has shortened his swing recently, concentrating more on hitting line drives and getting on base than driving the ball to the gap and out of the park.
Jeter’s walk total this month is also elevated, which supports the theory that he’s trying to get on base more than hit for power. It’s working, as his September on-base percentage is his highest of any month, even July and August, in which he hit .345 and .350 respectively. Jeter has sacrificed other parts of his game to do so, however.
I don’t know why Jeter has adopted this strategy at the end of the season, if it is an intentional strategy at all. Maybe he’s tiring – entirely possible given his age – and as a result has changed his approach so that he can remain effective. If this is the case, I would be extremely impressed but not very surprised. One of Jeter’s trademarks over his career has been adaptation – he can change his approach to hit singles or home runs depending on the situation, and he has remarkable overall baseball intuitions.
Whatever the case, Jeter has managed to remain effective offensively despite a huge drop-off in power. He’s probably not playing as well as many fans are giving him credit for, but based on the way in which his approach has changed recently, I am even more impressed with Jeter than before. He truly does whatever it takes to help his team succeed, even if that means going the little things like hitting singles and drawing walks, letting those behind him use their power to drive him in.