As most of you know I like to talk hitting, specifically in terms of swing mechanics. I am of the belief that improving someone’s swing can make them a better hitter and that evaluating a hitter’s swing can help get an idea of a player’s potential. Crazy notions, but it interests me. Still, not everyone with good swing mechanics becomes good hitters and hitters with poor swing mechanics become good hitters. Like the golf swing or basketball jumpshot, some guys do just fine with questionable mechanics. With a certain short-stop making his final trip to Oakland this weekend I thought I would discuss one of these exceptions: Derek Jeter.
Jeter’s name comes up a lot in discussing hitting because quite simply he is a pretty good hitter, especially for a shortstop. He has amassed over 3000 hits and a solid wRC+ of 120 over his 2600+ game career. Beyond that, Jeter is a broadcaster’s dream with his ability to hit the ball to all fields with his "inside-out" swing. Take a look at his stats to all fields. Very nice.
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Jeter is also very popular and plays in New York. This has led to tons of endorsements, commercials, and tons of exposure on ESPN. Jeter has developed a line of instructional gear, books, and videos to teach hitters how he plays. But is he the best model to teach hitting? Let’s find out.
Below is a perfect example of a typical Jeter at-bat. The pitch is a 92 mph fastball right down the middle that Jeter hits out to right field.
Let’s got through the swing. I froze the GIF at toe-touch and we see the first thing Jeter does a little different. As I showed here, typically hitters like to move the bat in to a more aggressive position as they finish their stride. From the side view, the bat is usually positioned somewhere over the head. Think of this like the backswing in golf: too short and you won’t have much power, too long and it is hard to control. Jeter is definitely on the short side. But not a kiss of death, so let’s move on.At heel plant, Jeter gets the top half of his swing going by aggressively slotting the rear elbow. This puts the bat in a pretty flat position and the upper body in a poor position to generate power. If you are familiar with hitting mechanics, this type of movement leads to a very common flaw called bat drag. (For more info on how MLB hitters typically use the rear arm, watch this video.) Moving into contact, we do see that Jeter has really good lower body function, but something is a bit off at contact. Jeter is making contact pretty far out front (by his front foot) but has kept the bat open by breaking down his lead arm. Here is a still of another swing at contact.
Now here is about a dozen other hitters at contact. We can see a much different approach in regards to the front arm. The other hitters keep the front arm firm which forces the bat to close, sending pitches hit off the front foot to the pull side. To hit the other way, typically hitters hit the ball a little deeper in the zone.
In fact, Jeter's swing is actually poorly suited for pulling the ball. Eighty percent of the contact to Jeter's pull side is a ground ball. Eighty percent! If not for Jeter's ability to beat out an infield hit on 11.4% of these ground balls, Jeter would actually be a below average hitter to the pull side.
So why is there a post on a New York Yankee on Athletics Nation? I get asked enough about Jeter that I thought it was deserving of a post. I treat evaluating players based on swing mechanics by playing the numbers. Based on the way the vast majority of successful hitters swing the bat, I wouldn't have predicted Jeter to reach 3000 hits. But like I have said many, many times, swing mechanics aren't everything. Some players just have enough intangibles to make it work. Jeter is one of these exceptions. Good for him. But it doesn't mean I will use him as an example for teaching or comparison. Josh Donaldson's swing will do just fine.