I’ve been making the following argument to my friends for the last two seasons: The best way Derek Jeter can extend his productive years and put off the ravages of age is to change everything about his approach to hitting.
That starts first and foremost with Jeter’s signature — hell, iconic — inside-out swing, which has been described as “looking like a guy inside a phone booth trying to swat a bee.” The way I look at it, Jeter’s ability to hit the ball the other way with authority was always a luxury, not a necessity, allowing him to track pitches deeper into the zone and be tougher with two strikes. And Jeter’s quick hands and fine wrist control always make his “Jeterian” line drives to right field a thing of beauty to watch. But Jeter is fully capable of towering shots to left — he has a 1.079 career OPS when he pulls the ball — and his hands ain’t as quick as they used to be. So why not cheat? Why not try to pull the ball more? Usually you only see Jeter get full extension on hanging off-speed stuff, and I’m not saying he should try to take that same swing against a Josh Beckett two-seamer on the inner third. But he is fully capable of keeping his hands in and pulling the ball at the same time: the result is often a mirror image of those line drive singles to right, except these fall in front of the left fielder. And with this approach, even when Jeets is late he’ll have a chance to keep the ball fair the other way.
Also, I know it’s just one day, but did anyone notice that four of Jeter’s five hits in Saturday’s historic game were to the left side of second base?
I don’t know why — beyond the old saws about not wanting to take players out of their “comfort zones” — this is not a no-brainer for Jeter and hitting instructor Kevin Long. To me, it’s like that scene in The Princess Bride where Mandy Patinkin admits to Cary Elwes, who has fenced him into a corner, that he has been fighting left-handed just to make it more sporting. I think if Jeter could thus rid himself of a luxury-turned-liability he could surprise a lot of people.
I think he should be more selective at the plate as well. Stop trying for contact above all else, even if it means more strikeouts. (They’re better than Derek Jeter’s other signature move: grounding into 4-6-3 double plays). Combined with the pull-first approach, this would likely boost Jeter’s power and BB numbers even as it has the potential to hurt his batting average. But look: Jeter’s batting average is already hurting, and power/on-base guys — moneyball guys — are exactly the kind of player that weathers batting average decline best.