Derek Jeter’s gotten off to a fine start. He hasn’t quite heated up yet, but he’s not exactly been cold either. Going into last night’s win against the Orioles, his wOBA was at a solid .344, and that’s going to be higher today thanks to a double and a single last night. There is one thing, though, that’s been troubling about the Captain thus far in 2010: his walks. Well, really, it’s the lack of walks that is concerning.
Derek didn’t walk last night and has been sent down to first by four balls only three times this season. At this (very early) point in 2010, Jeter’s walk rate sits at 3.5%. Remember, league average is around 9% and Jeter’s career mark is exactly 9.0%. So while Derek hasn’t been Nick Johnson up there in terms of walks, he’s at least average at taking his free passes. This year, it’s a different story. What’s leading to the lack of walks?
(Note: these numbers do not include last night’s game vs. the Orioles)
Part of the reason is that Derek is seeing (slightly) fewer pitches than normal. Using the FanGraphs numbers (since 2002 only), Jeter’s seen 3.74 pitches per plate appearance. This year, it’s dropped a bit to 3.54. He hasn’t seen that few P/PA since 2004, when he saw the exact same number. Between then and now, the fewest he’d seen in a single season was 3.72 in 2007.
Next is the fact that Jeter is simply swinging at more pitches than normal. Right now, his swing percentage sits at 53.5%, a 5.5% increase over his career mark of 48.0%. It’s also up from last year, when Derek swung at 46% of the pitches he saw (league average is consistently around 45%). This uptick is on both balls in the zone–72.3% this year, 69.9% last year–and out of the zone–33.1% this year, 22.2% last year.
In terms of zone swing percentage, league average is about 65-70% and Jeter’s career percentage is 74.1. It’s worth noting, though, that his Z-Swing% had been trending downward since 2006. Out of zone (O-Swing%) has an average of around 25%, and Jeter’s career mark there is 19.6, but it’s been creeping upwards since 2005 (with the exception of 2009).
For now, Derek has been able to survive his lack of walks because he’s making a lot of contact. His O-Contact% is at a robust 72.1%, which is well above the league average of about 60-65% and his career average of 58.8%. His Z-Contact% is also very high at 95.1% (average is 88%, DJ’s career is 88.9). Overall, Jeter’s making contact on 88.3% of the pitches he sees. The league average contact percentage is about 80, and Jeter’s got an 83% for his career. If Jeter is able to keep making contact and keep turning batted balls into hits–which is possible as he’s due for a bit of a positive BABIP correction–I’ll be able to stomach the lack of walks. However, if his contact rates start to fall back down to his career norms, the small amount of base on balls will grow very frustrating, especially considering Derek’s leadoff spot.