Name: Derek Sanderson Jeter
DOB: June 26, 1974
Contract Status: A recent free agent, Jeter will begin a new 3 year/ $51M contract, with a player option for a fourth year (2014) that includes escalators.
2010 Stats: .270/.340/.370 .320 wOBP, 95 wRC+
2010 in Review: We've been over this, no? Jeter looked lost at the plate from April until September, his more groundballs than any other player in the major leagues, couldn't drive the outside pitch to the opposite field, rolled over the inside pitch, and didn't hit a homer away from Yankee Stadium between June 5 and August 24th.
He took a day off in September with hitting coach Kevin Long to work on a new stride. It worked, and for the rest of the season he hit like his old self.
The Good: Kevin Long has built a reputation as one of the best hitting instructors in the major leagues. If KLong thinks that the new stride will improve Jeter, then I believe him. And if Jeter has bought into the program that transformed Nick Swisher, Robbie Cano and Arod, then I have faith in Derek Jeter.
The Bad: That's a lot of hopin' to rest 4 years and $59M on. If this is truly the beginning of the end for Jeter, and he doesn't know it yet, then I expect things to get ugly. I wonder about Joe Girardi at moments like this - either his connection to Jeter as a player will allow Joe an avenue to discuss with Jeter what it means to age in baseball, or he'll be so afraid to offend his friend that he'll keep his mouth shut. The fact that Girardi and Long watched Jeter struggle all season before intervening (while leaving him at the top of the lineup), makes me think the second option is more likely.
2011 Outlook: Throughout the 2010 "Year of the Pitcher," I kept waiting for the bombshell: MLB had returned the baseball to it's 1993 winding. It never came, but nonetheless, it's important to remember that last year was a phenomenally down year for offense. As brutal as Jeter's season was, he was just slightly below average offensively. And he continued to rank among the better hitting shortstops in the league (damned by faint praise, indeed).
For me, 2011 is all about the groundballs: if Jeter can elevate a little more he's hitting line drives in the gaps instead of one-hoppers to the secondbaseman. Line drives mean doubles and homers instead of singles and outs. If he continues to hit groundballs at his 2010 rate despite the new swing, it'll be a long season and a long contract.