Jeter's Consistent Adjustments
[Editor's note: Jeff Albert has agreed to join Baseball Analysts as a regular contributor. Jeff, who owns and operates swingtraining.net, first appeared on this site in August with his well-received two-part special on Alex Rodriguez and Andruw Jones. A graduate student pursuing a M.S. in Exercise Science at Louisiana Tech, Jeff has worked with high school, college and minor league baseball players (doing training and video analysis). Please welcome Jeff aboard.]
Derek Jeter is not the guy who jumps out to me as having the "model swing," but it sure is hard to argue with the results. Jeter can hit. By hit, I mean that he puts the barrel on the ball consistently (independent of slugging or on-base percentage). This was quite obvious as he made his 2006 playoff debut with a 5-hit performance.
In the span of his five at-bats, Jeter showed his versatility with the stick as he turned on a 1-0 fastball, fought back from 0-2 to shove a 3-2 fastball into left-center, served a high off-speed pitch to right-center, turned on another fastball (0-1), and finally capped it by launching a hanging 1-1 curve over the centerfield fence. So what does this say? The Yankee captain can turn on an expected fastball, fight off pitches when he is behind in the count, and also punish pitchers for spinning mistakes left in the middle of the strike zone.
Looking a bit closer at the video, I started to notice a couple of things (which are also common in other high-level hitters) that allow Jeter to excel in such a wide variety of hitting situations. Many players have difficulty covering varying pitch types in so many parts of the strike zone, but these are just a couple of things that allow the likes of Jeter to produce so many hits.
What I first noticed was the adjustment he made to the off-speed pitch hit for the home run. Most hitters are usually taught to set their timing for a fastball and try to adjust down in speed. How does this happen? Here is the home run:
There is a slight "delay" visible in Jeter's swing. Now here is a closer look at how this translates into adjusting for an off-speed pitch:
Jeter's home run from the ALDS Game 1 is on the left and the swing on the right is another home run from earlier this season. The obvious difference is the timing of the hip rotation, which logically starts earlier when reacting to a fastball. On the right, I intentionally chose an outside pitch (resulting in an opposite field home run) to diffuse any comments suggesting that he is opening up early in order to get to an inside pitch. In this case, he needed to stay as "closed" as possible in order to effectively hammer that outside fastball.
Footplant (heel landing) is a basic indicator of when the "unloading" of the swing begins and a noticeable opening of the hips for most high-level hitters begins just before the heel of the foot plants. We are seeing here that Jeter is delaying the "unloading" of his swing to adjust for the slower speed of this curveball.
Also of note - and more of a general observation - is Jeter's ability to consistently put himself in a balanced, athletic position. If you remember from the A-Rod swing analysis, his balance has essentially changed, which may have some implications to his fluctuating performance over the past three seasons in New York.
One more major factor in Jeter's consistency (and also many other high-level hitters) is his ability to set up and maintain his swing path (swing plane):
The front or lead arm will often act as the guide for the path of the swing, and this is the case here. It should be fairly easy to predict where the barrel of the bat is going to end up based on the direction of the lead arm, and that is what the lines are intended to illustrate in this clip. The yellow line at the end of the clip replaces the original red line, and the red line at the end indicates that Jeter's swing results in contact in nearly the identical plane that he had originally set up as he began to unload.
Jeter's ability to stay in this swing plane may also go a long way in explaining his ability to spray the ball all over the field. The general set up and balance of his body, along with the position of his lead arm, allows Jeter to not only authoritatively handle outside pitches, but also to pull his hands in without "rolling" his hands over. In other words, on a tight pitch inside, Jeter's lead arm pulls across his chest (via retraction of left scapula), which brings his hands in while maintaining his intended swing path. In baseball speak, this is "staying inside the ball."
The short of it is that Jeter's visual and reactive skills (recognize pitch type and location) are backed by his ability to get the bat where it needs to be (coordination of swing pattern). Players can often be heard saying that they try to "trust their hands" and Jeter can probably trust his more than most as his body sets up the path (train tracks) and the hands (train) get the barrel (passenger) efficiently to the desired destination (ball).