Derek Jeter said the conversation about his stride began a few years ago. It wasn’t unusual for him to eliminate the stride through his first few batting practice swings, and one day Jeter told Kevin Long that he’d like to take that approach into the season at some point.
“This was a couple of years ago, and I felt at the time it wasn’t necessary to try to do it,” Jeter said. “Last year we got into a situation where we felt it was necessary, so we tried to cut that down.”
Necessity forced the issue. Jeter went 1-for-7 in Texas on September 10, dropping his average to .260 with a .326 on-base percentage. He sat out on September 11, and used that day to work on his new swing. He put it into action on September 12 — against Cliff Lee — and went 1-for-2 with two walks and a two-out, RBI double that gave the Yankees the lead. That was the start of a .342/.436/.392 slash line through his final 19 games of the regular season.
“It’s really something that you shouldn’t be trying to do during the season, but in that situation, we felt we really had no choice,” Jeter said. “… I was striding late, I was striding too far forward (toward the plate), and I think it was tying up everything in my swing. So toward the end of the year when we made those adjustments, I tried to take the stride out, but I’ve been hitting like that for 30 years so it’s pretty difficult to do in one day in Texas. I’m trying to continue that throughout the offseason. You really can’t tell until you start facing pitching. I feel pretty good about it now, but it’s going to be an adjustment. That’s what spring training is for.”
Jeter said he believes the change will put him in a position to hit more quickly. He won’t be tied up on inside pitches, and the balls he does get to won’t be hit into the ground as often. Could this be proof that his swing is slowing down in his late 30s?
“I think it’s more getting into bad habits,” Jeter said. “Could be the other one, but I’ll go with the first one.”
For more on the technicalities of what’s going on with Jeter’s swing, Kevin Long gave a tremendous demonstration this afternoon in the Yankees clubhouse. Some of it was explained physically, but I think the text of Long’s words paints a pretty good picture. Everything in italics is quoting Long.
This is a lot of text, but I think it’s worth it. Long’s terrific when he’s breaking down a specific hitter’s swing, and a specific hitter’s approach.
What exactly are you changing?
The issue with the stride foot is when it crosses over and goes this way (toward the plate) and the ball is coming inside, you don’t have a path to get to that pitch. Now, let’s say a cutter from (Jon) Lester is coming in at 93 mph. You’re going to try to do what Jeter does best, which is stay inside of it. So he’s going to try to do this (keep his hands and body inside) and try to stay into it. You can’t do it (when you cross over). Now, by staying square and going up on his toe and going to here (mimics the beginning of an inside swing) he’s creating an avenue for his hips to get through and to become square to the baseball.
Why so many ground balls last year?
When you block off and you can’t clear your hips and you hit the ball, you’re basically smothering the baseball. You don’t have an avenue to get the barrel to it. If we’re square and I go here (clean swing at an inside pitch) and I can clear my hips, it allows by bat head to get there, and it allows me to elevate the baseball a lot more.
If it worked before, why doesn’t it work now?
I think the game has changed where the pitching is better. This cutter is a serious pitch that’s basically been brought into existence in the past two or three (years). Mariano’s had it, but nobody else. Every guy has a cutter now. You’ve got a Jon Lester cutter that’s coming in at, let’s say 95. Try to stay inside that pitch. You can’t do it. Guys have better command in and out I would say than they ever have. There’s no secrets. People pitch Jeet in, and he sees a lot of pitches inside. This will free him up in there and at least give him the opportunity to maybe get to those balls and pull them correctly.
The other thing is, we’re tying to shorten his swing. We’re trying to get it to be more direct to the baseball. It’s kind of a catch 22 because there wasn’t a lot of length before other than, he’d try to catch it in here and he couldn’t get the ball in the air because he was closing off.
Will this change the kind of hitter he is?
Does it mean you’ll probably see more balls to left field and left center? I think so. I don’t know. I think it’s going to allow him and give him the opportunity to get to some pitches and do some things with some balls that he might not have been able to do in the past… I don’t think it’s going to be his approach. I think his approach is still going to be going the other way, but I think it’s going to be much easier to react and he’s going to find that I can get to some of those pitches very easy and pull them.
What if pitchers adjust and start pitching him away?
That’s his strength. If they want to go to his strength, then go to his strength and he’ll abuse people… As long as he’s close to the plate and he’s able to hit that outside pitch without reaching and without striding in (he’ll be fine). We already talked about he’d probably have to get a little bit closer to the plate.
Did you wait too long to make this change?
I asked Jeet, I said, ‘Did we wait too long to do it?’ He said, ‘In my opinion, no.’ And in my opinion we didn’t wait too long. I think you have to let this thing play out a little bit.
What’s the role of age in this situation?
I’ll just talk about it from my personal standpoint. I don’t feel as good any more as I used to. There’s got to be a point in time when things are going to slow down. Is that part of this equation? I’m sure it is somewhat. How much? I don’t think any of us know that. But when you get older, things become a little more difficult. The big thing is keeping Jeet’s durability, keeping his body fresh. I think Joe does a good job picking spots for him to sort of be fresh with his body and active with his body. I’m sure he’s slowed down a little bit. I would say that. Is Derek Jeter’s best baseball behind him? I wouldn’t say that. I’m not ready to go there.
Associated Press photo of Jeter from today’s press conference