Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Derek Jeter Can In Fact Press

Let's just continue to beat this topic of conversation into the ground, shall we?

Derek Jeter went 0 for 8 between the two games of yesterday's double header. On the YES telecast, Michael Kay pointed out that never before had Jeter played both ends of a double header and gone hitless. Fair enough, though double headers are far, far less common than they used to be. An 0 for 8 streak isn't that uncommon. Jeter has had three such streaks this year, and has had more than twenty such streaks in his career, including an astounding 0 for 28 in his horrific April 2004.

After the game, the media asked Joe Girardi if he thought Jeter was pressing to reach Lou Gehrig's franchise hit record. Girardi began his answer with a comment along the lines of "if it was any else...", before going on to say "I have never seen it [pressure] bother him [Jeter] at any point in his career".

It's wholly possible that yesterday was nothing more than what it was on the surface: an 0 for 8 slide, which has happened to Jeter dozens of time in his career. I certainly don't think that pressure is getting to Jeter, even if the media (and now us) are bashing everyone over the head with Jeter's pursuit of the record, Over the course of his career, "clutchiness" aside, Jeter has demonstrated himself to be a very calm, collected individual. Rarely has he seemed outwardly rattled by anything, and he's often shown a knack for the big moment.

That said, as much as some would like to make him out to be as such, Derek Jeter is not Superman. He is in fact human. He can presumably press a bit from time to time. As an example, let's take a look back at another Yankee season where the team was cruising down the stretch.

On September 9, 1998 the Yankees beat the Red Sox at Fenway 7-5, running their lead in the AL East to an incomprehensible 20.5 games. That night, Joe Girardi watched from the bench as Derek Jeter homered in his first two at bats, running his season total to 19. It was nearly double the ten home runs he had posted in both of his first two full seasons, but it was one short of a nice round number.

Through the end of the September 9th game, Jeter was hitting .334/.394/.500 with a K% of 16.4, a BB% of 8.5, and a HR% of 3.1. Over the final 18 games of the season, Jeter hit .250/.304/.333 with a K% of 22.8, a BB% of 6.3, and a HR% of 0.0. He ended the season stuck at 19 home runs, but would hit 24 the following year, still a career high.

Perhaps Derek Jeter just went into a slump over the final 18 games of the 1998 season. Or perhaps with an insurmountable lead in the standings and nice personal milestone easily within reach, Jeter changed his approach at the plate. It's certainly a possibility, even for a player as unselfish as Jeter. The changes in his walk and strikeout rates over that stretch suggest that he became less selective and more aggressive in his approach at the plate. Perhaps he was gripping the bat just a little tighter and swinging just a little harder over that time.

When he passes Gehrig at some point on this homestand he will be given a lengthy and deserved standing ovation, he will humbly accept it and quickly move on, reminding everyone that a championship is the only milestone that counts. It will be a scene similar to when Jeter set the Yankee Stadium hit record last year, and similar to many others that will yet play out as Jeter continues to write his name in the franchise record book.

Derek Jeter is a once-in-a-generation type of player. As Jay mentioned this morning, for people our age Jeter will go down as our Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, or Mantle. But to dismiss out of hand that he could be pressing in the face of an accomplishment as historic as this one is to paint him in a nearly inhuman light. With any luck, Jeter will set the record in short order, allowing everyone to enjoy the moment and then move on with the business of the season.

1 comment:

  1. He definitely could be pressing. No need not to since the games are not that important. But being at both games yesterday, he hit at least 3 or 4 balls hard and could have easily had at least 2 hits. I'd chalk it up more to random chance than anything else. It wasn't like he looked bad yesterday.