Jeter could use return to Captain Clutch

While the subject of Derek Jeter is fresh in everyone's minds, let's talk about this coming season and not about potential future positional changes:

Jeter has a lot to work on this spring, including one aspect of his game over which hitting coach Kevin Long has little control –- how Jeter fares in the most significant situations.

There were two areas in which Jeter was very un-Jeterian in 2010. The two go hand-in-hand.

The first is Jeter's performance in bases-loaded situations. Entering 2010, Jeter thrived in such spots, with a .353 career batting average.

In 2010, he was 1-for-20 with two walks, one hit by pitch, and no sacrifice flies.

Baseball-Reference.com has complete bases-loaded data for the Yankees dating back to 1955 and no Yankee had a batting average as low as Jeter's .050.

In fact, if you look at the 295 instances in which a player had 20 or more bases-loaded at-bats since 1974, 293 of them had at least two hits.

The only ones who didn't: Baltimore's Nick Markakis in 2006 (1-for-20) and Jeter in 2010.

Jeter's seven bases-loaded strikeouts match the total he had in 43 at-bats from 2007 to 2009. The lone hit last season was an infield hit and only twice did he put a ball in play that reached an outfielder.

Jeter had 13 bases-loaded plate appearances with no outs or one out. These are situations when the pressure is on the pitcher, not the hitter, who has multiple ways in which he can do something productive.

In those 13, Jeter walked once, was hit by a pitch and twice hit into force plays that brought home a run. His other nine turns resulted in five strikeouts, two double plays, a force play at home plate, and a flyout.

Derek Jeter
In High-Leverage Situations

Of Jeter’s turns with the bases loaded, 10 came in what would be classified as high-leverage situations, those in which, statistically speaking, the outcome of the game could dramatically swing one way or the other, based on win probability data (if you wish to learn more about leverage, click here for a primer). Jeter was 0-for-10 in those spots.

For a typical everyday player, high-leverage situations account for about 50 to 80 plate appearances per season. In simplest terms, think of it this way. If you ranked every plate appearance a player had from most important to least important, the ones you’d rank at the top of the list would likely be a match for those defined as high-leverage. Fangraphs.com, from which we plucked this data, actually lists and ranks every plate appearance in terms of its leverage.

Jeter had 69 high-leverage plate appearances in 2010 (those with the bases loaded, as well as plenty of instances in other situations) and the results were not good. He was 9-for-62 with six walks and eight ground-ball double plays.

Jeter's .145 batting average was the worst among the 151 major league batting average qualifiers and has .446 OPS ranked second-worst to Oakland Athletics outfielder Rajai Davis.

When Jeter made contact in a high-leverage situation, he did what he did frequently in all instances last season, hit the ball on the ground. Seventy percent his high-leverage contact resulted in ground balls, the second-worst rate in the league (behind Elvis Andrus). That's why, when Jeter put the ball in play in high-leverage situations, he got limited results (a .191 BABIP).

Jeter’s performance in high-leverage situations took about 13 points off his batting average (which finished at .270) and 25 points off his OPS (which finished at .710).

Are these small sample sizes? Absolutely, so if you wish to call the performance a fluke or aberration with no predictive value, feel free to do so. If you think Jeter can return to form, this should be of little concern.

But the numbers last year were what they were. And they were a part of why the Jeter of 2010 did not look like the Jeter that Yankees fans have come to know and love.

Can that be fixed? We'll soon find out.