2010 has represented unfamiliar territory for Yankee fans. For the first time in his distinguished 16-year career, Derek Jeter has struggled mightily with the bat for significant portions of the season. Generally regarded as one of the top offensive short-stops baseball has ever seen, the Yankee captain has thus far been a shadow of his former self at the plate.
After posting what many consider one of his greatest seasons in 2009, Derek has regressed terribly, leading many to wonder if he is facing the inevitable decline phase that unmercifully befalls all athletes eventually. For a player who hit .334 with an OPS of .871 last year, the fall from grace has been dramatic. His average currently stands at a career-worst .268, his slugging percentage only .369, and his mediocre OPS of .707 is also the lowest of his career. His OPS+ of 89, is by far the lowest of his career as well, the first time he has posted an OPS+ lower than the league average of 100.
Despite all the dire indicators however, there may still be reason to hope. Yankee fans and unwavering Jeter supporters have held the belief that the Yankee captain will revert to his former ways, turning up his performance when the calendar turns to October, and the games matter the most. Long esteemed as a great playoff performer, it seems almost inconceivable that Derek Jeter could go out with a whimper, carrying his sub-par 2010 offensive performance into the post-season.
Mired in a season long slump after a hot start during April, Jeter has appeared impatient, less selective and utterly incapable of driving the ball as he once had. Suddenly though, just as many Yankee fans have long hoped, he is once again hitting at the top of the Yankee lineup.
Posting miserable OPS totals of .622 in July and then .652 in August, Jeter September started off just as badly, or even worse, as he hit a paltry .186 with a .527 OPS over the first 10 games of the month. Somewhere amidst those struggles he found a small spark, embarking upon a 14-game hitting streak in the middle of September. Throughout his hitting streak, he batted .322 with a much improved OPS of .804.
Giving himself and Yankee fans reason to believe as October approached, Jeter once again appeared calm and composed at the plate, such a familiar sight to followers of the game for the last 16 seasons in which Jeter has graced the diamond.
Over the last 15 games since September 14, Derek has hit .339, reached base at a .432 clip, posted an OPS of .820, while scoring 14 runs and grounding into only one double-play, something that had become increasingly routine for him as he struggled. Detractors might point at his high batting average on balls in play of .420, presenting his apparent resurrection as merely luck, and that may be true to some degree. But, even so, after a season of so many negatives for the captain, a little good fortune won't be viewed as a bad thing.
Whether Jeter's recent turnaround is a result of a small sample size, good luck or an actual improvement in his offensive production, offering a glimpse of what to expect in October, Yankee fans don't really care. They'll care that the captain is hitting again, just in time, as he prepares to lead his team into the post-season in order to defend the Yankees' World Series title that they currently hold.