Forget drawing walks for a minute. Forget on base percentage for a sec. Forget the long ball, as exciting as it may be. What is one beautiful aspect of hitting? Turning on one and pulling it out of the yard is excitement no doubt, but sitting on a pitch away and driving it to the opposite field, now that is truly a pretty sight. So much respect and admiration for a hitter that looks to hit the ball to all fields, for it is a sign that the hitter is mentally aware of what is going on while he is in the batters box.
Our natural tendency is to try and pull the ball. Anyone who has played at any level, even wiffle-ball, can understand this. If a pitch comes on the inner half of the plate, we want to rip over the left field fence. Or the right field fence, depending on which side of the plate we are standing. And sometimes if the ball is located on the outer half, we still want to drive it over the wall that corresponds best with our pull-happy mentality. There is a reason that announcers, as clueless as they can be at times, say that a hitter is at his best when they are “hitting the ball to all fields.” No player, that has the spotlight, is more adept at hitting the ball to all fields than Derek Jeter.
I know, I praise the way Jeter plays the game a lot, and I am not oblivious to what he fails to do well. But what he does very well, and always has, is use all of the field to be an effective hitter. Last season, Jeter used the right side of the field to the clip of 38.6% of the time. That is batted balls we are referring to, not all At Bats. This is no mystery for we all hear about it every time Jeter appears on ESPN for a Sunday Night game. Or anytime the Yankees play the Fox Saturday Game of the Week. Jeter likes to go the other way. Everything he does on a baseball field, and some off of it, we hear about. But that doesn’t take away from it any, it is remarkable that he continues to show such discipline, such focus, in driving the ball to the first base side of the diamond. That level of focus is why Jeter is a Hall of Fame caliber player, it is why stats actually do not sum up everything a player does, even though those same stats are a darn good indicator most of the time. All of this in what was the worst season that Jeter has had at the plate in a while.
While Jeter does it well, Manny Ramirez also does it well, except with exceptional power. Manny goes the other way as well as any hitter I have ever seen…when he feels like it. Ramirez is hands down, clear cut, a much better hitter than Jeter. But while Jeter may lack the power that Manny has, he maintains that high level of focus much more so. During Manny’s tenure with the Red Sox, he went through periods where one could tell he was determined to drive the ball the other way, and that is when Manny was being Manny, which first and foremost meant crushing the ball. But it seemed that he could focus for a few weeks, then when Manny got bored, when his mind cluttered, he begin to disregard it, it seemed anyway. If Man-Ram wants to pull the ball, he can do so, but golly was he great when he would drive the ball into the gap in right-center. I sometimes wonder if Manny had the kind of focus that other players have, how much better he could have been. It’s truly scary, because he is already one of the greatest hitters ever, especially from the right side of the plate.
It seems that whenever a player gets hot, they are hitting the ball to all fields. It is impossible to maintain the level of concentration that Jeter has, at its highest, at all times. Which is why it is so astonishing that Jeter does it as much as he does. Maybe it’s just me, I lack the ability to focus for extended periods of time, or even for a short period of time. Maybe that is why I have so much respect for athletes, baseball players in particular that can sit on the outside half of the plate (or stay focused in between pitches, but that is a different story). Players that can look to drive the ball to the right fielder if they are right handed. Players that can drive the ball into the left-center field gap if they stand from the left side.
So remember, when player x catches fire this season, listen for the phrase “hitting to all fields.” Trust me, it will come up.