Derek Jeter quickly ditching the “new swing” he worked on with hitting coach Kevin Long hasn’t helped his production, as the Yankees shortstop is batting just .219 with a .282 on-base percentage and .234 slugging percentage in 16 games.
Jeter is still doing a fine job controlling the strike zone, drawing six walks compared to just five strikeouts, but he’s managed a grand total of one extra-base hit (a double against the Twins on April 7) in 64 at-bats.
And there’s a simple explanation for Jeter’s lack of pop: He’s hitting everything on the ground.
Jeter has never been a slugger and has always been a ground-ball hitter, but prior to this season he averaged 55 extra-base hits per 160 games for his career and his ground-ball rates have never been this extreme. Not only does he lead MLB in ground-ball percentage at 72.9, second-place Alcides Escobar of the Royals is at 68.5 percent and no one else in either league above 65.5 percent.
Here are Jeter’s ground-ball percentages for the past five seasons:
Not only is 72.9 percent ground balls by far a career-high for Jeter, last year’s mark of 65.7 percent is the only other time he’s topped 60 percent grounders. There are plenty of very successful hitters with high ground-ball rates, with Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki being the leading examples, but there’s a big difference between hitting 55-60 percent ground balls and hitting 70 percent ground balls.
His batting average is going to rise from .219, but if Jeter doesn’t start hitting the ball in the air he’s going to have a very hard time avoiding a sub-.400 slugging percentage for the second straight season after topping .400 in 15 consecutive years. In his 145 most recent games dating back to May of last season Jeter has hit .257 with six homers, 25 doubles, and a .336 slugging percentage.
A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.
Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.
For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.
The Phillies reportedly signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Nava began the season on a one-year contract with the Angels, during which he slashed .235/.309/.303 through 136 PA in the first half of 2016. He was flipped to the Royals in late August for a player to be named later and saw the remainder of his year go down the drain on an .091 average through 12 PA in Anaheim. After getting the boot from the Angels’ 40-man roster in November, the 33-year-old outfielder elected free agency.
Nava is expected to compete for a bench role on the Phillies’ roster in the spring. As it currently stands, the club’s projected 2017 outfield features Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, with precious little depth behind them. Nava’s bat is underwhelming, but at the very least he offers the Phillies a warm body in left field and a potential platoon partner for one of their younger options, a la Tyler Goeddel or Roman Quinn.