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:
YEAR GB% 2007 56.1 2008 58.3 2009 57.0 2010 65.7 2011 72.9
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.