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.
Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.
While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.
When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.
Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.
More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.
Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)
It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.