Derek Jeter leads MLB in ground ball percentage, ranks 188th in slugging percentage

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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.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.

Sandy Leon homered twice in one inning, including a grand slam

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Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon achieved a rare feat during Monday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Orioles: he homered twice in one inning. One of those homers happened to be a grand slam.

Leon led off the top of the fifth inning with a solo home run off of Logan Verrett. Verrett continued to get knocked around, giving up three singles and a walk before being relieved by Brian Moran. Moran gave up a walk to load the bases, then a single to knock in a run and keep the bases loaded. Leon stepped back to the plate and swatted a grand slam to left field, making it an eight-run fifth for the Red Sox. The Sox would tack on one more before the inning was mercifully ended.

How often do players homer twice in one inning during the regular season? Not that often. Since 2010, the feat has been accomplished four times in the American League and twice in the National League. The Orioles’ Mark Trumbo was the only one to do it last year.

As for Leon, he’s on track to open the season as the starting catcher in Boston, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reported last week.