Derek Jeter is Feeling Gravity's Pull

No one mentioned it at the time, but back on July 20, in a 10-2 loss to the Angels at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter hit into his 11th double play of the season, breaking Bernie Williams' Yankees record of grounding into 223 twin-killings.

Jeter hitting into Monday's game-ending DP. Why is he suddenly hitting as if...

Sure, our records are incomplete--we don't yet know how many DPs Ruth or Gehrig or DiMaggio hit into, and won't until the wonderful Retrosheet finishes its Herculean task of reconstructing the play by play of every game ever, but the records go back far enough that we can say with confidence that no Yankee of the postwar era has had as many 6-4-3s, 3-6-3s, 5-4-3s, and so on as the Captain.

As you might expect, Jeter has hit into an above-average number of double-plays the last few years, but this season seemed like it was going to be different. In his first 50 games of 2010, Jeter had hit into all of four double plays. In the 66 games he's played since then, Jeter has hit into 13 double plays, including Monday night's game-ender. In just over twice the games, he hit into triple the number of DPs. His rate of hitting into double plays per DP opportunity has shot up to 20 percent, or nearly twice the league average of 11 percent. Jeter's two-outs-for-the-price-of-one rate is the 11th-worst in the majors among players with 50 or more opportunities, fifth-worst in the American League.

This has been a very strange season for Jeter overall. He has been less patient than any year of his career except 2004. That year, he saw 3.52 pitches per plate appearance and walked in 6.4 percent of his plate appearances. This year, he's seen 3.55 pitches per PA and walked just 7.6 percent of the time. His career numbers are 3.74 and nine percent, respectively. Stranger still, his swing has produced an unthinkable number of grounders. His rate of ground outs to air outs is three times the league average. Jeter leads all players with 300 or more plate appearances in ground-ball percentage, leading the parade for punchless players like Juan Pierre, Elvis Andrus, and Michael Bourn.

...He is channeling the GDP magic of Jim Rice? (both photos AP)

This approach, if voluntary, is sorely misguided. Unless a player has the speed of a Brett Gardner (and Jeter was fast, but never Gardner fast), you can't build a batting average by beating out balls to short. To overgeneralize just slightly, pop-ups are always outs; fly balls that don't go out of the park are almost always outs; ground balls are outs most of the time; line drives are almost always hits. Just as Jeter's ground-ball rate is at a career high, so too is his line drive rate at a career low. The high rate of grounders also explains why Jeter's home run to at-bat ratio is his worst since 1997; unless about three people fall down and don't get up, it's hard to hit a ground-ball home run.

It is difficult to know if Jeter is losing his skills at 36 or he has somehow fallen into some miserable habits. As I said in an earlier post, given Jeter's iconic status, it's probably not worth dropping him down in the batting order--the resultant noise could burst your eardrums--but let's be honest: were we talking about almost any other player in the game today, almost any other Yankee, if we were talking about freakin' A-Rod, there would be a mighty clamoring for him to be dropped down or even sat down, and 3,000 hits or 700 home runs be damned.

If you're planning next year's Yankees, do you put your faith in a comeback? Don't forget, the glove's not a huge asset either. Remember, when you wear your GM hat, your job is to win games and championships, not to cater to individual player milestones. Decided? Before you do, ask yourself if the rebound will be such that Jeter will justify the very high price he will demand. Ask yourself if he will be better than his potential replacements.

I don't know the answer to these things. What I do know is that Jeter has 44 games and (perhaps) the postseason to aim his bat a bit higher and stop killing worms. If he doesn't, not only will the Yankees struggle to defend their championship, but Brian Cashman and ownership will be forced into a position this winter when any decision they can possibly make regarding Jeter will be wrong.

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