Mood Music: Electric Eye by Judas Priest
While this may sound like the working title of a bad reality show, I can assure you this has nothing to do with bad reality television. Now that I think about it, there might not be a worse concept for a reality show than Derek Jeter doing weird stuff. Does Jeter even do weird stuff? There was the one time he was oddly willing to let Alex Rodriguez grab his ass like the reins of a horse, but that's about it. And really, that's more about A-Rod being caught doing weird stuff way too often.
There is no bad television to be had here. This is about Jeter and ground balls. There are plenty of those to be had. Since whoever started tracking such things, the lowest ground ball rate Jeter has posted is 48 percent. Every other season has been over 50 percent, with the high point, or low point considering the results, being 65.7 percent in 2010. As of yesterday, Jeter's ground ball rate this season was 65.7 percent. Jeter hit .270/.340/.370 in 2010. Jeter is hitting .318/.360/.424 this season.
To attempt some form of context, 65.7 percent is the second highest ground ball rate recorded since 2002. Luis Castillo holds a claim to that spot with 66.7 percent grounders. Jeter's 65.7 percent leads baseball this season by a slight margin over Ben Revere's 65.4 percent. The next closest is Howie Kendrick with 60.5 percent. Take out the percentages and it isn't even close. Jeter has 272 grounders on the year. Two-hundred and seventy two. That leads baseball by over 50 and the Yankees by over 80. And yet, he's fourth in the AL in batting average. Wait, how did that happen? Nothing makes sense.
A simple explanation would be that he's seeing a big turnaround in his BABIP luck, but simple is boring and usually doesn't involve pictures of things. Plus, it's hard to really blame things on bad luck when two out of every three balls put in play barely make it off the ground. It's kind of expected that a player isn't going to hit very much when there's no real authority behind the ball, which is why this is all so weird. There's no real difference in what's happening yet there's a big difference in what's happening.
You could point to the jump in line drive percentage, but what does that accomplish? No one can see you pointing to at that number on a screen. I could be pointing at the screen now and you wouldn't even know it. Maybe even at Jeter's line drive rate, who knows? Pointing aside, it's tough to put a lot into line drive rates. There's a general idea of what a line drive is, but there's no real set definition. A grounder is hit on the ground, a fly ball flies somewhere on the field, but liners are different. A Robinson Cano frozen rope goes in the books the same as an Ichrio end of the bat flare over the shortstop. They're both liners, but they aren't both liners.
So yes, Jeter is hitting the ball harder more often than he had in the past couple years. Take line drive numbers out of the equation; the spray charts (2010 vs. 2012) show as much without the annoying liner definitions. Despite hitting the ball harder, the grounders are at their highest point in his career. But there the batting average sits, right in line with the early 2000s. I keep going back to Luis Castillo. When Castillo was abusing the Earth in 2007, he posted a .301/.362/.359 line. That doesn't make a lot of sense and neither does Jeter's season, so it's probably best to stop going back to him. One is enough.
Sticking with the Yankees for a possible explanation is the better route. At the bottom of the team list in BABIP on grounders sit Russell Martin (.115), Curtis Granderson (.186), Raul Ibanez (.190) and Mark Teixeira (.217). With exception of Martin, they all share something in common; they're prolific lefty pull hitters who are easy to shift on. There's no real surprise with any of them. The book is out on what they're trying to do at the plate and it kills the vast majority of hit opportunities. With Jeter, outside of the predictable grounder element, there's no real defensive alignment that will shut those hits down.
Up the middle is in play about as often as the opposite field, so sliding the second baseman over wouldn't help much without the help of the rangiest short stop in the game. A full-blown lefty pull hitter shift would presumably shut down some of his offense, but 1) Jeter only hits a grounder 37.6 percent of the time the opposite way and 2) pulling the third baseman towards short is its own problem.
Jeter's spray charts are always going to look bullseyes on both sides of the infield, but the green dart usually strays to the left side. With 25 infield hits already this season, mainly to the third base side, it would be pretty humiliating to see that number double because the third baseman is too far towards second against a guy who will put it on the ground around 90 percent of the time to the pull side. Double is completely unsubstantiated, but it's funny to envision a guy with 50 or 60 infield hits.
That's about 900 words on Derek Jeter and ground balls. All those words and I'm still not really sure how this season of his is happening. Most of the guys on the list of huge grounder rates are or were fast when they posted good seasons to go with it, so yeah, that at least makes a little sense. At 38, Jeter isn't as fast as a prime Ichiro or Michael Bourn, so all I'm really left with is some blend of resurgent skill, all-field hitting, luck, poor fielding, questionable scoring decisions and yeah, probably some hustle. Hitting everywhere can be a pretty useful thing. Nothing can replace haha...wait. Damn, the image of 60 infield singles got me again.