At 36 and just after signing a three-year deal, Derek Jeter is off to a horrible start in 2011. With 120 plate appearances Jeter has a wRC+ of just 57, and the main reason is his complete lack of power. Of his 27 hits only two have gone for extra bases — both doubles — leaving him with an ISO of 0.019, the worst in baseball.
The culprit for Jeter’s lack of power is his league-leading 72% ground-ball rate. In fact, since the start of 2010 Jeter has hit two thirds of his balls in play on the ground. That is far and away the most of any major league player, and considerably higher than the 57% he has averaged since 2002. WIth this big change in ground-ball rate I assumed that Jeter was swinging more at pitches low in the zone, but that is not the case:
Jeter is actually swinging at more at high pitches, but he is driving those into the ground much more than he used to. This change on pitches up in the zone looks to be the big reason for his higher ground-ball rate: pitches that Jeter used to hit for opposite-field, line-drive doubles are now ending up as ground outs.
Additionally troubling is the outcome on Jeter’s few non-grounders. Off his 27 FBs and LDs, he has just seven singles (both his doubles came on grounders). His wRC+ on opposite-field balls in play — usually where he does the most damage — is just 22 compared to a career average of 147. So even when Jeter does get the hit a ball in the air, he is not doing much with it.
Jeter had re-worked his swing during spring training, but quickly gave up on that and went back to his original swing. He will most likely not finish the season with the worst ISO in the leage and a sub-0.275 wOBA, but he needs to find a way to get some loft and power back in his bat. His seven-win 2009 season feels a long way off.
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