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The Captain’s First Half

In 2008, Derek Jeter endured the worst offensive season of his career. He batted a mild (for him) .300/.363/.408, with a .343 wOBA and a 110 wRC+. That performance, at age 35, led some to question if his best days were behind him. But last season, The Captain made those people (myself included) look very stupid. Jeter hit .334/.406/.465, raising his wOBA to .390 and his wRC+ to 142.

Simply expecting Jeter to replicate that level of hitting in 2010 wouldn’t have been wise, but his pre-season projections were still rock-solid:

ZiPS: .303/.372/.424, .358 wOBA, 120 wRC+
CHONE: .302/.373/.434, .360 wOBA, 122 wRC+

But the 1992 first-round pick from Kalamazoo takes a .274/.340/.392 line into tonight’s All-Star game, with a .328 wOBA and a 104 wRC+. Why has Jeter fallen short of those forecasts so far?

In terms of walks, whiffs and power, Jeter is pretty close his pre-season CHONE and ZiPs projections. He’s taking a free pass 8.2% of the time (8.8% ZiPS, 8.9% CHONE), striking out 14.8% (15.1% ZiPS, 15.3% CHONE) and he’s got a .118 Isolated Power (.121 ZiPS, .132 CHONE). Jeter’s batting average on balls in play, however, is lower than anticipated — his BABIP is .303, while ZiPS had a .340 projection and CHONE had a .338 mark.

The first thing that jumps out when you look at Jeter’s batted ball profile is his ground ball rate. The Bombers’ shortstop has always had a high rate of grounders (56.6% dating back to 2002), but Jeter’s chopping the ball into the grass two-thirds of the time in 2010. He has the highest GB% among qualified MLB hitters. Jeter’s BABIP on grounders was well above average in 2007 and 2008, but fell last season. He’s getting fewer hits on grounders than the average AL batter for the second year in a row:

Jeter’s Speed Score has remained in the 4.6-5 range during this period (the MLB average is slightly over five), but his rate of infield hits has declined — 9.6% in ’07, 8.4% in ’08, 7.1% in ’09 and 6.8% in 2010.

His BABIP decline on grounders wasn’t a huge deal last season, as Jeter got scores of hits on balls put in play when he hit a fly ball or a line drive. But this year, his BABIP on fly balls and liners has come back down to Earth:

So, Jeter’s hitting more grounders than ever, and he’s not getting many hits on those grounders as he once did. And, unlike last season, his BABIP on fly balls and liners isn’t sky-high. Jeter’s still going to the opposite field as well as anybody in the game, despite hitting more ground balls that way:

But his performance when pulling the ball or hitting up the middle has been lousy, with a sharp decrease in BABIP and more grounders hit in both directions:

According to this expected BABIP calculator, Jeter’s rate of HR, K’s, SB, line drives, fly balls, grounders and pop ups suggests his BABIP should be .339. For the rest of 2010, ZiPS also projects improvement, though not as much — a .325 BABIP. He’ll probably fare better on fly balls and liners in the months to come. But the Captain’s ground ball rate and BABIP on those grounders should be monitored during the second half. Is his speed on the wane? If Jeter continues to scorch the Earth but doesn’t leg out more hits on those ground balls, his days as a .300+ hitter could be over. Of course, I’ve been wrong about him before.