Derek’s Odd Start

2010 Draft: College Targets
Twelve games in, All Star balloting opens

Today at ESPN’s TMI blog, I looked at Kosuke Fukudome’s hot starts. During his first two seasons in America he has set a high bar for himself in April, but then has failed to live up to those lofty marks. Part of the reason relates to his ground ball percentage. In his two (now three) Aprils he holds a 41 percent ground ball rate, while that jumps to 50 percent from May through September. To show why this was a problem I cited some ground ball and fly ball numbers for the National League. Rather than quote, I’ll look at those numbers for American League hitters.

We often hear, and sometimes repeat, the adage that ground balls go for hits more frequently than fly balls. While that is true, the difference isn’t as pronounced as you might think. In 2009 the American League as a whole hit .239 on ground balls. That mark dropped to just .224 on fly balls. Fly balls, of course, bring many more advantages, including a much higher slugging percentage. To wit, the slugging percentage on ground balls was .259, while it was .821 on fly balls. Furthermore, keeping the ball on the ground also precludes line drives, the best of all hit types. AL hitters batted .739 with a 1.015 SLG when hitting the ball on a line.

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

During the season’s first dozen games, it seems as though Derek Jeter has hit a ground ball to shortstop in nearly every at-bat — that is, except the two doubles and three homers he has hit so far. Whether it’s a single up the middle or just a routine grounder to the left side, it seems like he’s always hitting it there. His groundball rate does bear this out. Of the 45 balls he has put in play so far, 33 have been on the ground. Yet, despite this high ground ball rate, Jeter’s ISO sits at .220, which rates higher than any full year of his career. Unsurprisingly, so does his 73.3 percent ground ball rate.

As we learned last night, these numbers do not hold predictive value for Jeter at their current sample sizes. He has come to the plate just 52 times, so the only statistic that might have stabilized is his Swing% — and even then I expect it will come down from its 54.6 percent rate, which would rank by far the highest in Jeter’s career. We can’t expect his ground ball rate to tell us anything for another 150 PA, and you can forget about his ISO until August. These stats have a tendency to fluctuate in small samples, and that’s just what we’re seeing right now.

Most of the discrepancy in Jeter’s numbers comes from extremely good luck on his fly balls and liners. Of the five balls he has hit on a line, four have gone for hits, including one of his three home runs. Of the seven balls he has lifted enough to be considered flies, he has collected another four hits, including two doubles and the other two home runs. In other words, when Jeter lifts the ball he’s hitting .667 with a 1.333 SLG. This will not remain consistent throughout 2010, of course, but it’s quite a nice start. Even as Jeter hasn’t looked his best at the plate he has still produced excellent results.

2010 Draft: College Targets
Twelve games in, All Star balloting opens
  • PaulF

    How does Derek usually do on his fly balls relative to the average?

  • dkidd

    seems like he’s had 4 or 5 “swinging bunt” hits already. whatever, i’ll take it

  • A.D.

    It has been odd, seems like a bunch of fairly weak out in grounder to SS, yet he has 3 HR and is slugging .600. Which puts away any issues such as the wrist & lack of power in 2008

    • kunaldo

      It’s not even the overwhelming amount of groundballs that irks me; it’s the first pitch swings. I should look up the numbers, but whether he puts the ball in play or not(usually to SS), it seems like he rarely takes the first pitch (this year).

  • dkidd

    possibly stupid question:

    jeter’s career ops is .848
    jeter’s ops when leading off an inning (2150 at-bats) is .929

    is there an explanation?

    • dkidd

      i.e. do most players fare better when leading off an inning?

      • Thomas

        The ML tOPS+ when leading off the inning:

        2010: 102
        2009: 101
        2008: 100
        2007: 99
        2006: 100
        2005: 100

        So it is usually the same leading off the inning as otherwise.

        • dkidd

          thanks for this. based on a ridiculously small sample size (jeter/cano versus nick johnson/swisher), i wonder if players who like swinging early in the count do better when leading off an inning?

          • dkidd

            meaning, do better than their career averages

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      I think he’s taking advantage of the increase in first-pitch fastballs.

      • dkidd

        nick johnson career .846
        nj leading off inning .795

        nick swisher career .816
        swish leading off inning .801

        interesting that you could be a high obp guy whose value isn’t maximized by leading off

        if pitchers try to get ahead of the first batter of the game/inning, then the best leadoff men are players who feel confident swinging early

        • Dalelama

          Not leading off probably means more men on base when hitting hence a stronger incentive for power hence higher ops? Just a guess…

    • Ghost of Scott Brosius

      Look at Cano’s numbers leading off an inning compared to otherwise last year. They were insane.

      • Spaceman.Spiff

        Jeter career OPS: .848
        Jeter leading off inning: .929
        Cano career OPS: .822
        Cano leading off inning: .941

        Similar approaches? Random stats? Anything we can take from this data?

        • Dirty Pena

          It’s possible that to lead off an inning, a pitcher might just be trying to get a fastball over to get the inning off on the right foot. Or as they say in The Show, “he must’ve still thought it was warmups, that one was SMOKED!”

  • manny

    i still think he aims his hits. “oh u ain’t there? that’s where i’ll hit”

    • TheTallOne0602

      He seems to be confused by whether or not the shortstop is actually “there”, in that case.

      • Spaceman.Spiff

        Shortstops have been using invisibility cloaks in the at-bats against Jeter this year.

        • manny

          i DID hear about that in “some” article

      • Thomas

        Maybe the SS in his blindspot?

  • pete

    It’s certainly weird. I haven’t really started putting stock in this season stats yet because its so early, and in so not doing I have come to have the impression that Jetes is scuffling just a bit, that Cano has started to fall off a bit, and that Swisher and Nick Johnson are having the best starts offensively. But I was bored enough to read a story in the NY Post today and both of those two are quoted as “struggling” right now. Strange how many people think that the stats thus far hold any real weight

    • pete

      and how many people still care about BA

      • CS Yankee

        I do to a degree.

        I know a walk is almost as good as a hit (it isn’t when having men-on-base).

        In having a low BA early (NJ) and a great OBP, I am a little concerned that when the zone changes or the pitchers challenge him more, that he might get “vapor locked”.

        Glad to have NJ but and don’t care if the BA is .280 or .310 (but it needs to be above Mendoza territory) as long as the OBP stays above .400…we’ll be awwwright!

        • pete

          well, yeah, I get that. He doesn’t hit for enough power to be super productive at a <~.275 BA, but batting average takes soooo long to stabilize that there's almost no significance at all in what he's hitting right now. I just feel like when I watch him hit, i'm always surprised when he has an unsuccessful at-bat. Sure, the degree to which his ABs are successful may be less than other hitters, but he just fails (i.e. gets out) so little, or at least seems that way.

  • CS Yankee

    To me, Jeter has been great throughout his career doing the OFH (opposite field hitting) with the only exception is when he has gone yard. In those years I would see big holes in the left side and wish he would pull one over there, but he always seemed to stay a OFH.

    This year, he seems much different, wondering if;
    1) Maybe his timing is off (as he seems to be pulling much more) 2) Maybe that is where they are pitching him, and he is taking the ball that way.
    3) Wield luck…SSS

    I like the results so far though, and am glad that he continues to reinvent himself (correcting the fielding in ’08-’09).

    It’ll be a sad day when he hangs it up (in 2015).

    • CS Yankee

      err, weird luck

  • camilo Gerardo

    24 episode 18 ending was muy BA

  • KeithK

    Early on in 2009 Jeter seemed to be a ground ball machine, hitting everything to SS. (Purely anecdotal.) He came out of it then and will likely again.