Data: .268/.332/.380, 8 HR, 44 RBI
Malfunction: Outside of a 48 at-bat cup of coffee in 1995, Derek Jeter is posting the worst numbers of his career. His dropoff is especially significant because last year was possibly the best season of his career, as he posted the best defensive numbers of his career and some of the best hitting as well. But this year — in a contract season, no less — his defense has deteriorated and his offense has been flat. The Captain is 36 years old, and he's clearly getting older. He's not exactly having a bad season — but, well, he has the exact same number of WAR as David Eckstein(notes) and Juan Uribe(notes) and he's making $21 million while doing it.
Diagnosis: David Golebiewski discovered that Jeter is hitting a ton of grounders — more than two-thirds of his balls in play are ground balls, by far the highest percentage in all of baseball — and he's legging out fewer infield hits than he used to. He isn't necessarily slowing down (his Fangraphs speed score says he's a tick faster this year than last year), but he isn't hitting as many line drives or fly balls as he used to, and so his power and batting average are both suffering as a result.
His BABIP is currently the lowest of his career, 60 points below his career average and 71 points below his BABIP last year. Some of that is undoubtedly luck, but some of that is also undoubtedly connected to all those ground balls: ground balls are a whole lot more likely to turn into outs than line drives. His walk, strikeout, and homer rates are all pretty in line with career norms, so the real problem is what happens when he puts the ball in play. This year, the answer is: Not much.
Reboot Directions: I'm not going to write off Derek Jeter, because he's just a year removed from an MVP-caliber season, and his undiminished speed indicates that he still has most of his tools remaining. Maybe it's his swing mechanics, maybe last season was a fluke and he's getting older and this season is more of a continuation of 2008, the previous worst season of his career. It's hard to say without more data. But his future is more likely to look like his performance this year than last year. There's no doubt that the Yankees will pay him whatever it takes to keep him. But his struggles are costing him tens of millions of dollars on whatever contract he signs this offseason, which will probably be the last contract he ever signs. The Yankees don't really need his offense, but his future earnings potential certainly does.
Pablo Sandoval(notes), San Francisco Giants .272/.332/.399, 6 HR, 41 RBI
Sandoval had a wonderful year last year, but he seemed bound for a bit of regression to the mean because he's a free swinger who doesn't walk much and relies on a sky-high BABIP. His .300 BABIP is fifty points lower than it was last year, and unsurprisingly, his batting average is 58 points lower this year. The bigger problem is his power outage. His Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) has dropped 100 points from .226 to .126, from elite to pedestrian. He's basically turned into a free-swinging singles hitter. His strikeout, walk, and contact numbers are virtually unchanged this year, so his problems seem mostly luck- and confidence-related. But it's hard to make a permanent living as a free swinger, as the man below can tell him.
Ichiro Suzuki(notes), Seattle Mariners .317/.370/.397, 3 HR, 27 RBI
Ichiro is one of the greatest bad-ball hitters we've ever seen, up there with Vlad Guerrero and Yogi Berra. But even the ability to hit anything that moves doesn't make him slump-proof. He has a .243 average and .541 OPS in June, and it's been a month since his last home run. His numbers look very similar to those of 2008, likely the worst season of his career, and the only other time his slugging percentage dipped below .400. He's striking out more than usual and fouling off more pitches than usual, and unlike Jeter, his Fangraphs speed score has been steadily decreasing, and this year he's just league-average. It may partially be bad luck, but declining speed tells a different story. Age is finally catching up to the 36-year old.
Yunel Escobar(notes), Toronto Blue Jays .252/.346/.317, 2 HR, 26 RBI
Last year, Yunel Escobar was probably the fifth-best shortstop in baseball, behind Derek Jeter, Hanley Ramirez(notes), Troy Tulowitzki(notes), and Jason Bartlett(notes). This year, he's been one of the worst players in baseball, and a week ago the Braves unloaded him for the decidedly more non-descript Alex Gonzalez(notes). The trade seems to have woken up his bat, as the formerly homerless Escobar hit his first two home runs of the season in the four games since the trade. But it's understandable why the Braves wanted to be rid of him. He was slugging a horrifying .284 before the trade and looked totally lost at the plate, to say nothing of the rumored clubhouse discontent. But perhaps the "change of scenery" thing will really work in his case. Toronto is certainly hoping so.