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Grading the Yankees: Derek Jeter

Oh Captain, my captain! A 38-year-old shortstop isn’t supposed to have a season like Derek Jeter had in 2012. While all reports reveal his defense stinks, at least in regards to range, he was a true catalyst with the bat. The normal curve throughout a player’s career dictates that any seasons played after age 35 means a sharp decline in all baseball activities, but Jeter is no normal player, and up until his injury in the ALCS, he was the engine of this ballclub.

Not many shortstops record a .316/.362/.429 slash line, heck not many players amass those numbers ever in their career. However, Jeter had a season that made all of us remember he’s what makes this team tick. While Robinson Cano is most likely the future in this regard, he won’t have the torch passed to him until Jeter retires. The shortstop led the league in hits (216) for the second time in his illustrious career, and also led the league in plate appearances (740) and at-bats (683) in 2012.

Jeter is not ready to pass the torch (Image: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

Let’s get right into the good stuff. Usually when a player has a great batting average, on-base, and slugging percentage, they also have a higher than normal BABIP. Jeter’s BABIP (.347) is a tic above normal range (.280-.320), but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was lucky. Instead, he hit line drives nearly 22 percent of the time and groundballs 65.2 percent of his at-bats. Those two outcomes, coupled with a good K-rate (12.2 percent) help drive up BABIP numbers. His BABIP totals were close to his career number mark (.354), which is even more amazing considering his age.

Meanwhile, many players in the twilight of their careers have a difficult time finishing out seasons due to fatigue, however, Jeter was better in the second half than he was in the first.

Split G PA R H 2B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG GDP BAbip
1st Half 83 390 47 111 16 7 25 7 2 24 49 .308 .354 .411 13 .341
2nd Half 76 350 52 105 16 8 33 2 2 21 41 .325 .372 .449 11 .354

He scored more runs, batted more runs in, hit more home runs, and had just as many doubles in 40 fewer plate appearances than he had in the first half. He was a table setter in every sense of the word.

That being said, there were some warning signs to might tell us this season was an aberration. First, taking a gander at his plate discipline numbers reveals he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone, swinging more in general, and making contact about the same amount. Over his career he’s swung at around 22.4 percent of pitches outside the zone, but he swung at 31.1 percent of those same pitches this season. Also, he made contact with nearly 10 percent more pitches outside the zone in 2012 than he has throughout his career. Swinging at strikes and getting hits are difficult enough, expecting to get base hits from making contact with pitches outside the zone is foolhardy. Jeter goes up there hacking and it worked this season, but we are just as likely to see the ugly side of this in the coming seasons.

On the fielding front, it’s widely known that Jeter isn’t the best defensive shortstop and 2012 wasn’t that kind to him. He recorded his second worst UZR/150 total (-16.4) of his career. Furthermore, his range (as expected) got worse (-16.6 RngR in 2012 compared to -8.39 in his career). He makes the play if he gets to it, unlike one Mr. Eduardo Nunez, who’s a crapshoot throwing the ball.

Finally, Jeter was one of the only batters to show up during the postseason. During the ALDS, Jeter hit .364/.391/.500 and scored four runs. Sadly, in the one game he played during the ALCS before busting his ankle, he hit .200/.333/.200. It was a sad end to an otherwise great season for Jeter. Everybody expected something around .270-.260 in the batting average department, but instead we were treated to a great season by the Yankees best shortstop of all-time. Relish in it Yankees fans, because we might not see this again for a long time.

Comments:

  • Effort reflects ability
  • Uses time wisely
  • Participates in class activities
  • Positive role model for peers
  • Exceeds goals

Grade:

A – At his age, Derek Jeter should not be putting up numbers like he is. His fielding won’t get any better, but he could still do some damage with the bat despite the obvious warning signs.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

Topics: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees

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  • David_Gianatasio

    Hacking away appears to be Jeter’s late-career strategy. Eschewing walks unless the ball’s so far outside it ends up in the dugout, he’ll try to hit his way aboard in every plate appearance. Maybe that speeds up his bat? As you say, it paid off in ’12. If the Yanks had a better team RISP, he would’ve scored 130 runs. He was stranded at third constantly. Girardi should’ve sat him down a bit or just DHed him for the final 3 weeks. It was clear that his ankle was already an issue. The Yanks were lucky he didn’t cost them some key games at that point, because the limping was painfully obvious. Oddly, he had that long hitting steak at the time — but mostly all singles. He couldn’t drive the ball at all. I know Jeter always says, “I’m fine.” But clearly he wasn’t. I think mainly DHing in 2013 would keep him fresher. (He hits better as a DH anyway, seems more focused.) I know he’s not a typical DH type, but even in his prime, he was only a slightly above average SS at best. It’s unfair to him, and the team, to keep running him out onto the field, and that was true even before the injury. Someone needs to explain that to Derek. I predict a slow start next year, probably sub-Mendoza for a few weeks. But if he’s truly recovered, look for something like .290/.350/.400 in 120+ games. That would approximate his 2011 performance, which was pretty decent, and all things considered, I’d be more than satisfied.

    • Jimmy Kraft

      I think your slash line is a fair assessment, David. However, I believe that is optimistic, and he’ll hit more in the .270/.340/.400-range. I’m not a fan of a “hacker” at the plate because just as many of those dinks and dunks for hits could turn into dribblers for outs in 2013. Cheating on the pitch is not the same as speeding up your bat, which I think you know, so for everything that went right for him in 2012, we could see the exact opposite in 2013.

      One problem with your “Jeter the DH” scenario is that leaves a void at SS without a clear and viable replacement. Eduardo Nunez isn’t ready for full-time duties, as we painfully witnessed this season. Jayson Nix is a bench player, nothing more. So that leaves the Yankees to venture into free agency or trade for a SS. Neither of which is ideal. I think most of us here YGY and throughout the blogosphere have subscribed to the theory that the Yankees will not have a full-time DH, but rather use it for “rest” Jeter and A-Rod. I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all, especially with their age…but they shouldn’t be full-time DH in their own right.

      David, thank you very much for the read and the comment. C’mon back and read the rest of the Grading the Yankees series from other YGY writers. :)

      • David_Gianatasio

        Indeed, Girardi uses the DH slot in a novel way and I think it’s paid off for the team in the past 2 years. But he might have to rethink that approach if Jeter’s mobility is further hampered at SS post-injury. As for Nunez … you are correct, of course. Still, if he can contribute, say, 40 steals and 90 runs as a starter on an OPS+ of 110 (numbers he’s capable of producing), I’ll look the other way if he makes 20-25 errors. I know many fans feel otherwise, but at lest in such a role the Yanks would be maximizing his potential.

        • Jimmy Kraft

          Again, using Nunez in anything but a bench role right now is risky. He has the bat, I’ll give you that, but his defense is horrid. You can certainly make a case for and against Jeter’s defense in comparison. In fact, let’s do that (though I caution you that defensive metrics are an inexact science):

          Jeter: (1187 innings at SS)
          UZR/150: -16.4
          DRS: -18
          RngR (range runs): -16.6
          ErrR (error runs): 2.2

          What that says about Jeter is that he makes the plays he gets to, but he suffers from poor range. Plus, he’s slightly above average when it comes to runs scoring directly from his errors.

          Nunez: (116 innings at SS)
          UZR/150: -12.9
          DRS: -1
          RngR: 0.8
          ErrR: -2.2

          Their UZR/150 are pretty much the same (awful). The defensive runs saved if we extrapolate Nunez’ numbers he would cost the Yankees 10.2 runs if he played the same amount of innings as Jeter at SS. It’s improvement, sure, but it’s not vast. The question is, “Does his offense make up for his defense?” We know what Jeter brings to the table offensively, but can Nunez come close to that in order to offset his defensive deficiencies?

          • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

            Nunez’s offense is way overrated. In 7 professional seasons, he has had one – I repeat, ONE – above average offensive season (using wRC+). That was in AA. In 3 seasons in A and A+, Nunez was a well below average hitter. Then he had the one good season in’09. Then he was average in AAA and on the Yankees in ’10, and bad for the Yankees in ’11. In ’12, he was AWFUL in AAA, and below average for the Yankees. I don’t get the impression that he’s a good hitter. He’s not. He might have some value as a pinch runner who can hold his own as a hitter, but I really don’t think he can make it as a consistent starter.

          • David_Gianatasio

            With all due respect, Nunez wasn’t that bad offensively for the Yanks in 2011. And he certainly didn’t suck. He stole 20+ bases in 2011 and filled in well for Jeter and A-Rod. He had pop at times, but clearly pitchers figured him out and he was over-exposed by season’s end. Now, if he’d had 500-600 ABs, I think he would’ve adjusted. He’s never going to hit 30 homers or have a .400 OBP, I’ll grant you that. But from what I’ve seen, a .280/.330/.400 full season in the majors is possible, with 10-15 homers and perhaps 40 steals. He’s kind of like a faster Alexei Ramirez, and I think he could produce at that level. (In fact, Nunez’s line this year, in an admittedly small sample, was .292/.330/.393 … and his OPS+ has increased each year he’s been in the majors.)

          • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

            Thanks for the comment, David. I’m going to have to push back, though. I do think Nunez was bad in 2011, first of all. He had a .313 OBP and 5 HRs in 338 plate appearances. We’ll be generous and multiply by two to simulate a whole season. While 10 home runs and 40+ steals sounds nice on the outside, it doesn’t really provide much value alongside a .313 OBP. He was a below average hitter and a below average fielder, and ended up with a negative WAR total. Plus, a lot of those steals came from being a pinch runner, so I’m doubtful that he could reach 40 steals if he started full-time, especially considering his on-base problems.

            Now it’s certainly possible that he could adjust to major league pitching if given ample opportunity. But he’s had almost 500 major league plate appearances, and hasn’t seemed to figure it out yet. I think it’s safer to assume that he would be worse than his minor league numbers than better since major league pitchers are better, obviously.

            Regarding that stat line, again, I would say that’s his peak, not what we should expect. In 7 professional seasons, he hit .280 just 3 times, and hit .227 in AAA this year. Same with OBP. Slugging .400 is even more unlikely, since he’s only done that once in his career, and that was in AA in 2009. He’s never hit 10 home runs in a season, either.

            If Nunez was a good defender, than he would be an excellent choice for shortstop. But the fact is, he’s a below average hitter and an awful fielder, and it just doesn’t make sense for him to start full-time.

          • David_Gianatasio

            Almost all of Nunez’s steals in 2011 (the largest sample size we have for a single season) came when he started or played the field. As far as I can tell from the stats breakdown, only 1 was a PR steal. So … he did earn his way on, and I think it’s fair to say those 22 steals (and 35-40 in a full-year projection) are a fair representation of what he might do as a starter. His minor league performance has been less than stellar … but Jeter didn’t hit for power or RBIs in the minors, either. Sometimes, players mature and come into their own with the big club. I agree .280/.330 is his upside, but if he tosses in 35-40 steals and keeps the errors under 20, he’s still a viable MLB shortstop. (Not an all-star. Just viable.)

          • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

            Ah, thank you for doing the research I was too lazy to do haha. Like I said, you might be right that he’ll mature in the majors. However, I don’t think that’s something that we can count on. Thus far, he hasn’t been a good hitter in the minors or majors. If he can hit .280/.330/.400 with better defense, he’ll be an ok player for sure, but I’m just not confident at all that he can do that. It’s not like he was ever a really highly touted prospect.