With the latest setback for Derek Jeter- a new crack in his surgically-repaired ankle that will sideline him until at least after the All Star Break- the question was raised: how much will the Yankees really miss their captain on the field? Last week, we looked at the defensive numbers, which actually seemed to indicate that Jeter’s primary replacement, Eduardo Nunez, was a better option at short than the veteran. This week, we take a look at the offensive numbers, and see if that conclusion is the same. In looking at the comparisons between Jeter and Nunez, I have looked at the last three years; this is a closer sample to what Jeter can produce now, at age 38, and encompasses Nunez’s entire MLB career. Again, it is worth nothing that most of Nunez’s stats come as a bench player; 2013 will mark the only time in his career where he is a “full-time” player, a consequence of Jeter’s 60-day DL stint.
In looking at Jeter’s offensive production from 2009-2012, he hit .304/.366/.414, with an OPS of .780. He also hit 49 homers, 252 RBI, 113 doubles, and 43 SBs. Jeter has the upper-hand as it pertains to offensive numbers. That said, Jeter is a bit different than his peers at the position in that he is so offensively talented. In his entire career, with the exclusion of the 15 games he played in 1995, Jeter has hit below .300 only five times, and below .290 only once (2010). For comparison’s sake, only five of the twenty-two shortstops selected to the Hall of Fame (it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Jeter will end up there), had a career average above .300, while only two cracked 3,000 hits.
Further, if elected to the Hall tomorrow, he would be the shortstop with the third-most homers (255) at a position that is historically not a power position. As such, it’s a fair assessment to say that Jeter remains in the upper offensive echelons of the all-time greats at his position. Additionally, it’s worth remembering when comparing Jeter to anyone else that these numbers have been amassed over almost 18 years of play.
By contrast, let’s look at Eduardo Nunez’s numbers over the same time frame: .260/.273/.182 and an OPS of .455. Additionally, Nunez has 24 doubles, three homers and 52 RBI. One thing of note in looking at Nunez’s numbers: his playing time prior to 2013, had come solely as a back-up. These numbers do not reflect that of a full-time player. That said, Nunez still has over 40 stolen bases. Like with his defense, an added benefit that Nunez has is his speed; in a lineup that is historically known for hitting home runs, he can put pressure on a pitcher via his speed. By adding that element to the lineup, along with Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees add an additional wrinkle to their offense, which can assist during the inevitable periods of slumps. On the whole, Nunez’s offensive numbers are not as strong as Jeter, particularly the power numbers, but he may be on more up an upward trend at this point in his career, too.
At the end of the day, the lore that is Derek Jeter can never be replaced. The reputation that he has created on and off the field in the eyes of an entire generation of Yankees fans can’t be touched, and can never be replaced. There will always be a special place for Derek Jeter, and for all that he has done. But, as it presently stands- 38 years old, declining range, a defensive detriment- it may be that Derek Jeter is not the best option for the Yankees at shortstop. While they will miss his leadership and grit, on the baseball field, the Yankees may not miss Derek Jeter as much as one would think.