Derek Jeter, one of the Yankees’ all-time greats (and that is saying something given the storied history of that major league baseball franchise), suffered through two down seasons in 2010-11 causing many to think the time in the sun for the Yankee’s leader was finally drawing to an end. However, showing that greatness should never be doubted, Jeter rebounded with a flurry of offensive fireworks in ’12 proving along the way that his 38 year old body – he’ll be 39 in June – still had something left to contribute in this game. Alas, the good feelings were wiped out when he fractured his ankle in the playoffs leading to October surgery. Jeter is progressing well with hie rehab and everyone thinks he will be on the field Opening Day. The question in the fantasy baseball game is should he be in your fantasy lineup?
Jeter is one of the greatest offensive forces in the history of baseball. Just take a quick glance as his all-time rankings with the bat when compared against other shortstops.
1st in hits (3,304)
1st in runs (1,868)
7th in AVG (.313)
8th in OBP (.382)
He’s also been remarkably consistent with 14 different seasons hitting .290 with 10 homers, 10 steals, 50 RBIs and 75 runs scored. No other shortstop has ever had more than seven such seasons (Barry Larkin).
Above I noted that Jeter had a strong 2012, an effort which included a .316 average, 15 homers, 58 RBIs, 99 runs scored and nine steals. For any player that’s damn impressive, let alone a guy who is pushing 40.
Obviously though there is much more to the story than that or why would I bother writing about him?
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Let’s start with the most obvious issue – his health. Again, his ankle should be good to go but he is coming off a significant injury at 38 years old. That has to cause some concern. Another issue that plays off the injury is that he stole only nine bases last season even before he was hurt. Is an aging player, coming off a significant ankle issue, likely to return to stealing 15 plus bases as he did in five of the past six season before last year?
Next is the power. The 15 homers were a three year high and only one less than he hit in 2010-11. It’s also the second highest mark he has posted since 2005. Clearly he shouldn’t be expected to go deep another 15 times. The back of his ball card tells you that. Going a bit deeper it should be noted that he posted a career worst fly ball rate of 15.9 percent. I have to be honest. There are times where numbers catch even The Oracle by surprise, and this is one of those cases. I knew that Jeter was far from the type of batter that spends any time lifting the ball, but under 16 percent of batted balls going upward? That’s akin to the level of oddness that saw Barry Bonds going deep 73 times. The big league average fly ball rate is literally more than double the mark that Jeter posted in ’12 (35 percent last year). Not just that, but Jeter has failed to reach even 20 percent with his fly ball rate in any of the last three seasons. Moreover, Jeter’s 16.1 percent HR/F ratio last season was the second best mark of his career and four of the previous five seasons that number wasn’t even in double-digits. Fifteen homers ain’t happening again.
Is the batting average repeatable? On the surface you’d have to say yes. After all, he only batted three points higher than his career mark of .313. Still, if I was a betting man I’d lay pretty strong odds against a batting average repeat. He hit .270 and .297 in 2010-11. He’s coming off injury. He’s 38 (stop me if you’ve read this before). There’s also that amazingly low fly ball rate. There’s also the insanely high 3.94 GB/FB ratio (Jeter has hit at least 62 percent of his batted balls on the ground the past three years). Jeter depends, to a large extent, on his batted balls not finding a fielders glove. That’s always going to leave him at the whim of the placement of those grounders and the defenders. He also swung at more pitches outside the strike zone than ever before in 2010 (28.2 percent). He upped that mark to 28.8 percent in 2011. Things got even worse in 2012 at 31.1 percent. Overall he swung at 50 percent of pitches last year, an eight year high. Jeter also posted a contract rate of 84.5 percent, a very solid mark, but still a six year low. Pitchers noticed all of that too as they only threw him strikes on 44.9 percent of pitches, the fewest strikes he has ever seen. None of that speaks to a repeat in the batting average category.
If healthy, and he should be, Jeter will still be an effective hitter. He’s simply too talented an experienced to just fall on his face. However, the average is likely to recede. It doesn’t seem probable that he will be stealing 15+ bags either. There is no way he will go deep 15 times again. Add that all up and you would be in a much better place if you looked at his 2011 effort (.297 with six homers, 61 RBIs and 84 runs scored) as the baseline for your 2013 expectations.
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By Ray Flowers