Derek Jeter got a night off on Monday, a break after being hit on the left hand by an errant Jake Arrietta fastball in the fourth inning of Sunday's game. The injury looked painful, and he left the game as a precaution, but X-rays were negative and he had normal movement in his fingers. Ever the gamer, Jeter said he could have played on Monday, but Joe Girardi had plans to rest him at one point during the White sox series, and took the opportunity to do so when his shortstop was less than 100 percent.
Jeter is coming off his strongest month of 2011. His .292 batting average, .347 on-base percentage, and .449 slugging percentage all represent season highs, but those come with caveats. Between his stint on the disabled list and the All-Star break, he played in just 22 games, and his 98 plate appearances were fewer than he had in either of the first two months (lumping opening day with April). Furthermore, once you subtract that magical 5-for-5 performance during the game in which he collected his 3,000th hit, his monthly line comes out to a cruddy .250/.312/.369, which is actually worse than his overall line (.268/.330/.356) save for a bit of extra pop. His July groundball percentage of 64.8 was his second-highest, within one percentage point of his season mark; his groundball-to-flyball ratio of 4.2 was actually his highest of 2011. Keep the 5-for-5 in the pile with his pre-All Star break performance and you can't really tell the two halves apart without looking for the 30-point boost in isolated power: .270/.330/.353 before, .258/.329/.371 after.
If there's good news, it's that his putting the milestone in the rear view mirror appears to have emboldened Girardi to move him from the leadoff spot. Jeter batted first in six of the first seven games after the All-Star break, resting during the other one. He's led off just three times in the 12 games since, with Brett Gardner taking the lead in the other nine. Instead he's batted second in the seven games he's played during that span, with Curtis Granderson sliding down to third and Mark Teixeira to fourth on those occasions. The sum total of the moves isn't as bold as it seems; it's a reaction to the loss of Alex Rodriguez's bat in the cleanup spot. That's not a bad adaptation, with Gardner hitting .324/.392/408 clip since the break, but such common sense doesn't quite merit the Casey Stengel Award for Managerial Genius.
While we're on the subject of Teixeira, it's worth noting that since I wrote of his struggles, he's caught fire, collecting multiple hits in six of 11 games and bashing four homers while hitting .349/.408/.651; the surge has pushed his batting average back above .250 and his slugging percentage back above .500 — not a big difference but with slightly more cosmetic appeal. In fact, at first glance it appears taht the Yankee offense as a whole hasn't really missed a beat during Rodriguez's absence, scoring 5.43 runs per game, up from the 5.22 they were averaging prior. They've done this despite something of a power outage, as the team is hitting a collective .282/.354/.412 in the 21 games since then; they're slugging .439 overall. However, if you take out Saturday's 17-run outburst against the Orioles, they're back down to 4.85 runs per game since A-Rod went under the knife, so put away your Ewing Theory dissertations.
Back to Jeter. I watched HBO's hour-long "Derek Jeter 3K" documentary on Friday night — even found myself in a couple of shots from the postgame press conference in the game preceding his milestone, which was fun — but can offer only mixed reviews as a whole. My first thought was that it was too soon to air the doc; as historic as Jeter's accomplishment is, and as memorable as that afternoon was, we're less than a month removed from the occasion. Better to save this for a cold winter night when we're otherwise doing nothing but staring out the window and waiting for spring.
Second, a good portion of what Jeter says on camera is almost verbatim what he said in pre- or postgame press conferences in the few games surrounding the milestone, as though he had rehearsed those lines into memory. Not that his sly wit didn't occasionally come through in those moments, but it's not as though those weren't caught on camera and thus needed to be re-shot. Go with the originals please.
Third, there's a lot of padding — repeated shots, and slow motion, as though the producers were simply trying to stretch the material and invest it with a certain gravitas. Jeter's minor league days and his heyday both get short shrift, which is a disappointment; the former, which could have placed a spotlight on the early struggles (a .202 batting average in the Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old, the 56 errors at Greensboro as a 19-year-old) that he overcame, would have bookended well with this year's struggles. The doc does address the latter, at least when it comes to tinkering with his swing, but it skirts the winter's contract drama.
On the other hand, this is still far more access than Jeter has granted before, and occasionally he offers insights that he might otherwise protect. We get a good feel for the mundanity of his rehab from the calf injury, salted with salty characters from the Yankees' Tampa complex, and a glimpse of the way Jeter routinely surrounds himself with family and friends because he seems to genuinely and generously want to share his success with them. We even hear Jeter let slip a four-letter word, which is worth a giggle. And of course we've got one fantastic day's performance preserved for future savoring. We also get a rundown of Jeter's greatest highlights, including the Jeremy Giambi flip play, the dive into the stands against the Red Sox, the Mr. November homer — moments that conjured up a "where were you" discussion with my viewing companion. And we get to hear more Bernie Williams than anyone's heard in awhile; who doesn't miss that gentle soul?
In all, the doc does provide a not-entirely-unwelcome occasion to reflect on the totality of Jeter's accomplishments at a time when we've been prone to pecking his recent shortcomings half to death. In some ways, it maintains the carefully burnished public persona he's cultivated during his 16 full seasons in the Bronx, but it does add a bit of flesh to that persona, and that's not a bad thing. I can't see where it's required viewing for anybody but Yankees fans or those who otherwise have a soft spot for him, but if you're in that camp, there are far worse ways to pass an hour.