I know it is sacrilegious as a Yankee fan to question anything about Derek Jeter. He's the Captain, the quiet superstar, the hero who made "The Flip," "The Dive," and more jump throws from that deep hole in short than any of us can count.
But is he doing more harm than good in the Yankee lineup?
We've all heard about Jeter's defensive liabilities, and let's face it, he's not playing for Joe Girardi because the Yankee manager expects him to win another Gold Glove. He's in the lineup to give his team a morale boost. He's in the lineup because these are the New York Yankees and he is Derek Jeter. You can't bench Derek Jeter. Not without potentially turning a team, and almost certainly turning an entire city, against you.
But first and foremost, he's in the lineup for his bat.
Even with the very small sample size that is his 2013 campaign, it has become clear that Jeter is no longer the dangerous hitter he once was. He's batting an ugly .222, and his .294 OBP was the lowest in the Yankee lineup on Wednesday in Toronto. His Ground Ball to Fly Ball ratio is 9.00, much higher than it was even last year, when he hit .316 (his GB/FB last year was just 3.94). Jeter's hitting his highest percentage of ground balls ever this year (he hits a grounder 66.7% of the he puts a ball in play). While he's also hitting a high percentage of line drives (25% of the balls he puts in play) this is offset by the fact that he's hitting fly balls only 7.4% of the time, by far the lowest rate of his career. Simply put, Jeter's not driving the ball to the outfield anymore; he's much more frequently hitting slow rolling grounders that, at his age, he can only dream of beating out.
Still, Jeter did have a somewhat productive series when he returned against the Toronto Blue Jays, as he got on base in every game and picked up two hits during the Yankees' 7-1 win on Tuesday. This may signal that his season is finally turning around, but even if it isn't, the Yankees frankly don't have any better options to take his place at short.
Jayson Nix is done for the season, and he was certainly never known for his hitting. Eduardo Nunez hasn't been awful this season, but he hasn't been too great, either. He's only hit .248 this year, and his OBP is barely better than Jeter's. He doesn't offer any power (a paltry .084 Isolated Power Rating), and his WPA is -0.74, while Jeter's is just -0.02. Though both have played in limited games this season, Nunez certainly doesn't bring anything to the plate that's significantly better than what Jeter can offer. Defensively, where Jeter is certainly lacking, Nunez has been even worse this year, posting a -2.3 dWAR to Jeter's -.3 (WAR stats come from baseball-reference.com).
Even though these are small sample sizes, the fact remains, Derek Jeter has been better this season than Eduardo Nunez, both in the field and at the plate.
While Jeter might seem to be fading into mediocrity, he's better than anything the Yankees currently have. Besides, he's Derek Jeter. Don't count him out. People did after his rough 2010 campaign, when he only hit .270 for the season. He bounced back with a .297 average in 2011 and a .316 average (with a career-high 216 hits) in 2012. So while it may look bleak now for Jeter, he's surprised us before.
And with October at stake, there's no telling what magic Derek Jeter could conjure up to try to push the Yankees back to the playoffs.
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