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Thinking About the 2008 Edition of Derek Jeter

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In a way, I'm loathe to distract attention from Joe Girardi's idiotic lineup construction.

But the scrubs in the lineup wouldn't be as conspicuous if certain crown jewels weren't vastly underperforming.

And Derek Jeter is one of those flawed gems.

Now, I've spent a lot of time driving and unpacking in the last week, which means I've had a lot of time for my crazy ideas to ferment.

Remember when we were all talking about Jeter's revamped offseason workout, and we were wondering whether that would turn him into the defensive linchpin we needed?

After dealing with nagging injuries last year, numerous insiders described Jeter's reporting shape this spring as trim and agile. Diet played a role -- in past seasons, Jeter said he tried to eat as much as possible in an attempt to gain weight and prepare him for the long regular season.

The effort never worked especially well, so this offseason, Jeter decided to succumb to his metabolism and play the cards he has been dealt. Jeter and A-Rod discussed the changes over lunch -- likely a light one -- on Thursday.

"I've done some different things this offseason to try to get better and try to improve," Jeter said. "That was basically the extent of the conversation. I did a lot of speed, agility and lateral movement -- a lot of explosive stuff to try and get quicker and move around a little better."

Now, my personal observations (small sample size the defensive metrics suggest Jeter has been better this season.

Jeter RZR*
2007: .777
2008: .866

*RZR (revised zone rating) is a defensive metric where the field is divided into 22 strips, and each hit is divided among grounders, line drives and fly balls.  Each fielder is responsible for different zones based on the type of hit. 

Shortstop: The shortstop is responsible for zones H through L.  The right boundary of Zone M is second base, so the left boundary (about 8 feet from second) is where the shortstop's zone starts, and runs up to Zone G.  Notice that Zone G is not in anyone's zone.  It is 'the hole' on the left side and not an infielder's responsibility'.

RZR has some flaws (I'd love a panel of observers rather than an individual rank each hit within the 3 types, so that a can of corn is ranked differently from a humpback liner; I'd also love to see the zones more finely defined so that fielder positioning becomes quantifiable).  That said, it's among the better publicly available metrics.

So defensively Jeter's new workout regiment has been a success.  His first step is better than I can remember and he's still fielding everything hit to him cleanly (only 8 errors on the season).  Derek's arm has raised my eyebrows a time or two, but it's still as strong as any other AL shortstop.

But offensively Jeter's conditioning could be to blame for his sudden decline.  The last five seasons DJ has averaged about .320/.390/.460, with his high in 2006 and his low in 2004.

But 2008 is almost unavoidably a career worst for the Captain: .281/.343/.394.  Could it be that Jeter's sudden power outage?  His BABIP is a career low .315 (career .361) because his line drive rate has fallen to 16%.  Those are rates I'll expect to rebound no matter what else happens.

If Jeter's improved defense comes at the cost of his offense, is it worth it in the long haul?  Given the choice between having Jeter as a league average shortstop or a strong hitting 1B or RF, which would you choose?