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Since You Went Away

Since Derek Jeter was last spotted on Planet Baseball, the Yankees have gone 9-3. The quality of the opposition—the Rangers, Cubs, Reds, and Rockies—runs the gamut from very good to fairly miserable, but 9-3 against any level of opposition short of the 2003 Tigers is very good.

Vast oversimplification time:

With Jeter 5.16 4.00
Without Jeter 5.75 3.83

Now, before we get nuts about these numbers, let’s think for a moment. Six of the games were played without the designated hitter. This absence of fun (the DH is synonymous with "fun," while "the pitcher hits" is synonymous with "boring," and also "depressing," "a total waste of time," and "feeling so bad that throwing up would actually be an improvement on the current state of things") was compounded by the general weakness of the Rockies and Cubs offenses. The former is hitting only .237/.304/.387 away from their still-friendly home park while the latter is averaging .259/.312/.395 away from theirs.

Despite these caveats, there are some realities that have to be observed:
1. In the 12 games since Jeter departed, Eduardo Nunez is hitting .293/.341/.415, which isn’t exactly Cal Ripken (or classic Derek Jeter) territory, but it’s better than Jeter ’11 was doing and is pretty darned good for a major-league shortstop this year, who as a group are hitting .261/.317/.373. I don’t know if Nunez can sustain these rates; I suspect he can’t. It’s worth finding out the answer, because AL teams getting better than a .341 OBP from their shortstops this year: three (Baltimore, with J.J. Hardy; Toronto, with Yunel Escobar; Cleveland, with Asdrubal Cabrera). How many are getting better than a .415 slugging percentage? Four: the aforementioned three, plus the Angels.

One interesting aspect of Nunez’s stint in Jeter relief: he’s struck out just twice in 41 at-bats, a rate of contact (once every 20.5 Abs) that would easily lead the AL if it qualified—the leader, A.J. Pierzynski, strikes out once every 16.5 times up. That Nunez makes great contact is neither good nor bad—he doesn’t walk much either—and we’ll see if it amounts to something more than trivia.

2. Yankees pitchers allowed a batting average on balls in play of .289 up until Jeter was sidelined. With Nunez in the field, and all else pretty much equal, that number is down to .269. Jeter was making 2.55 assists per nine innings played. Nunez, for all his errors, is making 2.64.

3. I won’t go into this issue in depth since Jay covered it last week, but Jeter was hitting .270/.336/.345 out of the leadoff spot. SJ (Since Jeter), Gardner is hitting .325/.400/.425, having made eight of nine starts in the leadoff spot. That has to have an impact as well.

Now, most of these things are ephemeral. The Yankees will not win 75 percent of their games the rest of the way, because however good this team is, it probably isn’t the equal of the 1927 or 1998 versions. Nunez probably won’t hit .290 the rest of the way, because he’s not that good. Still, these last 12 games have given us a taste of what life could be like without Jeter—it’s not that bad—and what they might be giving up when he gets back.