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Charged For The Playoffs: Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter was the only Yankee to victimize AL Cy Young candidate Chris Sale last night.
Derek Jeter was the only Yankee to victimize AL Cy Young candidate Chris Sale last night.

Derek Jeter is a veteran of 15 postseasons and seven World Series appearances, so one can only imagine how excited the Yankee captain gets about regular season play these days. However, 2012 has been a real rebound year for Jeter, who's playing his best baseball since his third-place American League MVP finish in '09. He's leading the American League in hits, something he has accomplished only once in his 18-year career (219 in '99). Moreover, Jeter's hitting .324/.364/.450 with a .355 wOBA and a 121 wRC+; both sabremetric statistics essentially have him in a tie with Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond for the major league lead among shortstops.

His on-base percentage is not even close to his '09 tally (.406), but his rediscovered power helped his hitting return to '09 levels. After homering in each of the previous three games (a career first), Jeter now has 13 home runs on the season. He hit 16 homers in the previous two seasons combined. He's even doubling at a pace that he hasn't matched since '07--his 27 doubles in 561 plate appearances are as many as he hit in that terrific '09 campaign, and three fewer than he had in 2010. He ended both of those seasons with over 715 plate appearances.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of Jeter's renaissance is his age. Only two shortstops in major league history before Jeter had similarly great seasons late in their career: Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Luke Appling. (See, Skip Bayless? It is possible and has precedence. Now go back to your hole.) Jeter is doing what has not been done since the Truman administration. Horrid range or not, it's still a difficult task for a 38-year-old to take the field every day at a position as busy as shortstop. Despite this challenge and the captain's diminished defense, his offensive contributions have outweighed the negatives. Not many teams have shortstops capable of such an impact with the bat.

Jeter's .389/.433/.579 April looked like it would his season's big outlier month, but through 21 games in August, he's somehow hitting at a similar clip: .380/.400/.620. He's reached base in every game since August 4th, sandwiching a 13-game hitting streak during that time as well. Even after being swept by the White Sox, the Yankees still have a .571 winning percentage for the month, and Jeter deserves plenty of credit for that. They played for 20 days in a row at a time in the season when the players are getting exhausted, but Jeter helped them stay afloat. If he can be anything remotely like the August version of Jeter in September and October, the Yankees will be in prime position for a deep playoff run.