New York Yankees: Five Reasons to Believe in Derek Jeter
COMMENTARY | Are you in the camp that suggests New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter is all but washed up as he turns 40 years old in his 20th MLB season and after missing 145 games in 2013?
Respectfully, you’ll be wrong and this is why:
At this time in 2013, Jeter was pushing hard through a healing process to get himself ready for the regular season after suffering a broken left ankle in the 2012 American League Championship Series. He never let the injury fully heal and got on the field earlier than he should have. He re-fractured his ankle and then had multiple setbacks throughout the season.
After missing much of 2013, Jeter had time to simply let the healing process take its full course. He’s been able to use the entire offseason to prep his body for the rigors of the game.
According to a report by Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News, Jeter has been in Tampa training and began participating in baseball activities Jan. 20. Being 100-percent healthy entering spring training is a big distinction from last year.
Jeter’s Recent History
How many times has Jeter been counted out before? Each time he’s been labeled as washed up or on the way out, he’s turned in fabulous performances. In 2008, his OPS dropped to .771 and the whispers began as to when the Yankees would shift Jeter away from shortstop. He followed that up with a 212-hit season, .871 OPS and a third-place finish in the AL MVP vote, as the Yankees went on to win the World Series.
In 2010, Jeter practically fell off the map when compared with his career line, posting a mediocre .710 OPS and followed up the first half of the 2011 season with similar results. He suffered an injury in June and came back in July fielding questions about retirement. He put those aside quickly with an amazing performance in the game in which his 3,000th career hit was a home run off David Price. He went 5-for-5 in that game and didn’t look back.
In 2012, the “Jeter’s Done” club continued to grow. He shut up those critics by leading Major League Baseball in hits (216) and lifting his OPS back to an impressive .791 in the process.
It’s Been Done Before
Historical data show very few players are prolific as 40-year-old shortstops, basically because they rarely exist. But, according to FanGraphs, some very good seasons have been produced by players 40 years of age.
Luke Appling hit .306/.386/.412 and recorded a 4.4 WAR in 572 plate appearances as a 40-year-old. He played 129 games at shortstop that season. Barry Larkin, also at 40, posted a 1.8 WAR with splits of .289/.352/.419 in 386 plate appearances while playing 85 of 111 games at short.
The odds may be against him, but Jeter measures up very well statistically to both of these men leading up to those seasons, showing that age alone should not be a factor.
Managing His Time
The Yankees are going to handle the captain cautiously. Jeter will not be on the field every single game and we should anticipate more full days of rest. If the Yankees play their cards right and Jeter gets to hit in about 150 games, expect that at least 30 of them will be as the designated hitter. The Yankees signed a solid backup in Brendan Ryan, who may not produce much with his bat but his glove can make up for it.
Even Jeter might admit that some rest would do his body good. He might be in wonderful shape but the Yankees’ offense is not fully reliant on him, so getting rest can only help as the season progresses.
He’s Derek Jeter
OK, this last reason may be pushing it a bit, but if Jeter does in fact produce at a reasonable clip, say .300/.340/.400 in 620 plate appearances, would anyone truly be surprised? The man has 3,316 hits, scored 1,876 runs and has a career line of .312/.381/.446. His last full season was fantastic. This isn’t a player who’s been struggling when healthy.
Jeter has reinvented himself on two separate occasions within the last several years. Yes, he’s going to be 40 and he plays a demanding position. It would not be fair to expect production similar to his prime years or even 2012, but it is not farfetched to believe that a healthy Jeter can still be valuable to the Yankees.
I will not count Derek Jeter out until he’s on a podium announcing his retirement.
Statistics provided by FanGraphs.