Can a player be too devoted to a team? Can a player’s devotion to a team and his willingness to play through an injury no matter how severe be a detriment? Of course, it can, and this year, the Yanks learned that the hard way.
By his standards, Derek Jeter got off to a slow start. Through May 18, Jeter had been to the 167, and while he was hitting .314, his OBP was just .349 and he was slugging just .429. With just 11 extra-base hits to his name, Jeter was not having the MVP season his teammates had predicted in Spring Training.
Then, on May 20, in a game in which a Jeter error led to six unearned runs, disaster in the form of a Daniel Cabrera fastball struck. Jeter had to leave the game in the third inning, and while X-Rays were negative, the next few weeks were not kind to the Yankee short stop. Between May 20 and June 14 — a span of 111 plate appearances — Jeter hit .198/.291/.292 with 14 runs scored, five extra-base hits and seven RBIs. It would be a brutal 25 games for the Yankee Captain.
After June 14, Jeter turned it all around. He hit .323/.390/.430 over his last 390 plate appearances, and while another HBP against the Orioles ended his season a few days early, he pulled down a .300/.363/.408 line on the year. But Jeter those numbers pale in comparison with his .316/.387/.458 mark. He didn’t score 100 runs for the first time since his injury-shortened 2003 campaign, and he notched full-season career lows in doubles, home runs and hits.
Sabermetrically, Jeter’s numbers were down this year as well. His runs created per game dipped from 6.3 to 5.0. His VORP dropped from 53.3 to 37.5, and his win shares declined from 24 to 18. Overall, his subpar season didn’t impact the team that much; his contributions declined by about two wins over the course of a full season. But if we assume that Jeter was indeed hurt by Cabrera’s fastball, his decision to play through the pain did not help the Yankees this year.
Of course, Jeter’s bad 25 games could have just been that. Perhaps, he just hit a slump, and the HBP was merely coincidental. And perhaps Jeter’s delince, at age 34, isn’t to be unexpected. He’s on the downside of what has been a very productive career. Over the next few seasons, the Yanks will have to grapple with a lot of Derek Jeter-related questions. He’s not really fit for short stop, and his contract will soon end. The team is still relying on him to be that linchpin out of the two hole, and soon we’ll see if that decision may not be the best for the future of the team.