The League Average Derek Jeter

Would Jorge have made a good backup catcher?
Your favorite reporters on Darwin Barney's bat
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

On the afternoon of June 13th, Derek Jeter limped off the field in the fifth inning of an eventual loss to the Indians. The Cap’n had flown out to right to open the frame, but he appeared to hurt something coming out of the box and was replaced in the next half inning by Eduardo Nunez. At the time, Jeter was hitting .260/.324/.325 in 296 plate appearances, and the calf strain he suffered on the play would keep him on the shelf for just about three weeks.

Nunez filled in capably while Jeter was on the shelf, adding the kind of life and electricity to the shortstop position that the Yankees haven’t had since 2009. The Yankees went 14-5 in Derek’s absence, going from 2.5 games back in the AL East to 1.5 up. As great as Jeter has been for the Yankees, there was definitely a sense of dread immediately before his return, because we all knew that not only would his unproductive bat be back in the lineup every day, it would be in the leadoff spot getting more plate appearances than everyone else. We all knew this, except we were all wrong.

Since coming off the disabled list on Independence Day against the same Indians he faced on the day of his injury, Jeter has hit .326/.382/.457 in 154 plate appearances with the same number of extra base hits (12) as he had before the injury in almost half the trips to the plate. That has raised his season line to .283/.344/.370, a performance that is exactly league average in terms of wRC+. That’s a top eight mark among full-time big league shortstops, an indication of how much Jeter has turned his season around and how weak the position is around the league. A 100 wRC+ at an up-the-middle position is pretty damn good.

“Staying back,” said Jeter after last night’s three hit (including a triple) effort. “Stay back better and obviously you’re going to drive balls more. That’s what I’ve been doing since I’ve been back, so I just want it to continue.” Derek has been driving the ball with much more authority since coming back, as the increased rate of extra base hits suggests. As we tend to do with stuff like this, let’s turn to the spray charts. First, it’s pre-DL Jeter

Almost everything he hit in the air went the other way or to center field. I count what, ten balls pulled into left (hits + outs)? That’s out of 231 balls in play. The majority of his hits came on balls right back up the middle or filleted through the right side (remember, the points indicate where the defender fielded the ball, not where it landed). Now let’s look at the post-DL spray chart

This one is much more spread out. The majority of his balls in play are still to center and right, that’s just the kind of hitter he is and always has been, but there’s also way more balls pulled into left. I count 12 balls hit to the outfield on the pull side, including one right to the warning track and one actually over the fence. That’s 12 balls to left in 115 balls in play after the DL stint versus ten in 231 before. It could be small sample size noise, but give how he’s been actually driving the ball these last few weeks, I’m guessing there’s something more to it than just coincidence.

Of course, we have to acknowledge that Jeter still does the vast majority of his damage against lefties (.500/.538/.750 in 39 PA) and is mediocre at best against righties (.265/.327/.353 in 115 PA). That’s a similar split to his pre-DL performance (.299/.405/.403 vs. LHP and .246/.294/.297 vs. RHP) and last year as well (.321/.391/.481 vs. LHP and .216/.316/.317 vs. RHP). At his age, I think we’re just going to have to accept the platoon split, which is made somewhat more tolerable because the best starters in the AL East are generally southpaws.

“You can get a lot more work in when you don’t have to play games,” said Jeter shortly after coming off the DL, referring to the work he did to stay back on the ball with rehabbing the calf. “So I sort of look at it as a blessing in disguise, I hope. I’ve felt good since I’ve been back.” The Cap’n has been performing to his career averages for about six weeks now, bringing his overall season performance to the league average, which is both encouraging and refreshing.

Would Jorge have made a good backup catcher?
Your favorite reporters on Darwin Barney's bat
  • Monteroisdinero

    Three weeks in the hot tub with Minka 2011/12/13/14. Three weeks of everyday Nunez at SS.

    Works for me.

    • MattG

      Is that what he meant by getting his work in?

  • CS Yankee

    If you take away his at-bats against LHP and his multi-hit games, he sucks.

    • Jerome S.


    • Peter

      I hope this was sarcastic but I just can’t tell.

      Yes if you remove arbitrary things you can make him suck… But why would you remove those?

      Maybe Jeter is just getting used to his older body now?

    • Jimmy

      And if you don’t count any of his hits, he’s batting .000.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        If you don’t count all the nights I haven’t slept with Halle Berry, technically, you can’t say I haven’t slept with Halle Berry yet because you can’t divide by zero.

      • Frank

        Funny stuff, Jimmy.

  • CountryClub

    It was interesting watching him hit in the cage while he was in Tampa in that HBO documentary.

    Also, I didnt dread his return. Nunez is very good as a part time/energy player. I don’t want to see him every day at SS or 3rd.

  • Jerome S.

    Wonder how long this lasts though. The sample size keeps getting bigger, and I’m tempted to believe, but I can’t yet put faith in the 37-year-old shortstop who hasn’t had an extended streak of good hitting since April of 2010.

    Still, results is results; let’s hope he keeps it up.

    • David, Jr.

      Agree with this. That is a long time, and Father Time is a difficult adversary. Not time to join Minka on his ballsac.

    • nsalem

      it will last as long as he stays healthy, which is unfortunately quite difficult for a 37 yo mlb shortstop.

      • Jerome S.

        I don’t know, Derek’s been one of the healthiest players of the past decade. He’s been on the DL what, twice? If there’s anyone on the team who I think can stay healthy, it’s him.

        • Ed

          Posada was never on the DL in his career until 2008. He’s spent a ton of time on it since. Age does that to you.

  • David, Jr.

    The time off was great. Jeter comes back much stronger, and Nuney did well enough that half of the teams in the league would wet their pants to get him. Another ideal outcome in a year that has jelled quite well, all things considered.

  • Kilgore Trout

    Everybody was ready to bury this guy and now look at him. Jeter’s Jeter. He’s the captain and many of us still had the confidence that he would turn it around. Jeter’s gonna be clutch in the postseason just as he always is. With A-Rod back we’ll have the best lineup in baseball.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Jeter’s gonna be clutch in the postseason just as he always is.

      Jeter regular season 313/383/449
      Jeter post-season 309/377/472

      Looks like he’s pretty much the same in the post-season as he is in the regular season.

      I’m guessing that this would be true of almost all players who amassed a regular season’s worth of post-season ABs.

      • CMP

        But he’s facing much better pitchers in much higher pressure situations in the playoffs so the fact that his stats remain the same as they do in the regular season means in fact that he is performing at a higher level in the postseason.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          But he’s facing much better pitchers in much higher pressure situations in the playoffs.

          Higher pressure, sure. Better pitchers? Meh, maybe, maybe not.

          This is an old baseball saw that is oft-repeated, but probably not as true (or as intensively true) as we think it is. Sure, there’s no Kyle Davieses or Felipe Paulinos in the playoffs, but the 8 playoff teams are the 8 teams that won the most, not necessarily the 8 teams with the best pitching. Plenty of teams with non-elite pitching staffs bludgeon their way into the playoffs (see also: 2011 Red Sox).

          Just last year, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Wade Davis, Tommy Hunter, Bronson Arroyo, Derek Lowe, Joe Blanton, and A.J. Burnett all started playoff games (during the “Year of the Pitcher”, mind you).

          Playoff pitching is slightly better, but it’s probably not worlds better as is often implied.

          • Jerome S.

            The Reds’ rotation was pretty lolz-worthy.

          • Ed

            Teams will also look to maximize the appearances of their good pitchers. It’s rare that a playoff team won’t have any good ones.

            The 2001 World Series is that approach taken to the extreme. The 2009 Yankees are another good example of that.

            Burnett pitched a playoff game last year because he had to. If CC and Pettitte weren’t hurting, they might’ve both gone on short rest to avoid pitching AJ. Teams are going to do what they can to minimize starts from bad pitchers, bringing the quality of the average pitcher up.

            And let’s not forget bullpen management. The bottom pitchers get left off the roster and closers tend to go 2 innings regularly. Mo’s even gone 3 innings. Compare playoff stats for Mo and Jeter. Jeter’s got about one full season’s worth of postseason at bats, while Mo’s got almost two full seasons worth of innings.

  • LitterallyFigurative

    It’s still too early for me to consider Derek “cured”.

    More so than his numbers, it looked like he couldn’t drive the ball. Now he’s showing more gap power and getting XBHs. We’ll see if it continues.

    Posada was hitting Hrs earlier in the season too.

    Gotta see the full season sample before making definitive statements.

    • Stuckey

      “It’s still too early for me to consider Derek “cured”.”

      It was always too early to consider him “done”.

      His age is/was a factor, not a sentence.

      • Jerome S.

        I don’t think anyone considered Derek “done” – that is, a negative or zero value – but I think we all thought that he had inexorably fallen off a cliff as far as production is concerned.

        • Stuckey

          No, “all” of us didn’t.

  • tommydee2000

    From the DJ3K special on HBO, I also that the Gary Denbo hitting sessions have been underrated.

    • FIPster Doofus

      Yep. I was just coming in here to mention that.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Jeter has been consistent (compared to the regular season) in the post season where success is magnified and long remembered. If other guys in our lineup were as consistent in the post season as Jeter we would have won more.

  • mike

    that pre-injury chart is crammed full of infield-ugly

  • Filppula51

    Well said his average may be the same in the reg season as in the post but it’s his key hits when he’s up to bat and able to produce keep it up jeet your a beauty

  • Filppula51

    Well said his average may be the same in the reg season as in the post but it’s his key hits when he’s up to bat and able to produce keep it up jeet your a beauty.