Friday, December 26, 2008

The Demise Of Derek

Last year, Derek Jeter had far and away his worse full season offensively as a professional. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all well off his career marks and reflecting this, his counting stats are far below his averages. He only stole eleven bases, and was been caught five times.

For a shortstop who has been a defensive liability for several years, his offensive production has slipped far enough to make him just an average player. Some attributed this slack in production to a May 21st, when he got hit on the hand by Garrett Olsen, but how long can an injury serve as an excuse for meak production. The "bad habits" he's picked up should have probably corrected themselves within a few weeks of the incident.

His OPS+ was 102 and he was only about 50% successful at getting runners in from third with fewer than two outs. He grounded into 24 double plays, the most in his career and behind only Vlad Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez and Jermaine Dye. Somehow, he is both walking and striking out less.

That's what the numbers tell me. My recollection of watching games this past year tells me that he was less patient at the plate, swinging at the first pitch too frequently, and fouling off more of the balls he used to put in play, and making weaker contact on the balls he used to drive.

In a subjective recall, double plays also stand out, not only because they make two outs and erase a hit, but they also kill the mythological "momentum". Similarly, getting runners in from third leave a perceived gimme run on base. These are the kind of stats that fans overvalue. How long is it going to take before fans start turning on Jeter? I know he is the ultimate Teflon Man, for the all reasons that we are all too familiar with. But Bernie Williams, also a homegrown Yankee, here for all of the World Series Championships in the late 90's/2000, former batting champion, World Series MVP, Four Time Gold Glove winner, and a "True Yankee" still saw the fans and the organization turn on him when his power went away and his GIDP's weren't balanced out by the rest of his offensive contributions.

Jeter will make $20 and $21 million over the next two years, respectively. The Yankees decision to backload the contract has left the door open for the media to remark on his lack of productivity in relation to his salary. No question Jeter has been worth the value over the length of the contract, given his value to the club extends beyond the field. I'm not talking about intangibles, but about the marketability he adds to the Yankees. He is a major reason ESPN covers the Yankees so closely, and his gravitas keeps him and the Yankees on the back covers in New York. Jeter and A-Rod, account for the vast majority of the Yankees star power.

After 2010, the organization might have quite the quandary on its hands. Jeter seemingly refuses to acknowledge the erosion of his skills, especially defensively. He's said he doesn't want to move from shortstop, which is okay, in one respect, because aside from catcher, it has the highest tolerance for a below average offensive player. However his defensive skills continue to slide, at a valuable defensive position. In a perfect world, he could switch to center field this coming year, replacing the Melky/Gardner shit burger/poo sandwich combo, and holding the place for Austin Jackson. Of course that would require that the Yankees acquire someone who was significantly superior defensively than Jeter (and serviceable offensively), and there aren't an obvious options that wouldn't require significant sacrifice.

The only somewhat possible target would be Yunel Escobar, who the Braves have shown a willingness to move this off season in a possible Jake Peavy deal. The Yanks could open the door to negations involving Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady, both of whom the Braves have some interest in, and then gauge interest in expanding the deal. They would have to provide an elite level package, something along the lines of Phil Hughes, Austin Jackson and either Swish or X. Not likely at all, but I would have no problem giving up that sort of a package for a young, slick fielding starting shortstop that could hold down the position and hit competently for yers to come.

I've heard people speculate that before Derek Jeter's career is over, he might amass more than 4,000 hits. He currently has 2,535, still 465 short of 3,000. He certainly won't be there by the time his contract expires in 2010. Will the Yankees give him a sweetheart, lifetime achievement contract if he continues to decline? They didn't with Bernie, and although their star status is not comprable, the decision making may be similar, considering the will likely occur in the Brain Cashman Era. Will there be a Brett Farve "player wants to come back but team wants to move on" scenario? Doubtful, but if Jeter wants a contract based on his previous one and past accomplishments and the Yankees want one that more closely reflects his current value as a player, they might find it hard to come together.

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