Derek Jeter has been a popular target of cynics for most of his career. The criticisms were mostly whispers when the short stop was in his prime, but they have crescendoed during his inevitable decline phase. Since crowing the loudest in the first half of 2011, however, Jeter’s detractors have been quieted by the Captain’s resurgence, which once again has him ranked among the best offensive short stops in the game.
Jeter’s wOBA of .343 in 2012 is tops among all short stops in the American League and second only to Ian Desmond. According to baseball-reference’s oWAR, which takes into account batting and base running on a position-based scale, the Captain also ranks as the second most productive offensive player on the Yankees. Jeter has even normalized his split deficiency against right handers, raising his wOBA and OBP to respectable rates of .318 and .344 against pitchers throwing from the like-side. Over his last 162 games dating back to July 30 of last season, the future Hall of Famer has compiled a line of .326/.372/.429, which, considering the depressed offensive environment, isn’t that far removed from his career rates.
From a historical perspective, Jeter’s current OPS+ of 109 ranks eighth best among all 38-year old-plus shorts stops (at least 75% of games played at the position) in a qualified season. However, all seven of the seasons that rank ahead of him belong to either Honus Wagner or Luke Appling, so the Captain’s late-career resurgence has put him in a very select and elite class.
Note: Includes qualified seasons only.
To be fair to his critics, Jeter’s defense has been the foundation of their jest. Putting aside metrics like UZR, which are inherently flawed, it does seem as if the Captain has lost a step in the field. Considering his range was never among the best during his prime, Jeter’s defense may be reaching the point where his ability to play short stop will be predicated entirely upon his offensive production. Even though fWAR insists that defensive wizard Brendan Ryan (and his wOBA of .263) is just as valuable as Jeter, and bWAR rates him as being nearly four-times more valuable (3.3 versus 0.9), it’s hard to imagine a GM or manager preferring to start the Mariners’ short stop if given a choice. In other words, Jeter’s bat still more than makes more up for his short comings with the glove.
One interesting aside to Jeter’s 2012 offensive revival involves a clause in his contract that increases the value of his 2014 player option by $1.5 million if he wins a Silver Slugger. If Jeter maintains his current level of performance, he seems all but assured of winning that award, which is no small consideration if the Yankees remain steadfast in their attempt to dip below the luxury tax threshold in 2014. Based on that concern, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner might be not be reveling in Jeter’s rebound as much as you’d think.
At some point, Derek Jeter’s bat will go into a permanent slumber. Father Time always wins in the end. However, Jeter’s time hasn’t come just yet, giving Yankee fans one more reason to rejoice. And, to those pining for his demise, well, there’s always the age-old baseball lament: “wait ‘til next year”. Sooner hasn’t worked out, but it’s bound to come later.