Defending my stance on Jeter
A COUPLE OF QUICK NOTES AS WE HEAD INTO THE WEEKEND…
First, a few reactions to the comments on retaining Derek Jeter after 2010: as I tried to explain this morning, I’m appreciative of Jeter for all he’s done, but I appreciate winning baseball teams more, and I very much doubt that the Yankees will be able to do so with a 37-year-old shortstop, particularly one who doesn’t play great defense now and has visibly slowed the last couple of years.
Baseball puts fans in a very difficult bind: do you love the team or the player? When the player is 25 and at the peak of his powers, it is very easy to love both. When they’re 35 and gimpy, you have to make a decision. The Yankees, and Yankees fans, have gone through this repeatedly: with Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and many others. At some point, it was time for them to move on so the team could make room for fresh faces that could do more to help them win. The alternative is that the team ceases to try to win and becomes a nostalgia show, perpetuating these players far beyond their usefulness just because it’s hard to let go. If that’s what you want, that’s one thing, but you’re going to see a whole lot of losing, not to mention experience a whole lot of embarrassing discomfort along the lines of what old time Willie Mays fans saw when he joined the Mets in 1972 — not the fleet ballplayer of 1954 who could do anything, but a 42-year-old who looked like a tired old guy. If you want to see Derek Jeter look like that, fine — just keep holding on too tight — and don’t
Specific comments: vrod44, the “you didn’t play the game” insult is as old as dirt and about as logical. Whether I played or not, even if I was Lou Gehrig in a previous life, Jeter is aging. That’s an unavoidable fact, but blame the messenger if you want. Yankee7777, it’s odd that you cite Lou Boudreau given that he stopped hitting after age 30, was a part-time player by 32, and retired at 34. No, he wasn’t fast — he was, in fact, legendarily slow, and as you say he was a great defender nonetheless. Unfortunately, none of that serves your point because by the time he was Jeter’s age, he wasn’t playing anymore. I don’t have time to do it now, but over the weekend I’ll try to figure out which teams won with old shortstops. My guess is it’s a short list. I also disagree with your statement, “Anyone who watches Jeter knows he makes all the plays.” He demonstrably does not. I wrote this in the Baseball Prospectus annual four years ago:
For those of us in the performance analysis biz, Jeter is a difficult problem because any realistic evaluation of his skills, no matter how flattering, seems like a slight when compared to his reputation. In the eyes of true believers, Honus Wagner and Superman combined couldn’t do half the things Jeter does. In truth, he’s terrific at going back on shallow pop-ups and executing the jump throw in the hole. Other aspects of the job — fielding grounders to his left for instance — elude him, and it doesn’t take an MS in scouting or statistics to see it. When watching a Yankees game, simply pay attention to the opposing shortstop. He will routinely get to balls that Jeter cannot. As for the Gold Glove, peel back the foil on the award and you’ll find there’s some tasty chocolate underneath. That’s about what it’s worth, though at least Jeter was better this year. On offense, Jeter walked less than ever before and doubled his previous high in sac bunts, perhaps because he lost confidence after a shockingly poor April. Jeter is a Hall of Famer to be, a key player on a great team, an inspirational leader, a fine hitter…and he gives up a lot of singles with his glove. In light of the rest, why is that last part so difficult to accept?
I stand by what I wrote back in the winter of 2004. Every day you can see balls go past Jeter on the left that most other shortstops easily field, and if he’s ever made a play behind second base it must have been back in the Clinton administration. To this point, for the reasons stated above, that deficiency hasn’t been all that important, because on balance, the combination of offense and defense worked out in the Yankees’ favor. That will be less and less the case over time, and if 2008’s reduced offensive output was not an injury-induced fluke but the beginning of an age-inspired trend (and it was the second season in a row that Jeter’s offense dropped, so arguing about said trend may be a moot point), the day of reckoning is here now.
AND FROM TODAY’S GAME…
The Yankees dropped the decision to the Twins, who came back late against some youngsters who aren’t going to be within hailing distance of this year’s staff. There was still plenty of good stuff: a solid two innings for Ian Kennedy; a 2-for-2 with a double and a stolen base for Brett Gardner (and an 0-for-3 for Melky), a 2-for-3 for Jorge Posada and an identical day for Nick Swisher. Xavier Nady went 0-for-3 with an RBI.
Also of interest was an appearance in left field by Kevin Russo. I get a lot of mail about Russo, who hit .316/.363/.416 in half a season at Double-A Trenton last year. Some out there want to see him as a prospect, but I don’t buy it — as a second baseman, he’s going to have to hit more than that to make it — those numbers don’t really translate to anything impressive — and since he doesn’t play shortstop, his chances to be a utility infielder are not good. Last year he got in an odd bit of utility work at third base and the outfield, and it’s interesting to see the Yankees carrying that forward this spring. If Russo starts the season at Scranton, he could be an injury away from a bench job… It’s not like Cody Ransom has an ironclad lock on a job.
THAT’S A WEEK
I hope to see many of you at the Yogi Berra Museum on Sunday (see below for details). I’ll catch the rest of you here on Monday, unless Brian Cashman goes insane and signs Manny Ramirez tomorrow afternoon. In that case, I’ll be posting — a lot.