Will Derek Jeter Be Good Again?

For the fourth time this season, Derek Jeter has been sidelined. There is no timetable for his return, and unless the Yankees reach the postseason — and there is still hope on that front — there is a decent chance that he will make no meaningful contribution to the team at all this season. Even with the expectation that he would miss time this season, it seemed likely that he would contribute at some point, so this comes as a bit of a surprise, even at this late date. The question is then, just how much should the Yankees expect him to contribute next season?

To be certain, Derek Jeter is one of the greatest players of all-time. This is not news. In the annals of shortstop-dom, there are only five men who have accumulated more WAR than has Jeter — Honus Wagner, Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, George Davis and Bill Dahlen. And since all five of them played at least 200 games at third base, you could make the argument that Jeter — who has never played any other defensive position — is the best true shortstop ever. Certainly not the best fielding shortstop, but the best overall. But even if his ankle heals properly, which it apparently has not yet done, he may be done contributing at the big league level.

Since 1901, there have been just 15 instances in which a player age 40 or older has played more than 50% of his games at shortstop. Of those 15, one was Jimmy Austin in 1921, and we’ll go ahead and throw that out the window because he only racked up 75 plate appearances that season and he wasn’t primarily a shortstop during his career, but rather a third baseman. Three of the other 15 seasons fly out the window too. In 1914 and ’15, Bobby Wallace — who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1953 by the Veteran’s Committee — played a grand total of 35 games, good for 100 PA on the nose. Dahlen didn’t even make it that far in 1911, as he played in just one game in his age-41 season — his final season to be precise.

This leaves us with just five players and 11 seasons of age-40 or better shortstops:

Player Year Age G PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ Fld Bsr WAR
Barry Larkin 2004 40 111 386 0.289 0.352 0.419 91 -2.2 3.5 1.8
Honus Wagner 1914 40 150 616 0.252 0.317 0.317 92 9.0 2.7 3.5
Honus Wagner 1915 41 156 625 0.274 0.325 0.422 125 5.0 -1.3 5.5
Honus Wagner 1916 42 123 485 0.287 0.35 0.37 122 -7.0 0.6 3.0
Luke Appling 1947 40 139 573 0.306 0.386 0.412 126 0.0 -0.9 4.4
Luke Appling 1949 42 142 619 0.301 0.439 0.394 130 2.0 -3.8 5.2
Luke Appling 1950 43 50 144 0.234 0.3 0.32 60 1.0 0.4 -0.1
Omar Vizquel 2007 40 145 575 0.246 0.305 0.316 60 23.9 2.8 2.2
Omar Vizquel 2008 41 92 300 0.222 0.283 0.267 37 3.0 -1.5 -0.9
Ozzie Smith 1995 40 44 182 0.199 0.282 0.244 46 0.0 -0.6 -0.5
Ozzie Smith 1996 41 82 261 0.282 0.358 0.37 99 4.0 -0.9 1.3

Four of these players are members of the Hall of Fame, and the candicacy of the fifth (Vizquel) is likely to inspire quite the argument. The final seasons for Appling, Larkin and Smith are included here. The final seasons for Wagner and Vizquel are not here because they did not spend the majority of their time at shortstop in those seasons. In fact, Vizquel, as you may know, played an additional four seasons before retiring. One thing is for certain, looking at the list — the final year is tough. Of the seasons in this sample, the best final season was Larkin’s 1.8 WAR. Wagner’s final season, 1917, consisted of 74 games played and a 0.2 WAR. For Vizquel, just last year at 45, he compiled -0.7 WAR in 60 games. In fact, in those final four seasons, he accumulated -0.5 WAR in 288 games, so it wasn’t as though his final shortstop season was some sort of fluke.

To me, the sharp drops from Appling and Wagner are the most troubling. Statistically anyway, they seem the most parallel to Jeter. Of course, theirs came a couple of years later age-wise, so it isn’t a perfect comparison. Let’s take a look at it visually:

Jeter WAR

We can see here that every player did eventually have a sharp decline. Larkin came first, though he would be the only one to pick it back up ever so slightly and finish on a “high” note. Appling and Wagner retired right after their big drop, which was a lesson that Vizquel was unable to learn. Smith’s last gasp was admirable — a 99 wRC+, still a plus fielder, but he wasn’t a full-time player. In fact, none of them were full-time players even in their final seasons. Larkin’s 111 games played stands out as the high. And that sort of begs the question, how many players were able to man shortstop the majority of the time at 39 but not in any subsequent seasons? There are 13 such players, including Jeter. So, not a lot of company there either. And of the 13, only Luis Aparicio, Bones Ely and Rabbit Maranville topped 300 PA. Craig Counsell was a fourth with over 100 games played, but he only racked up 230 PA. This should be instructive for the Yankees as they push forward into 2014.

It would be nice and clean for New York to caddy Jeter — assuming that he needs a caddy, which again, history would suggest that he will — with one of the existing internal options, but those internal options are horrifying. Five other men have manned shortstop for New York this season, and of them, only two have survived — Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez. Nix, now in his sixth year and with his fifth different major league team, has had perhaps the best and almost certainly his last opportunity to receive meaningful playing time at the big league level. Unfortunately, he has neither played well nor has he been able to stay on the field. This is the opposite combination to what would have been preferable. Much of the same is true for Nunez, the only difference being he is still on his first team, and only in his fourth season. That may need to change come the winter, as for his career he has now posted -2.0 WAR. You always hate to give up on a player too early, but I think it’s safe to say at this point that Nunez is who we thought he’d be.

So, it stands to reason that if the Yankees don’t think Jeter can return to playing full-time next season that they will have to look externally. None of the middle infielders who made the Yankees’ top 15 prospects list this season — Angelo Gumbs and David Adams — are shortstops, and the team didn’t draft a shortstop this year with any of its first five picks (they took high-school product Tyler Wade at the end of the fourth round). But do they go all out and get someone who is capable of starting every day, or do they look for a defensive replacement only, someone who can spot start if necessary but is better suited to entering in the eighth inning each night. Interestingly, both options are available.

On the play every day side, we have Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta. One would assume the Tigers would be interesting in retaining Peralta’s services, but then they also now have Jose Iglesias, and he’s young, so they might let him run wild and free and see what happens. The Red Sox may also be interested in retaining Drew, though it’s a matter of debate whether making him a qualifying offer is the best idea in the world. There are no shortage of options on the defense-first side, including Clint Barmes, John McDonald and Brendan Ryan. Of course, if this is the route they go, they may just hang on to Nix, though his positive fielding numbers come at second base and the outfield, and not the left side of the infield.

It seems then that the important question heading into the offseason is just how much Jeter can play in 2014. Obviously we don’t know, but it is something that the team will have to plan for in a much more concrete way than they did this season. Whether or not he exercises his $9.5 million option or chooses to become a free agent, it seems very likely that he will be in pinstripes next year. It would never be wise to dismiss Jeter, but doubt is welcome at this stage, and the tenor of his contributions in 2014 should be up for debate — not just because of how he has played this season, but because of those who played shortstop at his age before him as well.

I have been working under the assumption all season that this season would be Mariano Rivera’s send-off, and 2014 would be Jeter’s. After all, if Mo gets a season-long serenade, it only seems right that Jeter would receive the same treatment since he was, you know, better and stuff. But assuming Jeter does indeed to come back for one final season (or even more, I suppose), he will need to buck the odds to avoid having his send-off resemble the sad final chapters of many of his shortstop peers.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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JJ
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JJ
2 years 11 months ago

Of course he’ll be good. Derek Jeter is a biracial angel!

Todd
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Todd
2 years 11 months ago

“And since all five of them played at least 200 games at third base, you could make the argument that Jeter — who has never played any other defensive position — is the best true shortstop ever.”

That seems wrong to me on two levels.

First, though I don’t know how to filter WAR to only value provided at the SS position, I’m confident that most, if not all, of those 5 posted more value as a SS than Jeter.

Second, given that Jeter’s defense is as bad as it is, and that he’s only not been moved off the SS position for political/PR reasons, it seems unreasonable to knock the others as not being ‘true’ shortstops. Jeter probably *should* have been moved to 3B, and likely would have been more valuable to the Yankees if he had. It hardly seems a fair knock on the others to say that SS is a demanding position that they moved from late career, but then Jeter gets credit for sticking there in spite of the fact that he shouldn’t have.

Basically, that statement seems hyperbolic for the sake of a strong opening. Arguing that Jeter is the best SS ever when Honus Wagner existed seems pretty obviously incorrect.

Well Bearded Vogon
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Well Bearded Vogon
2 years 11 months ago

Agreed. I think that Jeter is and always has been a true DH. We could have put Barry Bonds at SS and he’d have probably been the highest WAR-accumulating SS of all time, but that wouldn’t make Bonds a true SS either.

Though honestly Bonds would have probably had better fielding skills at SS than Jeter.

Wil
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Wil
2 years 11 months ago

HA! Better range at least..

Cliff
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Cliff
2 years 11 months ago

Come on, look at this season lines, he had some decent fielding seasons.

Wil
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Wil
2 years 11 months ago

Which ones? Because although the metrics only go back to 2002, none of the seasons since then are what I would call “decent”. Maybe 2009.

Wil
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Wil
2 years 11 months ago

This is a good point. It seems there is an implied value from Jeter for playing SS into old age, even though he mostly had a negative value defensively for doing so.

Why “reward” someone for a net negative (defensively)?

Like you, I think he should be compared to other SS’s even those that did move out of position in their later years as he should have.

Big Daddy V
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Big Daddy V
2 years 11 months ago

Arky Vaughan really should be on this list, but his accumulated WAR is just slightly below Jeter’s. Of course, it’s only lower because Vaughan quit baseball at age 31.

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles
2 years 11 months ago

Agreed, if Arky has avoided that argument with Leo Durocher we would have likely had 10 more wins over the 3 years he sat out before his comeback when Durocher was suspended.

Wow
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Wow
2 years 11 months ago

Dang!!!

I had not realized that Vaughan was such a beast. Just looked him up. Seeing those three seasons that he sat out made me feel so much anguish. Honestly, besides Dimaggio’s and Ted’s time in WWII, can you find a bigger shame in baseball (granted Joe and Ted served our country when our country needed it)?

Also, how do we sort for war and other metrics by position? I bet Wagner still has 120 or so at ss.

rarumberger
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rarumberger
2 years 11 months ago

Wow – I guess one could argue that all the seasons Satchel Paige sat out (can’t remember why – will have to look that up) are a slightly bigger shame. Ditto Buck Leonard, James “Cool Papa” Bell, Josh Gibson, and more than a few others.

I’d rate Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio’s missing seasons probably a little lower than those.

waynetolleson
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waynetolleson
2 years 11 months ago

The comments section on this page can be hilarious, especially when it comes to Derek Jeter, who will retire as the most overrated player in the history of the game with 3500 hits and 2000 runs scored.

Once you take away the career .315 BA, the career .380 OBP, and the fact that up until last year, he started 150 games a year at shortstop, there’s really nothing that’s anything good.

The Yanks just always kept his .315/200-hit bat at the lineup and kept him at shortstop for “political reasons.”

Imagine if other teams were stupid enough to carry a player like that. What an albatross! Were it not for this dead weight, the Yankees probably would have had, like, nine AL pennants, five World Titles, and sixteen trips to the playoffs since 1996.

Todd
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Todd
2 years 11 months ago

I’m not saying he should have been benched, I’m saying he should have moved to 3B b/c A-Rod was the better defensive SS. The point is, it’s not as if Jeter has stayed at SS where others moved away because he was a better fielder.

andy e
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andy e
2 years 11 months ago

yeah it obviously didnt work out to well for the yankees…see 2009

Preston
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Preston
2 years 11 months ago

This just isn’t factual. The Yankees moved A-Rod even, though he was better at SS at the time, because they thought Jeter’s body type would age better at SS than Alex would, considering Alex’s loss of mobility and injuries and Jeter actually improving his defense in his 30’s it is pretty obvious that was the correct decision.

vlock1
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vlock1
2 years 11 months ago

Why are Jeter fans always so sensitive? He wasn’t handed down from Mount Olympus. He’s a terrific player who’s had a terrific career and helped your team win an inordinate amount of titles. Isn’t that enough?

Listen To Yourself
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Listen To Yourself
2 years 11 months ago

“Once you take away the career .315 BA, the career .380 OBP, and the fact that up until last year, he started 150 games a year at shortstop, there’s really nothing that’s anything good.”

Was this sarcastic?

Once you take away all of Barry Bonds home run power, and his plate discipline, and his ability to play the outfield, he wasn’t even that good!

MB923
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MB923
2 years 11 months ago

Yes it was sarcasm

Ian R.
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Ian R.
2 years 11 months ago

I’m also not sure how to filter WAR by position, but here’s what I found.

Derek Jeter’s career bWAR is 71.6. That does include a little DHing.

From 1901 to 1916, Honus Wagner accumulated 113.5 WAR while playing the vast majority of his games at shortstop. Considering he also played some shortstop outside that stretch, I have no doubt that he blows Jeter’s total out of the water.

From 1984 to 1996 Cal Ripken was a pure shortstop (he played 6 games at 3rd in 1996 and that’s it.) He had 76.1 bWAR.

Dahlen would probably dip below Jeter if you only considered shortstop WAR, and Davis certainly would, but Ripken is ahead of Jeter by a not-insignificant margin even if you pretend all of his 3B years never happened.

And, of course, the Flying Dutchman blows everybody out of the water.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
2 years 11 months ago

Oh, I forgot about A-Rod. In his pre-Yankee years as a shortstop, he put up 63.4 WAR. That’s a bit behind Jeter, but bear in mind that that’s 8 years for A-Rod (plus his replacement-level partial seasons as a teenager) versus Jeter’s entire career.

There’s a PED taint on Rodriguez, of course, but if anyone was going to take a run at Wagner’s place as the greatest shortstop of all time, it’s probably the guy who was halfway to his total WAR when he turned 28.

Person
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2 years 11 months ago

All we needed, really, was your last sentence.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 11 months ago

The absurd contention that the Yankees were wrong to move Arod off SS for Jeter ignores the history of what occurred since the move. In retrospect, Arod was never a good defender as a Yankee, and his body broke down after 4 years.

History has proven the Yankees correct for keeping Jeter at SS. You don’t get to dismiss him as a shortstop just because you don’t like seeing him there.

Wil
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Wil
2 years 11 months ago

I hate to break it to you but Arod had some pretty good defensive seasons with the Yanks. He certainly had better seasons at 3rd than Jeter had at SS respectively.

The highest DRS has had since 2002 (first year of metrics) was +3. ARod has had a +14 and a +13 season along with a bunch of mediocre to slightly below average ones.

So stating that Arod was never a good defender is just silly.

Wil
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Wil
2 years 11 months ago

That should read the “the highest DRS Jeter has had”

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 11 months ago

I’m aware of the defensive “measurements”. I will continue to disregard them entirely until a realistic measurement is developed and until the associated error is provided with the statistic.

I’ve watched almost all the games. Arod has always had poor range and reaction time at third. He has great hands and an amazing arm, however. …he’s also the worst infielder on popups I’ve ever seen. He get’s weirdly nervous when he has so much time under a ball.

DNA+
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DNA+
2 years 11 months ago

Besides, even if you actually believe defensive statistics, you are ignoring the fact that there is no chance in hell Arod could have played SS over the past 4 years due to his body breaking down. The Yankees were correct in their decision to keep Jeter at short. History has validated the decision, even if you thought it was wrong at the time.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
2 years 11 months ago

Jeter is still a fairly decent hitter, he was never a good defender. Maybe he should just do a DH send off next year??

Tim
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Tim
2 years 11 months ago

God I hope not.

Nathan
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Nathan
2 years 11 months ago

TL;DR — the answer is no.

Bartolo Colon
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Bartolo Colon
2 years 11 months ago

Fat chance.

Robbie G.
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Robbie G.
2 years 11 months ago

Isn’t the wisest course of action to sign someone who can play shortstop every day? Someone who can move over and play every day at 3B in the event that Derek Jeter is healthy and insists on playing shortstop?

Joelskil
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Joelskil
2 years 11 months ago

Maybe Jayson Nix would stick around longer if he learned to spell his name correctly.

Ivan Grushenko
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Ivan Grushenko
2 years 11 months ago

Peralta seems Jeter-ish. They should sign him.

Raf
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Raf
2 years 11 months ago

The Yankees acquired Brendan Ryan.

Preston
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Preston
2 years 11 months ago

And his defense nearly cost them the game. Failed to turn a double play and then let a ball pass right under his glove in the 8th. I’ll take Jeter’s lackluster range in exchange for his sure handedness and hitting any day of the week.

sniper
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sniper
2 years 11 months ago

hell be good along with the rest of the team as long as they get there steriods back

John C
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John C
2 years 11 months ago

There’s not one shred of evidence that Derek Jeter has ever used “steriods”, whatever those are, or steroids, either. Never even been a whisper about it.

Rich S
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Rich S
2 years 11 months ago

Also pretty hard to give much consideration to somebody who hasn’t learned “there” and “their”. We’re talking, what, third grade?

hf
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hf
2 years 11 months ago

The emphasis of the article is on players 40 and older, jeter just turned 37 this june, therefore Jeter is not in the category of the subjects and subject matter in the article. Right this article when jeter is at least 40

Janson
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Janson
2 years 10 months ago

Jeter was born June 26, 1974 and will be age 40 in the middle of the 2014 baseball season. I was born a year and a month after Jeter and can attest to his birth day not having changed since I first checked in 1998. It’s still a year and a month before mine (which has also not changed).

I wish he was going to be 37, that would be great, but he’s not.

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