Every spring fantasy columns tend to say the same old thing about Derek Jeter. “He’s old. He’s getting older. He can’t keep doing this forever. Let someone else pay the pinstripe tax.” Maybe owners have been taking this more to heart recently, as the days of that one Yankee fan in your league snagging Jeter in round two appear to be rapidly disappearing into the rear-view mirror. This year, using ESPN’s average draft tracker, Jeter actually fell all the way to tenth among shortstops, going around 119th overall — which is right where the Rotographs end of season 2011 FVAR rankings stuck him. But owners who stuck with him this year (be it out of sentimentality or the fact that they suddenly realized they needed a shortstop in round 10) were paid handsomely, as Zach Sanders’ aforementioned FVAR rankings show he not only didn’t fall further but actually climbed four spots (from 2011) to sixth when the dust settled on the 2012 campaign.
There’s no question that a large part of Jeter’s top-10 status comes from the pure volume of stats he amassed by appearing in all but three games at the top of the New York lineup. If you normalize his dollar value by plate appearances he slips a couple spots in a list of shortstops using the qualification criteria (350+ PA), and using guys less than 350 PA probably means he drops even lower. Extremely active fantasy owners could have used a combination of guys (maybe mixing in Erick Aybar when Jed Lowrie was on the disabled list, for example) and put up similar if not better stats from a “hybrid” shortstop. That quibble aside, the Yankee captain continued to defy Father Time in 2012 as his 216 hits were 32 (15%!) more than the next highest total (Jose Reyes). Not surprisingly, he led shortstops in average (.316 – and you had to drop to .293 to find Alcides Escobar in second) and he was only a hair behind Ben Zobrist in on-base percentage (.377 compared to .362). Because of his ability to get on base at the top of the second most efficient offense when it comes to putting crooked numbers on the board (New York trailed Texas by 4 total runs over the course of the entire season), Jeter racked up 99 runs, second to Jimmy Rollins. The numbers are even more impressive in that it was still a tick off the Jeter of old — being only his fourth full season in which he crossed the plate under 100 times.
When digging a little deeper (past the counting stats and into the rates), we see that his 2012 was not really that far off any recent Jeter season. His BB% was down a tick (6.1% compared to 7.6% last year and a career average of 8.7%), but that was partially offset by a lower-than-usual K% (12.2% in 2012, 13.3% in 2011, 14.7% career) which meant he was putting the ball in play more and giving opposite field pokes a chance to drop in. His ISO bounced back a bit to .113, his second-highest power output since 2007, and helped push his homer total up to 15, nearly as many as his previous two seasons combined (16). While his speed seems to have slowly trickled away over the last few seasons (stolen bases numbers have fallen from 30 to 18 to 16 to 9 over the last four years), his batted ball profiles continue to paint the picture of a guy still squaring up the baseball as well as he ever has. In fact, Jeter has experienced a bit of a renaissance of sorts recently, seeing his LD% climb from 16.1% to 19% to 21.7% over the last three years which correlates nicely with a .307-.336-.347 BABIP trend.
No end-of-season Jeter wrap up piece can be written without addressing the giant elephant in the room that had little effect on the fantasy season but a huge effect on the Bronx Bombers’ run through the playoffs. As remarked earlier, a huge portion of Jeter’s value is tied primarily to his ability to put up a ton of counting stats thanks to his large number of plate appearance numbers hitting day in and day out at the top of a potent Yankee lineup and for him to end up with 700+ trips to the dish (which he has amazingly done eight of the last eleven years), he needs to be healthy. Well, Jeter was healthy — until the (actual MLB) playoffs, at least, when the venerable shortstop stumbled awkwardly trying to field an extra inning ground ball and subsequently fractured his ankle. The ankle injury was significant enough that it required surgery to repair and reports have Jeter out 4-5 months while recovering from the procedure. Those with credible counting skills can deduce (November, December, January, February, Mar– ) that this timetable brings us right to the beginning of Spring Training, if not into it – any setback, even minor, jeopardizes the start of the season. The Yankees themselves likely would not be terribly concerned with a short-term Jeter absence (as long as it meant he would be 100% healthy when he eventually emerged from a certain Bronx dugout) but for a guy with a ton of fantasy value tied up in staying on the field every day, it’s something owners will have to keep an eye on. And when he is healthy, how will the ankle respond to the daily stresses of playing Major League Baseball that Derek Jeter has subjected his body to over the last 15 years?
Unless you micromanage your team to the point where you check every lineup, every night (and let’s be honest, that’s probably a large portion of the Rotographs demographic) there’s plenty of value to be found in a guy who takes the field every game and makes more strides to the plate than anyone else in baseball. This plug-and-play volume boon becomes even more pronounced when you consider leagues with weekly lineup locks, as there was essentially no other shortstop in baseball in 2012 who was a better bet to play every day of the scoring period than Captain Jetes. While his rate stats may not be elite these days, his ability to string hits (and subsequently, runs) together at the top of such a potent lineup made for an elite counting play in both roto and points-based leages. This comes as no surprise to anyone and has been Jeter’s modus operandi for years. It certainly served his owners well in 2012; now the obvious question becomes, can he overcome arguably the most significant injury of his career at age 38 and do it again in 2013?