Derek Jeter’s Dimming Star

Ladies and gentleman: ready your pitchforks. Light your torches. Today, I am going to commit baseball sacrilege. I come not to bury the Yankee Captain, but I must point out that in many respects, Derek Jeter‘s 2008 campaign was the worst of his career.

This past season, Jeter posted just a 0.26 WPA/LI, the lowest full-season mark of his distinguished career and a middling 8th among 17 qualified shortstops. Jeter’s .408 slugging percentage, .107 Isolated Power (ISO) and .343 wOBA were also career lows.

Since an outstanding 2006 season (.343/.417/.483), Jeter’s production has taken a sizeable hit in each of the past two years. Using the same formula to convert wOBA into runs above average that we employed while examining Miguel Cabrera, it becomes apparent that the 1992 first-rounder has been hemorrhaging offensive value:

2006

Jeter’s wOBA: .399
AL LG wOBA: .339

37.3 Runs Above Average

2007

Jeter’s wOBA: .369
AL LG wOBA: .338

19.25 Runs Above Average

2008

Jeter’s wOBA: .343
AL LG wOBA: .335

4.65 Runs Above Average

Granted, 2006 was one of Jeter’s better seasons with the bat, but he has lost over three wins of offensive value since that point.

While Jeter has shown pretty solid pop for a shortstop in his career (.458 SLG, .142 ISO), he has often put the ball on the grass. His groundball percentage has hovered between 56.1% and 60% over the past four seasons, and sits at 55.6% for his career. With pretty solid speed and a line-drive bat (career 20.8 LD%), Jeter has consistently posted high Batting Average On Balls in Play (BABIP) marks (.361 career). However, it seems as though those skills might be in the process of eroding. Jeter’s 17.9 LD% in 2008 was the lowest mark that Fan Graphs has going back to 2002, and his .336 BABIP was the second-lowest of his career.

While it’s possible that his BABIP drop was just a blip, it seems pretty unlikely. Our own Peter Bendix recently co-authored a study on Expected BABIP at The Hardball Times, which introduced a more comprehensive and accurate way of measuring XBABIP for hitters. Among the facets of a player’s game that bode well for XBABIP are batting eye, line drive percentage, speed score and pitches per plate appearance. His batting eye (0.61 BB/K) was essentially unchanged (0.59 career) and his 3.7 P/PA was normal, but Jeter has shown significant erosion in the other two categories As mentioned before, Jeter’s 2008 LD% was his lowest mark by a decent margin, and it appears as though the captain’s wheels are grinding to a halt.

Using Bill James’ Speed Score, we can get a better read on Jeter’s speed (or lack thereof) in recent seasons. Speed Score is found by calculating a player’s score in five categories: stolen base percentage, stolen base attempts, triples, runs scored per times on base and number of times grounded into a double play. By adding all five categories up and dividing by five, you get the player’s Speed Score. Speed Scores range from 0-10, with the average player posting a number in the range of five. If you want the full details on the formula used, take a look here.

Here are Jeter’s Speed Scores over the past three seasons…

2006

SB%: 8.09
SB Attempts: 5.77
Triples: 2.96
Runs: 7.62
GDP: 5.87

Total Speed Score: 6.06

2007

SB%: 4
SB Attempts: 4.61
Triples: 3.08
Runs: 7.03
GDP: 3.03

Total Speed Score: 4.49

2008

SB%: 4.17
SB Attempts: 4.03
Triples: 3
Runs: 6.62
GDP: 1.4

Total Speed Score: 3.84

Since 2006, Jeter has gone from possessing above-average speed to posting a Speed Score more commensurate with a first base/DH type. Another Bill James stat, Base Running Net Gain, also showcases Jeter’s slowing game. Base Running Net Gain compares a player to the league average in: advancing from first base to third base, second to home, first to home, ground into double play percentage, and stolen base percentage. A swift runner for most of his career (with a net base running gain of +76), Jeter is now below-average:

2006: +24 Net Bases
2007: +9 Net Bases
2008: -13 Net Bases

Not surprisingly, Jeter’s XBABIP under Peter’s system has fallen each year as well: .339 in ’06, .332 in ’07 and .310 this past season. With a three-year decline in LD% and rapidly deteriorating speed, Jeter’s BABIP drop looks like a significant trend, not just an anomaly. Posting a GB% near sixty was okay for the lithe, peak-career version of Derek Jeter, who possessed the athleticism to beat out fielders and reach base on infield hits. However, it’s a much less viable strategy for the current, decline-phase Jeter, who appears to be squarely in the clutches of father time.

I realize that criticizing Jeter is sort of the baseball equivalent of bashing Santa Claus, but there are undeniably a number of concerning trends here. A five year decline in ISO..a three year decline in LD%…a high GB% without the requisite speed to make those worm-burners count. I don’t really see a “flotation device”, a skill to fall back on. It sounds downright odd to say, but you might just want to avoid that Jeter guy on draft day.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


24 Responses to “Derek Jeter’s Dimming Star”

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  1. philosofool says:

    Derek Jeter is Satan’s lieutenant.

    However, since most baseball fans are stupid and Yankees fans (no exception to that rule) love him, he will continue to play when he’s barely replacement level and this will be some small return for all people who have suffered his intolerable presence for so many years.

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  2. D Wrek says:

    Oh come on phliosofool, you cant blame fans for loving this guy. Hes a future HOF, hes got “the look” and he doesnt cause any trouble. Whats not to like for fans to love?

    Now you can get onto Yankkes brass, but even if you hate the Yankees (me), you still gotta respect what the career of Jeter, who should still have a few more productive years left with the bat.

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  3. Eric says:

    David,

    While the article is well written and informative, I must disagree with the “bashing Santa” comment. Maybe that would be true on most baseball sites, but I’d expect just the opposite on a site like Fangraphs or BaseballThinkFactory. In the last few years he has been called overrated so many times he became (for a point) underrated. Now, obviously he has slipped greatly, and I don’t disagree with any of your actual points, but I’d hope the Jeter=Messiah talk is barren from this site.

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  4. philosofool says:

    even if you hate the Yankees (me), you still gotta respect what the career of Jeter, who should still have a few more productive years left with the bat.

    Man, I just can’t love him. He and Rivera are the two guys that are burned into my mind as the standard bearers of the modern Yankee era. I can’t separate Jeter from my hate for the Yankees. It’s totally unfair. I can look at the stats page and realize that Jeter has been a good player and that he continues, defense and offense combined, to be almost average at a premium position. But just causes he was a great baseball player doesn’t mean I like him.

    Imagine an evil dictator (I don’t want to compare him to any actual dictator, because then I’ll be accused of comparing him to someone that legitimately deserves to burn in hell, which is not what I actually think of Jeter). This evil dictator has a rotten soul. That’s what motivates him to do evil. But what makes him capable of evil is that, in addition to a rotten soul, he’s also a cunning manipulator of people and deviously clever. The dictator’s capacity to be truly horrid requires not only his nefarious motives but also his exceptional capabilities.

    Jeter is like that. The fact that he’s such a capable ball player makes him worse than if he simply played for the Yanks and was league average. I can forgive Melky Cabrera, cause he’s not all that good. Jeter really was good, and contributed too much to the Evil Empire (Yankees) for me to forgive him.

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  5. Jim says:

    I agree with what Eric said….people have been wising up to the fact that he is no longer a second rounder the past couple years.

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  6. David Golebiewski says:

    Eric,

    I totally agree with your point. That tongue-in-cheek comparison came more from my own disposition than anything else- personally, it just seems strange to think that MAYBE we have seen the last productive stretch of his career. Some of my first baseball memories are of Jeter and a 19 year-old Andruw Jones grabbing the spotlight back in ’96.

    I have always thought the the whole “is Jeter underrated/overrated” argument was irrelevant. Even his most ardent critics would admit that he has been a championship-caliber player, a huge asset for over a decade.

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  7. LT says:

    How exciting, now anti-Yankee naysayers and amateur bloggers now have soemt true, statistical proof the Jeter is just an “average” player. Congratulations to you all. My question to you is: who really cares? Why bother writing this crap?

    It will never take away the fact that he has 4 rings and set a new benchmark for the term “clutch” while earning those rings. Sorry to burst your bubble, but people don’t just forget what he has done for the organization– and 2 seasons of sub-par stats surrounded by a bunch of biased, Yankee-hating rhetoric is certainly not going to convince his fans otherwise. People who like him, LOVE HIM – so get over it, and let the man ride off to the Hall of Fame in peace. Anything PayRod does will pale in comparison to what Jeter has already done, yet statistically, he will be rendered the better player. That’s not how the fans will remember things though.

    And yes, it is the baseball equivalent of bashing Santa Claus, so why bother? The path has already been laid for him and an article like this doesn’t even smudge his sterling record.

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    • waynetolleson says:

      It is pretty amazing. By the time he retires, Jeter is gonna be the worst player in baseball history with a .310+ BA, 3400+ hits, 1800+ runs scored, 1300+ RBI, 250+ HR’s, 550+ 2B’s, three Gold Gloves, 300+ SB, and at least four championship rings.

      I guess many people do “overrate” Derek Jeter, but you see BS like this all the time that underrates him.

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      • gnome says:

        Three Gold Gloves. Shoot me now. I’ll give that he is an incredible hitter, but he won those because he’s a Yankee and that’s undeniable. You can’t be below average and win a Gold Glove unless you play for a team like the Yankees.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        gnome, meet Michael Young. Michael, gnome.

        Not that your criticism of Jeter winning the awards wasn’t valid, but reputation doesn’t just come from the jersey one wears.

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  8. Evan3457 says:

    But here’s the funny thing, LT.

    If A-Rod manages to help the Yanks win just one title (a BIG if, granted, if only because the Yanks’ position in the AL East is rapidly eroding), then that’s the end of the “A-Rod never won the big one” talk, and then, as the living memory of Jeter and A-Rod the ballplayers fade, it will be A-Rod’s numbers that dominate, even when both make the Hall of Fame.

    It is roughly the same argument that fans had about Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. While they were alive; while the writers and announcers who reported on them and players who had played with and against them were still active, the case was always made that DiMaggio was the better player. He was even regarded by the “fans that really knew baseball” as the better hitter, because he would “go out of the strike zone to get the big hit”, whereas Williams would “selfishly” walk, and leave it up to the next hitter (invariably, a lesser hitter).

    Now, it is a commonplace observation that Williams or Ruth is the greatest hitter in history (non-steroid division), and the image of DiMaggio as the classy Yankee Clipper fades, as the details of his real-life personality have become public.

    Most analysts will still rate DiMaggio the better all-around player, but most will also say that Williams was a better hitter, and hit brilliantly for such a prolonged period, that his career value was higher than DiMaggio’s.

    When one compares 10 World Series rings to none, that’s a little hard to take, but that’s been the evaluative trend now for a very long time, and is likely to go on that way.

    So it will be with Jeter and A-Rod, provided A-Rod wins a ring at some point. He might have to do it as a DH with another team at the tail end of his careert, as did another superbly talented Yankee Hall-of-Famer famous for being “Mr. May”, Dave Winfield. But if he does, there is no doubt that if America still exists 50 years from now, and people still care about baseball, A-Rod will be regarded as the vastly superior player.

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  9. Mike says:

    LT,

    I don’t think the article is trying to diminish what Jeter has done. The point you missed is that it is discussing his fantasy value for the upcoming season. No one is trying to deny his past accomplishments. So let’s take a deep breath and get back to discussing what was actually written.

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  10. Fish says:

    While it is true that Jeter has declined since his (should have won) MVP season of 2006, he has played hurt the past 2 seasons which better explains the drop in speed statistics. He has had groin, hamstring, instep and wrist/hand issues which have hampered his power and running game.
    He got off to a poor start in 08 but got hot in May bringing his BA/SLG up to .314/.429 when he was drilled by a Daniel Cabrera 98 mph fastball flush on his wrist in mid-May. He continued to play although he could barely grip the bat and went 4 for 43 immediately after dropping his #s to .269/.365. This sapped his game for months and he wasn’t himself until August when he started to hit with authority again. Baltimore then drilled him on the same hand in mid Sept. He played through it for about a week going hitless b4 shutting it down for the final 6 gms.
    If he stays healthy I’d expect a bounce back season around his career norms of 316/387/458 with 13-16 HRS and SBs which is very good fantasy production from SS.

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  11. Tom says:

    As always, look at the numbers, not the name.

    I’m a Yankees fan, I love Jeter, and when he retires, he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. That shouldn’t be too hard to separate from the fact that he doesn’t put up the numbers he used to.

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  12. Steve Shane says:

    Let me start by saying I am not a yankee fan, in fact my favorite team is one of their rivals.

    I dont care what these speed score “stats” say, theres no way you can say Jeter is only as fast as a 1B/DH type… thats just false, Jeter, will kill giambi, ortiz, pena, thome etc in a 60y dash. And lets not forget that Jeter is one of the best base runners in the game, something that only scouting, not stats can tell you.

    Lets look at some more non-cherry picked stats, and the big picture.
    First 06 was one of jeters best years and 08 was one of his worst, so obviously theres going to be a 3 year trend of decline.

    Stats to support a “bounce back” in 09, 08 BABIP was 2nd lowest in career, all you stat geeks rave about BABIP and how important it is, but not when contradicts a point you are trying to make?????
    Jeter had fewest K and lowest K% of career, thats gotta count for something right?
    Who cares about Jeters ISO, hes not a cleanup hitter whos supposed to hit 40HRs each year, hes a #2 hitter who, among other things, is supposed to get base hits, which he still had 179 in his “worst season”, how many players would kill to have 179 in their best season?

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  13. MRK says:

    I’m a Yankee fan, and all this talk about Jeter being done is ridiculous. If you actually payed any attention to what happened to him during the season, you’d see the reason for his decline in stats. For one, he was drilled in the same hand by a couple of fireballers, and that pretty much took away his swing for a week apiece. Expect him to return to form in ’09.

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  14. Joe R says:

    Is Derek Jeter the epitome of “so overrated, he’s underrated”?

    Obviously the stat nerds like us have loved to lay into Jeter, and in some cases, we’re right, like the magical aura crap that’s been dead for nearly a decade and the sub-average fielding that many people would say is blasphemy no matter what you tell them.

    The fact is, he’s still a very good player and should eventually make it into the Hall of Fame based on merit alone. He’s just a very good / borderline HOF level player that got elevated into a demigod via perception.

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  15. Hohum says:

    Eat your words/crow/etc

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  16. Colm says:

    I think you’re correct that the stat-nerd commentary is a reaction to the hagiography (or arse-kissing) that Jeter has received in the media for most of his extraordinarily good career. But is his case for the HOF really borderline?

    Given his reputation, the long Yankees career, and the four world series rings (and counting) I suspect he’ll get in on the first ballot. Given that he’s posting a career wOBA of .374 over 15 seasons and counting I suspect he deserves to.

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  17. Dan says:

    Before anyone goes too crazy over Jeter’s stats this year, look at his home/road splits. Clearly the new bandbox in the Bronx is significantly inflating his offensive numbers this year.

    Jeter ordinarily has little difference between his home/road splits, but this year his home OPS is about 80 points higher than on the road. This is due to his inflated slugging percentage which is due to the fact he has 9 HRs in the new bandbox, compared to just 2 on the road.

    He may not be done just yet but this year is largely a mirage.

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    • tropicalmug says:

      The difference between road and home OPS is due almost entirely (except for 1 point) to his SLG. Is it just me, or does SLG not really matter when looking at Jeter’s slashline? He’s running more than he did last year, his walk rate is up, his k rate is down, and his LD% is above even 2006 levels. While you can attribute much of the power burst to the new park (which deserves much of the credit), you can’t deny that his peripherals and slashline show a massive rebound from last year, something that can definitely be attributed to the amount of time he played with injuries last year.

      Also, by the time he retires, Jeter will be a first-round HOF and if you don’t think so you probably don’t think Rickey Henderson or Bert Blyleven belong there either.

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  18. Chris says:

    Well, there’s always next year for wishing on Derek Jeter’s decline

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  19. Sean says:

    Word! Tell Mauer to borrow Morneau’s MVP for the winter because Jeter is winning the MVP this year.

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