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Should There Be Any Expectations for Derek Jeter in 2014?

It’s not exactly news that Derek Jeter returned from the disabled list only to hop right back on to it recently. Jeter appeared in just a single game, going 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run.

After recovering from the left ankle injury that sidelined him in the playoffs last year, he’s now dealing with a right thigh issue. The injuries are unrelated but worrisome nonetheless. After all, despite the ankle injury, Jeter was still the 15th shortstop off the board based on average draft position, going around pick 170. He also remains 40% owned.

But should there be any expectation for The Captain when he eventually does return? He’ll surely be back, with a couple months to go and then a minimum $8M player option for 2014 that could be larger based on certain incentives.

Jeter’s 162-game average includes 117 runs, 22 stolen bases and a .313 average. If he can return to even his 2011 form, when he hit just six home runs and 84 runs scored but mustered a .297 average, he’d have value still (he was eighth in fantasy value among shortstops that year).

But can he come back and perform?

In the expansion era, there have been 340 player seasons where players have been age 39 or older. That shrinks to just 193 for players age 40 or older. Jeter is already beating the odds if he suits up next season.

Of that group, we have the previous season’s stat line for 179 of them, so that will be our comparison group – 179 players seasons age 40 or later that also had a stat line available the year before.

PA HR SB AVG OPS
Age 40-+ 281 7 3 0.259 0.739
Year-1 363 11 4 0.268 0.776

As expected, players playing that late are seeing a drop-off in their performance and playing time. Not many players can maintain a high level of production into their forties.

But there are some seasons in there with players at a more advanced age, so let’s just compare age 39 and age 40 seasons.

Age PA HR SB AVG OPS
39 381 12 5 0.271 0.791
40 303 8 4 0.264 0.754

Again, some major drop offs, including in expected playing time. Part of that may be due to a diminishing role with age but at least part is likely also due to an inability to remain healthy.

Finally, if we narrow the search even further to look at just players in the middle infield, we see a similar result. With that said, there are just 12 player seasons where a 40-year old played at least some time at second or short, so this table is entirely for curiosity.

PA HR SB AVG OPS
Age 39 401 9 7 0.272 0.77
Age 40 351 7 8 0.246 0.692

This group might be the most encouraging for playing time and counting stats, but the ratios take a major hit.

But what about Jeter? He doesn’t even have a 2013 season line for us to adjust our expectations from, and that’s important – only 12 players played a season at age 40 or later coming off a season in which they had less than 100 plate appearances. If you exclude Barry Bonds’ age 41 season, which is quite the outlier, those players only averaged 61 plate appearances the next season, with just a single player crossing 100.

Now, Derek Jeter is a better player than a lot of names that pop up on this list and his 2012 age-38 season was better than most of these age-39 lines. With that said, it will be difficult to draft him in all but the deepest leagues heading into 2014 if he hasn’t come back and shown an ability to hit like Jeter late this year.

He’ll still be draftable as a backup and in AL-only leagues, sure, but that’s a statement on the position pool, not his upside.