By Eriq Gardner //
Derek Jeter has been a popular topic on this website of late. R.J. Anderson recently pointed to the icon’s bleak future and Eno Sarris explained why the shortstop would have dwindling value if he left the Yankees.
Here’s the contrarian viewpoint: Jeter will bounce back in a big way in 2011. Much of the explanation on why this will be the case is grounded upon a few points I’ve made in recent posts.
First, while it’s true that the production of past-their-prime All Stars gradually diminishes over time, rarely does it so happen in straight linear fashion from one year to the next.
Last season, Jeter had a .270 batting average, the lowest mark of any full season in his career. In fact, Jeter has never hit below .290 in a full season until 2010 and he has topped .300 in 11 of his 16 seasons. In figuring out what Jeter is likely to do next season, do we look at last year and see it as the beginning of a trend, or do we look at the past several years and go with the larger body of work? The smart method is to split the middle. He may not reach .300, but he’ll hit higher than .270.
Despite the fact that Jeter hit only .270 last season, he still managed to score 111 times and total 67 RBI. A batting average that regresses positively towards career norms would mean more hits and more times on base. More hits likely means more RBI. More times on base means a greater opportunity to score. Even if Jeter left the Yankees, and suffered from less talented teammates hitting around him, the damage to his Runs and RBI would be mitigated by having having more success at the plate.
Second, talent at shortstop is atrociously bad these days. Jeter may be on the decline, but his production hasn’t fallen off at the same rate as the production of his peers at the shortstop position. Jeter isn’t the same 20/20 player he was in 2004. However, back then, he was competing against seven other shortstops with at least 20 HR. Last season, only four shortstops hit 20 homers. Jeter’s numbers may be slipping, but his positional strength hasn’t moved much.
But let’s examine that point further. Sarris asks whether anyone would pickHere’s a thought exercise. Let’s take this projected line for Jeter in 2011:.292 AVG, 87 Runs, 57 RBI, 10 HR, 20 SB — a fairly modest projection given Jeter’s career norms. Yet it still measures favorably compared to what Ramirez, Drew, and Andrus did last season.
Of course, those three players are younger and perceived as having some room to grow. But do they really hold more upside than Jeter?
Jeter is only one year away from coming off a season in which he hit .334 with 18 HR and 30 SB. Not even the most optimistic projections give Ramirez, Drew, and Andrus a shot at producing those kinds of numbers in 2011. We know that Jeter hit those marks at age 35. It might not be likely he’ll do it again at age 37, but one has got to figure he still maintains greater potential to approach those numbers than some of the others. Both Ramirez and Drew have been in the big leagues for a few years and so we can project what they’ll do with a good deal of confidence. Andrus is an exciting youngster, but hasn’t yet shown the ability to hit for high average and is coming off a season where he didn’t hit a single home run.
But the fact that smart folks are willing to entertain the thought of moving Jeter down a peg or two in the shortstop rankings — especially if he leaves New York — moves me to the most crucial point.
For years, Jeter may have been slightly overdrafted thanks to reputation and the uniform he wore. This off-season, he’s experiencing the worst streak of bad publicity in his Hall of Fame career. Obviously, this means his draft price will fall despite all the arguments presented above that show why Jeter’s potential value hasn’t significantly changed. A falling price creates a better investment opportunity.
One can debate whether Jeter deserves $20 million a year at the age of 40 years old. But as a short-term fantasy buy in a year of high positional scarcity, he’s a solid option.
For more on Derek Jeter and other shortstops, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.