Not Bullish On Jeter In a New Uniform

by Eno Sarris //

Things are getting heated in the negotiations between Derek Jeter and the Yankees. Over the holiday week, Brian Cashman dropped this bomb in typically understated fashion:

“We understand his contributions to the franchise and our offer has taken them into account,” Cashman said. “We’ve
encouraged him to test the market and see if there’s something he
would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That’s the way it
works.”

That is the way it works, but of course the baseball blogosphere took the tidbit and ran with it. Some of the fake baseball cards created by Beckett.com were chilling, and the prospect of Jeter in another uniform should be doubly chilling to fantasy players planning on snapping up Jeter as a bounce-back shortstop in 2011.

R.J. Anderson did a fine job taking a look at the historical precedent that 37-year old shortstops have provided in his article on Jeter earlier in the month. The most damning paragraph:

In June, Jeter will turn 37. No shortstop (defined by
having played at least 50% of their games at the position along with 300
plate appearances) aged at least 37 has ever hit more than nine home
runs in a season. Since 1970, only 20 shortstops met that qualification
after turning 37, with the highest batting average being .295, the
highest on-base percentage being .367, and the highest slugging
percentage being .419. Over the last three seasons, Jeter’s line:
.301/.369/.414. Meanwhile, only two of those players finished with an
OPS above the league’s average.

Looking at Jeter’s combination of BABIP and batting average last year (.307 BABIP, .270 batting average), you might wonder where some optimistic batting average projections are coming from. Bill James has him projected at .295, for example. On the other hand, Jeter is still athletic, has a much better career BABIP (.356), and could easily find himself batting closer to .300 next year.

And yet, if Jeter ends up in a different uniform, he probably won’t be a great bounceback pick. Three important statistics that have always been in Jeter’s favor could then work against him: plate appearances, runs and RBI.

If Jeter were to don a new uniform in 2011, the most vulnerable statistic would be runs scored. Since Jeter joined the Yankees’ lineup for good fifteen years ago, he’s averaged 112 runs per season. That’s meant that even in his worst seasons, he’s been a boon in the category. The Yankees lineup has driven him in prolifically, and last year that offense scored the most runs in baseball (859). The offenses on the two teams that have been linked to Jeter, the Giants and Orioles, weren’t even close. In fact, the Giants (697 runs) scored only 81% of the runs that the Yankees scored.jetercardgiants.jpg

Let’s say we walk the runs and RBI projections for Jeter back 15% – after all Jeter would improve those two lineups ostensibly – and the package looks a little worse. Now we’re talking about a player that will gather around 85 runs and 50 RBI.

And there’s one last caveat. The projections we’ve been using here – Bill James’ on FanGraphs – use 703 plate appearances. A 37-year-old shortstop has never amassed 700 plate appearances. Omar Vizquel‘s 659 plate appearances in 2006 is tied with Luke Appling‘s effort in 1946 as the most ever by a 37-year-old at the position. Only nine other men have ever crossed the 600 plate appearance threshold. If we remove another 50 plate appearances to place Jeter in the middle of the best old shortstops ever, now we’re hoping that Jeter can get to double-digits in homers and steals, and worrying that he might not garner even 80 runs and 45 RBI.

Later in 2011 drafts, you may be looking at Jeter among some shortstops that are at least five years younger than him. Would you pick Jeter over Alexei Ramirez (.280, 18 HR, 80 R, 78 RBI, 12 SB), Stephen Drew (projected for .270, 16 HR, 82 R, 67 RBI and 8 SB), or Elvis Andrus (.274, 2 HR, 82 R, 43 RBI, 34 SB)?

The answer to that question will depend, of course, on the actual draft positions required to grab each of the shortstops in question. But, looking at the runs and RBI totals of this projected crew, it doesn’t look like Jeter would be the same old Jeter in a new uniform. Fantasy managers looking to grab Jeter as a value should join the throng hoping that Jeter will re-up with the Yankees.

For more on Derek Jeter and other shortstops, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.

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