Sunday, March 10, 2013

What Kind Of Production Would You Take From Jeter This Year?

(Courtesy of J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday)

After watching player after player go down with injuries this spring, the Yankees finally got to see a few come back from injuries yesterday when Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter played in their first ST games.  Mo struck out two in a scoreless 5th inning and Jeter went 1-2 at the plate as the leadoff DH, and both used their performances to answer the question about whether they'll be ready in time for the start of the season.  For Mo, that question wasn't as big a deal.  He's been throwing bullpen sessions, going through everything he would in a normal spring, just not in an actual game setting.  For Jeter, the question has hung over him all spring as he's been limited to light fielding drills, light running drills, and batting cage sessions.  He still has to play a few games in the field, which sounds like it might happen this coming week, but if Jeter can at least hit three weeks before the start of the season, that's a pretty good sign that he'll be ready.

So now that Jeter has answered the first big question, we can move to asking the second one.  What kind of production can we reasonably expect from The Captain this year?  The offense has already taken a lot of damage in the past four months and change, and a 39-year-old shorstop coming off major ankle surgery isn't going to be the savior, but without any reliable backup options in sight the Yankees need something good from Jeter this year.

In case you've forgotten, Jeter hit .316/.362/.429 last year.  His .347 wOBA and 117 wRC+ were the 2nd highest values he's posted in the last five seasons, and after how he had looked the previous two seasons they were downright remarkable and historically impressive.  The ankle surgery and his advanced age have combined to lower expectations for Jeter this year, which is understandable, but just how low those expectations should be seems to be a point of disagreement between some of the major projection systems.
  • Bill James- 154 G, .298/.359/.400 slash, .332 wOBA
  • Oliver- 140ish G, .269/.326/.359 slash, .303 wOBA
  • ZiPS- 120 G, .277/.337/.369 slash, .311 wOBA
  • CAIRO- 130 G, .295/.348/.395 slash, .330 wOBA
James and CAIRO both see Jeter staying pretty productive, with a high batting average, decent OBP, and a little more power than Jeter had in his two worst seasons (2010-2011).  James' projection of 154 games played seems incredibly aggressive given Jeter's situation, and I would expect that Jeter will sit out enough games in the first two months of the season to make 154 an impossibility, but I think we would all take those slash lines from Jeter.

ZiPS and Oliver's system are much less optimistic about Jeter's chances of coming back and being productive.  In fact they're downright pessimistic.  ZiPs sees Jeter taking a big hit across his slash line and only projects 120 games played, which would mean at least one 15-day DL trip for Jeter.  Oliver has Jeter's production being even lower than it was in his career-worst 2010 season and projects him to be below average offensively with that .303 wOBA.  That kind of output at the top of the batting order would only serve to further exploit the team's offensive weakness this year.

Personally, I don't think Jeter is going to be that bad this season.  I'm also not entirely sure I think he can hit .300 again and post a .330 wOBA.  His ability to re-time his swing mechanics and make consistent line drive contact was the key to his success last year, and he'll need to repeat that in 2013 to combat an expected dip in power that should come from the ankle surgery.  I'd also like to see Jeter be a bit more patient and willing to take walks this season, but at this stage in his career it's difficult to expect a change in that department.  Joe will do what he needs to do early in the season to give Jeter enough rest and let him get into full game shape, and from there we'll just have to see.

Seeing Jeter get into more spring games and play more innings should help give us a good idea of where he's at physically and what we should expect from him once the regular season starts, but it doesn't hurt to start setting those bars in your head now.  Not being sold on the idea of Jeter hitting .300 over a full season again, I think I could live with .285/.340/.390 and 135-140 games played.

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