Well, this one should be interesting.
Derek Jeter is widely expected to re-sign with the New York Yankees when the season ends. A lifelong Yankee, it’s nearly impossible to imagine him going anywhere else. He is keenly aware of his legacy, and he has little to gain from ending his career in any other uniform. Given his place in their history, he almost certainly has more value to the Yankees than he does to any other franchise as well. The question, though, will be how much that value actually is.
Jeter is 36 years old and in the midst of the worst season of his career. There’s no shame in that, as he’s already sustained a high level of performance beyond an age where most players are capable of playing at his level. If his struggles in 2010 are indicative of the beginning of the end for Jeter as an elite player, that would be a fairly normal progression, and we’d expect him to settle for a short-term contract that reflected that he was nearing the end of his career.
However, we simply can’t jump to the conclusion that this really is the beginning of the end. A year ago, Jeter had one of the best seasons of his career, and it is rare that a player’s skills decline this quickly. In fact, if we look at his underlying numbers, the decline doesn’t appear to be that dramatic at all.
BB%: 8.1%, 9.0%
K%: 15.6%, 16.9%
ISO: .109, .140
He’s both walking and striking out a little less than his overall career averages, and while his power is down slightly, it’s not like he was ever a guy who counted on driving the ball to produce value. The real areas where his numbers vary significantly from his established norms are the following two areas:
GB%: 65.8%, 56.9%
BABIP: .297, .356
He’s always been a groundball guy, but this year it’s been extreme. He leads all major league hitters in groundball rate, and it’s not even close – Elvis Andrus is second, five percentage points behind Jeter. And yet, even though ground balls have a higher rate of becoming hits than fly balls, Jeter’s BABIP is the lowest of his career, and by a large margin. Before this year, he’d never posted a mark below .315, and he has more seasons with a BABIP over .350 than under that mark. While BABIP is a high-variance statistic, even for hitters, Jeter has a well-established skill at producing above the league average. That just hasn’t translated onto the field this year.
Odds are pretty good that Jeter’s going to hit better next year than he has this year. He’s probably not done as a good major league player. However, he will be 37 next year, and he’s not going to be good forever. If you give him a long-term deal, you’re paying more for what he’s done than what he’s going to do. But he’s going to be an asset going forward – even with the career low BABIP, he’s been worth +1.7 WAR this year, and it isn’t that easy to find a good shortstop.
There’s a lot of variables at play here, even if it’s extremely likely that he re-signs with New York. So, let’s hear it – what do you think Jeter will get this winter?
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.