Semi-obligatory Derek Jeter contract article

Derek Jeter is a year removed from reaching base 41 percent of the time in 716 trips to the plate. Usually when a player in a contract year--let alone a shortstop--is a year removed from posting a .390 wOBA, fans are worried about the possibility of the player signing elsewhere for more money. Yet, due to the unique situation at hand, the most savvy of Yankee fans might actually be concerned about the possibility of Jeter staying in the Bronx.

Consider, Jeter will be thirty seven years old in 2011, he hasn't hit a whole lot this year--.264/.331/.372 in 626 PA's, and he defends about as well as you'd hope a 36-year-old SS this side of Omar Vizquel could. While he's just a year removed from being an elite player (nearly any SS with a .406 on base average is an elite player, Jeter also did several other things well in 2009), it is a bit difficult to get past the massive decline in production Jeter has experienced over the past year, which might lead some to be concerned about the possibility of Jeter being paid like the player he was in 2009 for the 2011-201X seasons when he's really nothing more than a league average SS.

It's an understandable fear, if you take his 2010 performance at face value and don't think about it too much. The story of Jeter's decline largely revolves around batted balls. Most of his core peripherals (strikeouts, walks, extra-base hits, et cetera) are right in line with what he's done in his career. The problem seems to be his new-found tendency to put the ball on the ground, resulting in a career-low LD%. The problems with batted ball data--primarily that it's subjective--have been well-documented.  But even if the data were bias-free, his batted ball profile changes don't do enough to explain his decline. His career-low .297 BABIP is about 40 points below the expected level according to the Dutton-Carty calculator, meaning he's probably performed a good bit better than his results would indicate. ZiPS agrees with this sentiment, Jeter's .287/.352/.404 rest-of-season projection looks a lot rosier than what he's done thus far in 2010.

The 40 point difference between his BABIP and xBABIP doesn't get you from 2010 Derek Jeter to 2009 Derek Jeter, but when you consider much of 2009's success was built around a most-likely unsustainable .368 BABIP, the gap starts to narrow. Like always, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, and Jeter is neither the 7-win player he was in 2009 nor the merely league average one he's been in 2010. That's not to say he hasn't declined, just that he hasn't declined nearly as much as you'd think by simply examining his slash line.

All of this would be worth a great deal more scrutiny if Derek Jeter played on a team other than the New York Yankees, who a) are good enough that they don't need a 6-win (or even 3-win) SS and b) are wealthy enough to absorb a complete failure of a contract--even an enormous one. If Jeter signs a huge deal (and he probably will) and rapidly withers into a sub-replacement level player (he probably won't), the Yankees will be good enough to be considered strong 2011 contenders, if not World Series favorites, and will not be taking the massive financial hit most teams would be if said situation occurred for them. Considering the free agent market for shortstops isn't particularly strong and the Yankees don't have an elite prospect waiting to take over for him, re-signing Derek Jeter at his price makes all the sense in the world.

That's what the Yankees will most likely do, they'll sign Jeter to another lucrative contract. It will probably be viewed as too long, too much money, and generally too 'risky'. But they have the money to do it, and they'll be an excellent team whether they open the 2011 season with Derek Jeter or Cristian Guzman as their starting SS, so they might as well keep their franchise player. Of all the things that could keep the Yankees from having a successful 2011 campaign, re-signing Derek Jeter is probably not one of them. In fact, it will probably do a lot more good than bad.

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