Did you hear the news? No, how is that possible? Well, cool your jets, it isn't the end of the world, but I wouldn't discount some Yankees fans seeing the situation that way. According to report, it seems as though Derek Jeter will remain on the disabled list until at least the All-Star break and most likely not return until after that time.
Last October, Jeter succumbed to a broken ankle during a playoff game between the Yankees and the eventual American League Champion Detroit Tigers. He broke his ankle, and apparently it hasn't been the same since. After numerous reports that Jeter would play come opening day, but as that fateful day approached, the Yankees placed Jeter on the 15-day disabled list.
So, the captain began the season on the disabled list, but as Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote, the news surrounding his wounded ankle spoke to progress.
"After all, Jeter pledged to be back Opening Day, then the clock was reset for May 1 and as recently as two days ago Joe Girardi described the shortstop's reduced rehab workload as not a setback."
Unfortunately for the Bronx Bombers, Jeter, the unstoppable captain, will join teammate Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list until at least middle of July. Although Jeter, Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Texiera have yet to play in a single game this season, the Yankees head into Sunday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays with a 10-6 record, second in the American League East.
Following the plethora of injuries to key players, analysts and pundits began to predict a playoff-less season for the Yankees, an unthinkable situation for Yankees fans. Brian Cashman made some minor touchups to the Yankees roster, bringing in Vernon Wells, Brennan Boesch, and Lyle Overbay, and those three have performed as well as could be expected. Still, the loss of Jeter until July hurts, but the question that remains concerns the severity of that pain.
Going into the 2013 season, ZIPS projections for Jeter showed regression in a number of categories, including games played. Zips projected Jeter to play in 120 games, collect 139 hits, score 69 runs, put up a .311 wOBA, and compile 1.7 fWins. Steamer projections showed similar marks: 124 games played, 146 hits, 70 runs, .323 wOBA, and 1.9 fWins.
Compare those stats to what Jeter amassed in 2012. In 2012, at 38 years young, Jeter played in 159 games, and posted 216 hits, 99 runs, a .347 wOBA, and 3.1 fWins. Projection systems showed far less production from the Yankees shortstop than in 2012, but Jeter outplayed his projections in 2012, so what is to say a healthy DJ doesn't do the same in 2013.
In that vane, it's important to take a look at any trends throughout Jeter's career that might point towards significant regression or that shows bad habits. Over the last 4-6 seasons Jeter's BB% and K% are both down from his earlier career numbers. His BABIP remains high, which makes sense given Jeter's ability to make contact on almost every pitch he sees. His base running statistics are not as impressive over the last few seasons, but as is true for almost every player who has ever laced up spiked and taken the field, with age comes diminished speed. On the other hand, despite being slower, Jeter's base running metrics show that he continues to have solid base running acumen, leading to fewer mental mistakes while running the bases. Jeter's contact percentage, overall, in the strike zone, and out of the strike zone have been fairly constant throughout the second half of his career, but his GB/FB ratio has risen.
Jeter has more recently begun to hit the ball on the ground much more, especially in comparison to how many balls he hits in the air. Some of this can be due to a decrease in bat speed, which causes him to square balls up less often. He attempts to make up for his attrition in bat speed by just making contact, hoping to reach base safely by merely getting the ball in play, but this does lead to topping the ball more often, resulting in more ground balls.
If you look at the two spray charts below, you'll notice that from 2009 to 2011, Jeter saw most of his hits go towards right-center field. He doesn't hit many home runs, but you see a bit more doubles-power to left field, and few infield hits. Next look at the second spray chart that covers most of the 2011 season and all of 2012. In it, you should notice an increase in infield hits, especially towards the left side of the infield, and a slight decrease in hits to the warning track. One thing that remains the same is Jeter's incredible ability to hit singles, and some doubles, to right field, center field, and right-center field. This is a skill that I don't predict Jeter to lose, repaired ankle or not.
"And we now have to accept the possibility Jeter will never again be an everyday even above-average shortstop. Again, the position demands a quick-twitch skill that recurrent injuries to that left ankle may not allow."
Ankle injuries like Jeter's, combined with advanced age, rarely allow for the ability to play one of the most demanding positions on the field at a high level. So, where might DJ play upon his return? Third base could work, right? Well, Jeter has never had a cannon at shortstop, and over the years his arm has diminished to the point that it can no longer make up for his lack of range. While he might play the field deftly at the hot corner, I worry about his ability to make the deep, quick, often flatfooted throws needed from an everyday third baseman. Maybe second base? Second base is often a natural option for aged shortstops, but the Yankees have the best second baseman in baseball in Robinson Cano currently occupying the right side. Cano is set for free agency after 2013, but all signs point towards the Yankees resigning him.
So, that leaves left field, designate hitter, and a return to shortstop. While moving Jeter to left field would constitute the most creative solution, it also has little chance of working. Jeter's lack of range, and subpar arm immediately make him a poor candidate for any outfield position. Obviously Jeter could play DH, but it would mean that Alex Rodriguez, when healthy, would need to play third base. Sure, Jeter might get a rest every so often, allowing A-Rod the chance to DH, but for the most part, Jeter's move to DH would force Rodriguez to man the hot corner. If, and it's a big IF, Rodriguez can remain healthy and able at third, moving Jeter to DH makes sense, and should prove fruitful for the Bronx Bombers.
Will Jeter make a miraculous comeback? Probably not given the combination of the severity of the injury, the location of the injury, and his ever-increasing age. Still, once Jeter fully recovers, it would behoove the Yankees to return him to the lineup, but not at his natural shortstop, instead in a role better suited for his remaining skillset. The latest injury to the Yankee's captain will hurt the team during his time on the DL, but it is more important for the Yankees to have as healthy a Jeter as possible.
The 2014 free agent class doesn't sport any big names in the shortstop section, but given priorities elsewhere, the Yankees might be best served by finding a solid player that excels in some way. Brendan Ryan, the current Mariners shortstop is the antithesis of Jeter in the field, meaning he is outstanding. Were the Yankees to sign Ryan, it would sure up the left side of the infield defensively, and allow Jeter to move to DH. Until then, the Yankees will either need to find an option via trade, or continue to put Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez in the lineup. Combined those two have -0.3 fWins, meaning they have performed about as well as a replacement level player. The message remains clear: Heal quickly Derek, your team needs you.