2012 has been quite a year for major league shortstops. Jose Reyes has mesmerized crowds with his blazing speed, wreaking havoc on the basepaths. Asdrubal Cabrera is continuing his ascent to the top of the MLB shortstop ranks, and Ian Desmond is showcasing his powerful stroke for all to see in D.C.
Elvis Andrus and Jhonny Peralta have powered their respective clubs into contention in the AL West and AL Central respectively, and second-year stud Starlin Castro has given life to the punch-less Chicago Cubs. Particularly in the power department, shortstops are showing their brawn, as three players currently have 14 or more homers.
Yet in 2012, the gold standard at the shortstop position remains Derek Jeter, who in his 17th major league season is still batting atop the Yankees potent lineup and hitting over .300. Jeter is one of the most valuable shortstops in baseball and one of the best team leaders in the sporting world, and he continues to lead all shortstops in batting average.
Derek Jeter may not be hitting for much power, but that has never been the Kalamazoo, Michigan native’s forte. The future Hall of Famer is playing very effectively relative to the league—much more so than the average shortstop. Jeter’s offensive wins above replacement (WAR) of 2.3 is good for No. 6 among MLB shortstops, and his .765 OPS is No. 5.
Some pundits wonder about Jeter’s decline due to his his lackluster hitting against right-handed pitching. He's more than making up for it against lefties, however. Jeter is wearing at southpaws, hitting .369, good for No. 7 in the majors among batters with at least 100 plate appearances.
Overall, Jeter has the second-highest on-base percentage of any SS in baseball, and enters Friday with the third-most hits in all of baseball. For as great of a year as teammate Robinson Cano is having, Cano is not getting on base at that much better a clip than Jeter.
Jeter is held to a higher standard, and always has been since his arrival in the Bronx in 1995. He's the most recognizable player in all of baseball and its greatest ambassador. He has the resume to justify those distinctions.
With that territory comes high expectations.
Jeter has declined from where he was in the prime of his career, but it’s hardly been the precipitous drop that some players experience. Jeter’s down season of 2010 sparked the disbelievers and pundits to proclaim his career all but over.
Hardly. The Captain has rebounded with above-average seasons in 2011 and so far in 2012.
Then there's Jeter’s clubhouse presence and leadership, which count for a lot at the big league level. Last season, when Jeter was being written off as finished, some were wondering if it was time to give Eduardo Nunez more time at shortstop. That’s hard to believe now, given Jeter’s success and that Eduardo Nunez is toiling in the minor leagues.
And all the shortstops around baseball that were supposedly passing him by? Well there aren't as many as people think. The list this season goes something like: Asdrubal Cabrera and maybe Ian Desmond. That’s it. Even Hanley Ramirez, who is back playing shortstop for the Dodgers, is having a real down year by his standards.
For all the talk in recent years about how terrible Jeter's defense is, it remains exceptionally difficult to determine whether his defense has cost his team outs, or even tougher, wins. There are now more efficient ways to quantify fielding contributions, and many talent evaluators have pointed out his particular inability to range to his left for ground balls hit toward the middle.
To the eye, it’s absolutely evident that Jeter hasn't gotten to certain ground balls. If you follow sabermetric statistics like Range Factor and defensive WAR, they prove that to be true. Jeter, however, has the knack of making every play that he should. He’s only committed eight errors on the season.
The comfort—even after 17 seasons—of trotting Jeter out to the middle of the infield each day is that he's going to make virtually all of the routine plays. There is undeniable value in possessing that skill. Just ask rising star Starlin Castro, who has more than double the number of errors Jeter has. Even Asdrubal Cabrera has 15 errors, seven more than Jeter.
Jeter has indeed entered the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. He's winding down in years and he's not the player he once was. Yet he still remains at the top of a lineup which leads baseball in OPS and home runs.
Jeter is an all-time great who is hitting right at his career batting average and proving that a hard work ethic, unwavering dedication and focus are still the hallmarks of complementing great talent. Jeter will ride off into the sunset sometime in the next couple of years.
For now, his twilight is still bright enough for the Yankees to make another run at a World Series title.