Are the Yankees Actually Better off Without Derek Jeter Down the Stretch?

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor ISeptember 12, 2013

The news in USA Today of Derek Jeter's season-ending ankle injury didn't come as a big surprise to those around the team this season. After 17 largely ineffective games, the Yankee captain is shutting down his attempt to rejoin the team as they chase an American League wild card berth.

During a session with the media prior to Wednesday evening's Yankees-Orioles tilt, Jeter expressed frustration at how his season has progressed, and, ultimately, ended.

"The entire year has been pretty much a nightmare for me physically," Jeter said. "It's kind of fitting it ends like this, I guess."

If this piece was written in any other season of Jeter's storied career, the blow, both in production and leadership, would be overwhelming for the Yankees to overcome.

Yet, in 2013, it's hard to make a case that the Yankees will miss this version of Derek Jeter on the field.

In fact, after watching him limp around the second-base bag and look like a shell of himself at the plate this summer, the Yankees are in better shape without him on the field during the final two weeks of the season.

Considering that we're talking about a player with 3,316 career hits and MVP votes as recently as 2012, the fall from grace has been stark.

In 17 games, almost all of which Jeter was dealing with the aftereffects of last October's ankle fracture, the career .312/.381/.446 hitter posted a .190/.288/.254 slash line. As the Yankees offense took off after trades and injury comebacks, Jeter's failing body didn't allow him the opportunity to truly join the party.

As bad as it has been on offense, Jeter's defense, never truly his strength to begin with, was hard to watch over the last month. Range isn't supposed to be an attribute for 39-year-old shortstops, but Jeter's inability to even move around the infield to complete double-play ground balls was becoming an issue in New York.

With every at-bat and defensive play, fear of another injury loomed over the captain.

While no one will confuse his immediate replacements (Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez) with the best of Derek Jeter, they both can provide more to manager Joe Girardi's lineup over the next two weeks.

Nunez, in the midst of a disappointing campaign that could have served as an audition for Jeter's spot in 2014 and beyond, owns a .666 OPS heading into play on Thursday evening. That mark is good enough for an OPS-plus mark of 82, which, although below average in context of the 2013 season, is still better than what Jeter was providing.

Ryan, the recently acquired defensive wizard, will see playing time behind the ground ball artists on New York's staff. Although he's a well below average career hitter, his defense has rated as among the best in baseball for years.

Ironically, considering that they are now teammates, the defensive prowess of both Ryan and Jeter were chronicled side-by-side in a recent Grantland piece by Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh.

Jeter is destined for Cooperstown, a Yankee legend and one of, if not the, greatest shortstop of all time, but for the next two weeks, New York is better off with a combination of Nunez's offense and Ryan's defense.

As for Jeter's role as a spectator down the stretch of 2013?

"I'll grab some pom poms and root for my teammates. I've had pom poms for a lot of this season already."

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