When Derek Jeter announced his impending retirement during a February press conference, the end of a brilliant career began for the legendary New York Yankees shortstop. After an injury-plagued 2013, predicting major success for Jeter in 2014 was a fool's errand.
As the farewell campaign rolls on, it has become abundantly clear that Jeter made the correct decision in choosing to retire sooner rather than later. As his age 40 season becomes more of a league-wide goodbye than an All-Star caliber season, production is becoming an issue for one of the most prolific hitters in baseball history.
Entering play on June 11—despite a two-hit night in Seattle on June 10—the 3,000-plus hit man was sporting a .259/.319/.310 slash line. While health has not been an issue, everything else has been for the .311 career hitter. With a .629 OPS, Jeter's OPS+ sat at just 76. In other words, the Yankee captain has performed 24 percent below league average.
For a player who has spent nearly two decades hovering well over the top of average performers, the drop off in production has stirred possible debate around his standing at the top of the order. For now, manager Joe Girardi is not willing to make a story out of Jeter's struggles or point blame at his shortstop, per Brendan Kuty of NJ.com.
"So you can look at Derek from the No. 2 slot and we have a lot of guys that are struggling," Girardi said. "Maybe because of his name he's going to be the focus a little bit. Sometimes more than other guys. But we've got a lot of guys struggling."
Despite a show of support from New York's manager, the numbers and eye test—both offensively and defensively—do not lie when it comes to the future first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee.
Dating back to the start of the 2013 season, Jeter's OPS+ sits at 70. At first glance, it's almost impossible to believe that a player that once owned a 124 OPS+ over a 12-year span could devolve into such a poor offensive player.
While that sterling mark from 1998-2009 was higher than the career outputs of Carlos Beltran, Ernie Banks or Harold Baines, the new low mark is worse than what fringe major leaguers like Washington's Kevin Frandsen, Seattle's Endy Chavez and Arizona's Cliff Pennington have produced over the last two years, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).
At .319, Jeter's on-base percentage actually ranks in the top half of qualified shortstops this season, per MLB.com. Slugging percentage, however, has become a major problem for Jeter. Although the 20-year veteran has never been known as a power hitter, the lack of extra-base power emanating from his bat now is alarming.
Since his debut season in 1995, only 12 full shortstop campaigns have been recorded in which a player posted a slugging percentage worse than the mark Jeter brought into Wednesday night.
When a shortstop with 257 home runs is in the same offensive conversation as Desi Relaford and Rey Ordonez, something has gone wrong.
|Worst Offensive Seasons from Shortstops (1995-2013)|
|Mike Caruso||1999||White Sox||.297|
As you would imagine, Jeter's ISO (isolated slugging percentage) is not pretty. With a 0.51 mark, Jeter ranks last in baseball in the measure of raw power, behind meek hitters like Philadelphia's Ben Revere and Kansas City's Nori Aoki.
Interestingly, names like Joe Mauer and J.J. Hardy also occupy the following chart of powerless hitters in 2014. For these accomplished performers, misery breeds company during the early portion of the season.
|Power Outage: Worse ISO Marks in 2014|
|Adam Eaton||White Sox||.074|
Of course, those players are not on the verge of retirement or lacking in almost every other area of the game at this point in their respective careers. In his current incarnation, Jeter's entire value is tied to offense, specifically batting average and on-base percentage. If a .315 batting average was currently attached to Jeter's ledger, the narrative would be different.
When Jeter's in the field, narratives are always at play.
For anyone who has watched Jeter closely over the years, his defense has always been a heated subject of debate. Despite five career Gold Glove awards—including back-to-back-to-back honors from 2004-2006—Jeter's defensive prowess has been good, at best.
In reality, words like "instinctual," "fundamental" and "sure-handed" have been used to mask phrases like "lack of range" and "liability" over the last 20 years. As expected, Jeter has not added range or agility in 2014.
While he is clearly healthy and moving better than at anytime since the middle of the 2012 season, New York's captain has not been saving runs for the Yankees pitching staff.
Despite the struggles, baseball cannot get enough of Jeter. From gifts presented at every ballpark to standing ovations to league-leading votes for an All-Star Game start, per MLB PR, the face of baseball is being rewarded for two decades of greatness.
Yet, that greatness is rooted in the past. In the present, Jeter has been a below average player and is on the verge of becoming a liability for a team hoping to catch the Blue Jays atop the division. Special players deserve to go out on their own terms, but both Jeter and the Yankees have to be happy that this decision was made before the season began.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs and ESPN, unless otherwise noted, and valid entering play on June 11. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections via MLB Depth Charts.
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