New York Yankees' Derek Jeter: End of an Era or Pause in Greatness?

Shaun TobackCorrespondent IApril 22, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 15:  Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees flies out in the third inning against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium on April 15, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

I’m not a sabermetrics guy.

Instead of numbers and formulas, I prefer to rely on what I glimpse with my own two eyes, and judge what I see not with a calculator but with instincts that have been honed through a lifetime of watching baseball.

For the last year, sabermetrics supporters and analysts have been saying that Derek Jeter is done.

I have not believed them.

When I looked at Jeter I saw the same thing everyone else did; an aging shortstop with diminished range and offensive production that was rapidly declining from Hall-of-Fame level to simply average.

But I gave Jeter the benefit of the doubt. If anyone has ever deserved it, it is the Yankee Captain. The goodwill and respect that Jeter has earned in his professional career are not things that are easily erased. His accomplishments can never be taken from him, and have certainly earned him a lifetime pass among baseball fans.

I explained away Jeter’s subpar 2010 season as the simple result of a player entering a different phase of his career who was having trouble with the adjustment. He wasn’t done by any means—he just needed to alter his game.

For the pro’s pro, this would be no problem. His struggles in 2010 would be quickly forgotten once things got back on the right track.

Or so I thought.

Watching Jeter in 2011, I fear my hypothesis on his recent shortcomings is not looking so good.

I am unfazed.

Baseball is a game of ebbs and flows. Slumps are commonplace, even for the game’s best. Although Jeter has continued to struggle this season, it is important to remember that the current MLB season has given us only the smallest of sample sizes. There is ample time for Jeter to right the ship.

And I remain optimistic that he will be able to do just that.

Although Jeter has clearly been frustrated with his bat speed and lack of success at the plate, his work ethic is unparalleled. There is no doubt that he is putting in the work necessary to bring his game back to an acceptable level.

After all, if David Ortiz can hang on and remain productive in the autumn of his career, it is only logical that Jeter can do it too. Especially considering that Big Papi is nowhere near the athlete Jeter is, nor does he posses the legendary drive of Mr. November.

Some will argue that baseball players, even legendary ones, tend to drop off and drop off quickly in their professional golden years. Once you lose that extra step, that half-second of bat speed, you become a dinosaur simply waiting for extinction.

While this is generally true, I still cannot believe that Jeter has fallen to this level quite yet. He is in the midst of a slump, that much is undeniable. And that slump has come at the worst possible time following his 2010 struggles.

But Jeter still has something left in the tank—I’d be willing to wager on it.

Although he has not been good in 2011, the reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. He isn’t Mickey Mantle playing first base just yet. He isn’t even Lance Berkman playing first.

Jeter will pick it up. He probably won’t get to a batting average north of .300 again, and he probably won’t be an 80 RBI guy either.

However a declining Jeter, taken over the course of an entire season, is still a pretty darn good player.

Last year, Jeter was often and publicly maligned for his efforts.

But he still hit .270 with a 179 hits, 67 RBI and a .710 OPS. As I said, I’m not a huge numbers guy, but there are a lot of teams who would take that kind of production from their shortstop, especially if they came with Jeter’s leadership and intangibles.

Like for instance, basically any National League team located outside of Philadelphia or Florida.

For Derek Jeter, last year was a regression. For most players, it would be considered a productive campaign.

I still believe that Jeter isn’t done yet. The great ones always seem to have a trick or two up their sleeve before the end comes, and he is one of the greatest. He is out of his prime, to be sure. But primes don’t last forever. Just because he has peaked doesn’t mean he is totally out of gas.

For Derek Jeter this slump, like many others in his career, will pass. It just happens that because of his age and decreased defensive range, this slump is more widely discussed and panicked over than others.

Once Jeter shakes off his early-season struggles, he will be productive once again, albeit at a lower level than ever before. But productive nonetheless.

For the Yankees, who don’t have any realistically appealing options to replace Jeter at shortstop, the best move is to ride out the storm while standing behind the man who has supported the franchise for his entire career.

It’s not as if New York, flush with talent as always, can’t absorb a few bad weeks from a normally productive player. The Yankees have the talent and flexibility to give Jeter the credit he deserves, and hope that he can work through this rough patch.

To count Jeter out completely is a mistake. He has proven too many times that he is a player who will bare his teeth and rip your heart out if you doubt him.

Slump or no slump, he is still that player.