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Derek Jeter Is Back, If by "Back" You Mean To Last Season

Derek Jeter hit two home runs yesterday. According to Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi, this means all you critics calling for him to be benched, or at least have the damage he’s causing mitigated at the bottom of the order, just got served. The Captain’s not done yet. You all saw what he did yesterday. Eat it, Neyer.

Yeah, such sentiment is probably a bit premature. We can see this from the logic behind it. From Morosi:

The essence of the issue is this: Jeter, at 36, is not what he used to be. But he’s not finished, either. He’s hitting a respectable .276. And as long as he helps his team win — the Yankees are tied for first place, after all — then he should remain right where he is, leading off and playing shortstop and emanating cool.

Batting average? Come on. Most of the criticisms of Jeter were written before Sunday, when his “power display” took his batting numbers from .256/.315/.282 to a more respectable, though not in any sense good, .276/.331/.350. Jeter is giving the offensive production of a defensive specialist, while having Harrison Ford-esque range at his position. That’s not good.

Jeter clearly is “not what he used to be,” but the issue’s essence is that the Yankees are still treating him as though he was. He’s still set up to lead the club in plate appearances and field a crucial defensive position. Unless the Fangraphs guys discover how to factor “cool emanation” into their WAR numbers, there’s no tangible way he’s “helping his team win.”

Morosi also makes the point that “other” stars are off to slow starts.

Look around the majors: Dustin Pedroia and Carl Crawford in Boston; Justin Morneau in Minnesota; Carlos Gonzalez in Colorado; Adam Dunn in Chicago; Dan Uggla in Atlanta; Vladimir Guerrero in Baltimore; Elvis Andrus in Texas; Shin-Soo Choo in Cleveland.

That’s true, but here’s the thing. Jeter’s not off to a slow start. He’s doing almost exactly what he did last season. Here are those guys’ adjusted OPS+ numbers from 2010, excluding Andrus who isn’t an elite hitter yet, (100=average): Pedroia (127), Crawford (134), Morneau (184), Gonzalez (143), Dunn (138), Uggla (130), Guerrero (122), Shin-Soo Choo (148). Jeter (90) has the same OPS+ in 2011 he had in 2010, which is far from his career (118) or his prime (124).

For most of those guys, the catastrophic decline, small sample size and age would suggest their slow starts are an aberration. Morneau, in particular, is still recovering from a traumatic concussion. However, Derek Jeter turns 37 in June and isn’t taking female fertility drugs. We have nearly 800 at bats over two seasons of Jeter demonstrably not being even an average hitter anymore. The Yankees are winning with Jeter playing SS and leading off, but it’s more likely they are winning in spite of him rather than because of him.

Jeter has earned the right to retire a Yankee and not be treated callously, but he also has the responsibility to set aside his ego and volunteer to do what’s best for the team. Even if he stays at shortstop and hits leadoff most days to soothe his psyche, it still makes sense to rest him more in favor of Nunez against right-handed pitching.

Wait, what am I saying? I’m a Red Sox fan. Of course Jeter needs 700 at bats this season. He’s the captain. He’s clutch. The Yankees’ lineup can’t function without that sort of cool emanation. You trying to tell me he’s not a great fielder? Look at all those gold gloves he’s won!

[Photo via Getty]

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