The perception coming into the season regarding Derek Jeter was that he was in the decline phase of his career, and that we could not expect him to return to his 2007 numbers. On many occasions, I pointed out that the tales of Jeter’s decline were a mirage created by his great 2006. The brilliance of that season made it look like 2007 and then 2008 represented a downward trend. In reality, 2007 was right in line with Derek’s numbers from 2002-2005, and 2008 was marred by a hand injury that led to one putrid month. There was no downward trend for Derek, just one difficult season. It seems that Derek has left that season behind, as he is having a strong year to date in 2009.
Jeter being the third most valuable SS in the AL through this point in the season is good for business, but not as good for business as it would be if he were first. Realistically, odds are Bartlett and Scutaro are playing over their heads and will regress towards their established talent level. If Jeter can keep up his defense (big if, I know) then he’s probably going to end up as the best SS in the AL.
Jeter is also excelling in facets of the game that had become less a part of his game in recent years. From Joel Sherman:
Jeter is seeing 4.01 pitches per plate appearance. He has not seen four pitches per plate appearance in any season. His career-high was 3.88 in 1997. He is on pace for 61 extra-base hits, which would be his third highest total ever and his highest since 2004. He also is on pace for 32 steals or six more than the past two years combined.
So what is the difference between this year and last? Tyler Kepner
Jeter turns 35 next month, but he is looking spry, unburdened by the leg problems that limited him last season, when he missed six games in April because of strained left quadriceps. Jeter has been running more, with 10 steals in 11 tries, and he is part of a defense that has not committed an error in a club-record 14 consecutive games. Jeter has also hit in his last 11 games, his longest streak of the season.
“He just won’t buy into the fact that he’s getting older,” Girardi said. “He wants to play at a high level as long as he plays.”
As Kepner states, Jeter looks a lot lighter on his feet than he did last season, particularly in the field. While he was not awful defensively last season, he actually looks even better thus far and should be about league average defensively for the season. With the way Derek is hitting right now, that would pretty much guarantee him being the best SS in the AL.