Understanding Jeter

The other argument against Jeter receiving that much money is his “declining performance”. Well, that’s true. He did play worse in 2010 than 2009, but I don’t think anyone expected him to repeat his 7.1 fWAR season. Almost anything is a “declining performance” from that. But Jeter recorded only 2.5 fWAR this past season, and it was his lowest ever, including his rookie season. However, if you look a little deeper, there are reasons to believe Jeter will be better next season with the most obvious being his .307 BABiP, which is almost 50 points below his career norm. In other words, he was highly unfortunate in a season that he couldn’t really afford to have one. 2007 was pretty close to an “average” season for Jeter, and he racked up 3.5 fWAR that season. That also included a nasty -17.9 UZR rating that he hasn’t neared in the past three seasons, and you could make the argument that even a -8 rating would leave him with 4.5 fWAR, which sounds more accurate. At $4.5 million a win, that’s $20.25 million of production, which makes a $23 million asking price less ridiculous. Sure, you can make the argument (which may even be a better one) that he hasn’t done that in 3 of the past 4 seasons and aging may restrict his ability or the degree to which he rebounds, but the same sabermetric principles that scream for Jeter to be tarred and feathered also support a mighty bounce-back.

The number of years also becomes a point of contention because of Jeter’s age. He will be 37 for most of next season, and a six-year contract will make him 42 during that last season, which is ancient in player years. But it’s not unheard of, and if you want to look for exceptions, Hall of Famers who keep themselves in shape are a good place to start. Additionally, Jeter may accept 4 years, which would make him 40 in that last season, and that’s not as much of a stretch (though not one anyone wants to bet on). He’s been extremely durable his entire career with only one season significantly below 150 games played. He may be genetically gifted in this area, and he probably is a better bet than most to last to that age (of course, that still doesn’t make it a good idea, but Jeter can make that argument).

Then there’s the “franchise bonus” for Jeter being Jeter. The argument has been made that it would hurt the Yankee brand by letting Jeter walk, and while it won’t irreparably harm the Yankee brand, it will tarnish it a smidge, though the actual degree is uncertain. It will create some ill will, and the Yankees will sell fewer jerseys as people won’t buy so many Jeter ones and only a big trade would bring someone who would create excitement at that position. I’ll agree that the impact on the Yankee brand won’t be gigantic, but it is non-negligible for the short-term. (My problem here is not that Jeter or anyone else wants to give Jeter more money to Jeter for him being him. Players aren’t equal, and teams value certain players for things like longevity and loyalty. I don’t have a problem with that. My problem is the ambiguity of it. How much does the “franchise bonus” cost? $3 million? $10 million? Intangibles can’t be quantified, but salaries can. And I want to know how much I’m paying for Jeter’s performance and for his “Jeterness”.)

There’s also a somewhat societal issue in these negotiations. When you or I go out for jobs, we’ll get an opening salary, and year-after-year, we expect to receive a pay raise. Call it seniority or inflation, but we get one anyway. Now, this happens in most jobs, and as long as you continue to do your job and there are no recessions that affect your job, you expect to continue to make more money than you did the previous year. Essentially, Jeter is asking for this. All players want this. Sure, a lot of them eventually come to terms with it, and they accept less money. But it’s usually after no one wants them or they have a marked decline in performance that coincides with a younger player outperforming them. It’s easier to accept then. But this isn’t Jeter’s scenario. The most famous baseball organization in the world wants him. He just won a Gold Glove as the best defensive shortstop (let’s leave the actual merits of that for another discussion). And he was the 11th best shortstop (by FanGraphs measure) in the majors, and we all expect somewhat of a bounce-back (4.5 fWAR would put him 3rd and 4 would put him 5th). None of that exactly screams, “You suck and are declining to the point that you need a major pay cut”.

And of course, we have the deadly sin of pride. We love athletes for their competitiveness and for their desire to be the best, but at some arbitrary point, we draw a line where their competitiveness turns into “greed”, “showboating”, or “hot-headedness”. We all have different thresholds for that, but our encouragement of such things is what drives athletes. Jeter likes to compete, likes to win, likes to perform for the fans, and likes to be well-paid for his efforts, and this negotiation is no different. He wants to win and make a lot of money. And he doesn’t want to admit he’s getting older. He’s only 36 for goodness sakes, and he’s got at least 40 more years of life ahead of him. Luckily, this is also about the time when “mid-life crises” hit and people have to come to terms with their age. Everything is no longer in front of you (I am not saying Jeter is having one of these. Personally, I don’t think people really have mind-scaring mid-life crises, but I do think this is about the time when you start thinking about these things, which aren’t the easiest things to grapple with). So, you have a highly-competitive athlete who is reaching middle-age, and there are still plenty of people out there who actually think he should be paid tens of millions. Sounds like a good combination.

I realize that the immediate reaction to Jeter’s demand is nothing short of incredulity. Some people could be willing to argue for 4/80, but 6/150 or 6/125 seems entirely ridiculous. And as an ending point, I’d agree. But that’s not what this is. It’s an opening salvo, and we still have 2 ½ months left to work it out. They’ll come down in asking price, and when it’s all done, we’ll marvel at Close and Jeter for asking for the world and getting the Yankees to offer 4/68 when they really didn’t have to. Or we’ll marvel at how humble Jeter became when he accepted the 3/48 deal—“He finally came to his senses, and not many athletes do that, right?” In a way, Jeter can’t lose. Whichever way this ends, it can be spun to make Jeter look like a Warren Buffett or a St. Paul, but before that rigmarole, Jeter has business to attend to. And he’s going to get his, and I have no problem with that. It is the American Way, after all.

23 thoughts on “Understanding Jeter

  1. Jacob

    I think when highlighting Jeter’s BABIP numbers its important to remember what’s behind them. Everything I’ve read about his BABIP seems to indicate a slower bat and more out of zone swings… things that negate the idea that it was mostly bad luck

    • Mark Smith

      The point of that statement wasn't to prove Jeter would bounce back. It was just to mention that he did suffer a bit of bad luck this past season and should be better next season.

      But you bring up a good point that I'll go ahead and address because you brought it up. From what I've seen, Jeter's xBABiP (expected BABiP) was .341, which was not his career .356 mark but much higher than his .307 from this past season. His O-Swing% of 28 is 6 points higher than normal, and that's probably one of the reasons his xBABiP is lower than his career mark. This could mean he is having trouble with the strike zone, or that he is starting his bat earlier to compensate and is, therefore, swing at bad pitches more often. His run value of 1.6 (down from double digits in previous seasons) seems to indicate the latter. These aren't great signs, and they could indicate the beginning of the end. Or they could be one-year blips. We probably won't know until next season. But we're dealing with right now, and Jeter's people could legitimately argue that he was a little unlucky last year.

  2. I don't see what all this analysis is about.

    IT'S ABOUT LEVERAGE. IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO HE IS OR WHAT HE'S DONE.

    We already offered him more then anyone else will. Now he could just take it or lose it.

    • adam

      As badly worded as this comment is, you're kinda right. I feel a growing sentiment in myself that it doesn't matter what the agent asks for: there's a great post on Fangraph's front page right now about Jeter, comparing this to the Manny fiasco in LA. Boras rejects the offer, and then comes back and takes largely the same offer because nobody else wants to touch anything near that offer. Maybe the Yankees will move the offer up symbolically to protect reputations on both sides, but I'd be shocked to see anything drastically different from 3/$45 at this point.

      • Mark Smith

        My point wasn't to say that Jeter's asking price is justified. The point is that his initial demand wasn't as ridiculous as everyone makes it out to be. Now, the final solution is another story. Yes, I agree that Jeter has little leverage, and Jeter will probably have to take something close to what the Yankees are offering now. But again, that wasn't the point I was trying to make. We seem to be making Jeter out to be a greedy villain who has lost complete touch with reality, but I think that seriously misses what's going on.

        • LarryAtIIATMS

          Exactly.

  3. LarryAtIIATMS

    Mark, you wrote "I feel like everyone has gone overboard in criticizing Jeter’s demands, and frankly assuming that a man and a team of intelligent, well-paid people have gone insane is … well … a little insane."

    THANK YOU!

    If Jeter is only worth $15 MM a year for another three years, so be it. But the idea that the Yanks would not miss Jeter if he goes is … insane.

    The idea that the Yanks have all the leverage is also insane. The Yankees have no one else who could play shortstop at above replacement value. Jeter can retire tomorrow as a millionaire hundreds of times over.

    But the truly insane thing is to think that somehow Jeter and his agent aren't handling this right. Jeter is well represented. His agent knows a lot more about this process than we do. I think I was naive to imagine that this would all fall together neatly and without controversy, but the fact that things have gotten messy does NOT reflect badly on anyone in this negotiation. Jeter is trying to get what he can get in what may be his last contract as a pro ballplayer. The Yankees are trying to save whatever money they can save. Nothing wrong with that, not on either side.

    Yes, there's the thought that Jeter should agree to play for a lower salary, to free up money for the Yankees to use in the pursuit of Cliff Lee and other free agents. That's a nice thought, but life doesn't work that way. If the Yanks are short of cash, then they might approach A-Rod, and Teix, and CC, and A.J., and see if those guys are willing to chip in some of their salaries to aid the cause. I doubt that any such campaign would get the Yankees anywhere, and I similarly doubt that Jeter is going to leave any money on the negotiating table.

    Let's let these negotiations take their course. If Jeter can pry $20MM+ annually out of the Yankees, then good for him. If he can't, then it's his personal decision whether to play for the Yankees for less, or go off and do something else.

    • Mark Smith

      You're welcome. I mean, I agree that his asking price is excessive and not in line with what he'll get, but I don't blame him for asking for it. I think there's a distinct difference between the two, but people seem to put the cart before the horse on these things. History will probably see this episode differently … if it cares at all.

      • Brien@IIATMS

        I don't think there's anything wrong with what Jeter is doing, per se, but it's rather annoying how his agent, or some of his defenders anyway, are transparently talking out of both sides of their mouth. On the one hand he's a class act, winner, only cares about winning, The Captain, etc., who needs to be valued for those intangibles, but on the other hand he's just trying to get every penny the Yankees are willing to pay him, even if it puts a strain on the teams budget and keeps them from upgrading something else in the future. Neither one is "wrong," but obviously they're at least somewhat mutually exclusive.

    • Brien@IIATMS

      "The idea that the Yanks have all the leverage is also insane. The Yankees have no one else who could play shortstop at above replacement value. Jeter can retire tomorrow as a millionaire hundreds of times over."

      Does anyone actually believe this? Sure, Jeter could afford to walk away financially (the Yankees have made him the second highest paid player in the hiistory of baseball after all) but it would basically be like taking a nuclear weapon to his public image and long term legacy. Especially considering he's a lock for 3,000 hits and that the Yankees are still a perennial championship contender, I don't see how anyone would ever be able to argue Jeter didn't care about himself or money more than anything if he actually did that. Especially considering that the Yankees initial offer would make him the highest paid SS in the game. At 37 years old. So yeah, not going to happen.

      On the other hand, why is everyone so worried about who plays shortstop? Putting aside that Nunez probably won't be that much worse than Jeter, especially considering the money, the question of replacing Jeter isn't limited to one position, but to how you upgrade the team as a whole.

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        Brien, a couple of points back. Many athletes have retired early. It didn't hurt Jim Brown's legacy in football that he walked away at his prime. From all I'm reading, I could get the impression that if Jeter retired tomorrow, he'd be retiring a year too late! Athletes more commonly hurt their legacies by waiting too long to retire (thinking of Muhammad Ali). If Jeter retires tomorrow, he's still a lock for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, he'd still have his number retired by the Yankees, and he'd still have his five World Championships. I don't THINK he will retire, but it's not beyond possibility either.

        You're saying that if Jeter turned down $15 million a year and retired, this would prove that all he cares about is himself and money? I don't follow. Presumably we ALL have a right to a year's vacation if we want one and can afford it — nothing says that any of us have to work. And as for turning down money being a sign that money is all one cares about? Don't follow.

        You have to consider marginal as well as absolute value. Jeter's 2.7 fWAR was still third best in the American League for shortstops, and it's probably 2.7 more than Nunez could produce. I don't see any position on the field that the Yankees could afford to upgrade (other than Cliff Lee in place of Javy) where they could add 2.7 wins to the team.

  4. jay_robertson

    Again, agreeing with Brien. Is it that big a stretch to think that the actual on field value of Nunez and Jeter may be closer than you think next year? Factor in an improvement with Nunez (not impossible) and a further decline with Jeter (again, not that far-fetched) and it may be a wash. ESPECIALLY, when one thinks who the Yankees could hire with the 15-18-20 million that would be freed up by not signing Jeter. We could sign Crawford just for the bench – or Werth – or make a run at another pitcher. Any of whom should add enough to offset the potential downgrade from Jeter to Nunez.

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      Jay, from what I've read Nunez is projected as a bottom of the order guy with a shaky glove, at best. More likely he is a utility player. I hope the projections are wrong, because the Yankees need a successor to Jeter at SS, and there does not appear to be such a person in the Yankees' system. Cito Culver maybe, but even optimistically he's 5-6 years away. I love Pena's glove and would love to see him given a chance to start, but he's probably not a major league hitter.

      Crawford or Werth on the bench adds very little value to the team. Try to find me a bench player with any amount of WAR. What you're talking about is Crawford replacing Gardner's WAR (1.5 fWAR upgrade based on the 2010 numbers) or Werth replacing Swisher's WAR (0.9 fWAR upgrade based on the 2010 numbers). Bill James is projecting Jeter's 2011 at numbers that will easily produce 3, possibly 4 WAR. You're not going to make up for Jeter's loss by signing any other single player, other than Cliff Lee.

    • Mark Smith

      Yeah. Larry said something about not being able to find another shortstop in the organization to play above replacement-level. That's not exactly true. Elvis Andrus, maybe Nunez's best case scenario, was worth 1.5 fWAR with little offensive value, and he didn't even get credit for his supposedly stellar defense (0.1 UZR). My guess is that Nunez could get around 1.5 wins next season, which would only be a one-win loss from Jeter, but Jeter should get better, which means they may lose about 2 wins worth from what Jeter could produce. Normally, two wins doesn't matter, but when you talk about the AL East and trying to win the division and Wild Card, two wins does matter. And the Yankees are going to be hard-pressed to find those 2 wins elsewhere.

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        Mark, if Nunez = Andrus, there are folks in Yankees headquarters that would do cartwheels.

        • Mark Smith

          No, that's not what I meant. My bad. I need to clarify. Andrus was worth only 1.5 wins this past season, but for whatever reason, the defensive metrics have him as merely average, though everyone regards him as an excellent defender. The extra defense would give Andrus more like 2.5 wins. Andrus' numbers, as currently constituted without the defensive adjustment, are realistic goals for Nunez. Not exactly a good bat (wOBA of .298–average is usually .333 or so) but average defense. I think that's plausible, and it would only cost the Yankees, maybe, 2 wins while being able to afford other talent. I hope that makes more sense.

  5. jake williams

    couldn’t agree with larry more. if the H steinbrenners insist on cutting

    jeter’s $18.9m salary, i would love to see him take a walk, either to a

    lucrative retirement or taking less money from another team for his

    300th hit just as a way to stick it to the sons of george.

    his demise is wildly exaggerated. the jamesian disciples can hurl their

    acronyms all around but anyone who actually watches the games knows

    what jeter has meant and can still mean … and it isn’t about money …

    the difference of $20m spread over 4 years is chump change for the yankees. there is more at work here.

    • Brien@IIATMS

      Well, that's convincing. Sure, the difference of $23 million between a 3 year, $51 million contract with a $6 million buyout of a 4th year and a 4 year, $80 million contract is nothing. You couldn't possibly find a better way to spend $5 million+ each season if you're the Yankees. It's not like they like to pick up cast offs at the trade deadline for the balance of their contracts and get contributions from them down the stretch each year or anything.

      And seriously, don't come in here and pretend that we don't watch the games. That's ridiculous, and you can't possibly expect anyone to take you seriously with that attitude. I'll guarantee I watched more Yankee games this past season than you. GUARANTEE it. And I'd make the argument that Jeter looked even worse from that aspect than he did from a statistical one.

  6. jake williams

    brien …

    my suggestion would be 4 years at 76m total but the resulting difference still works out to
    about $5m per annum or 2 1/2% of the annual payroll. you think that is going to prevent
    the yankees from making a needed move at the trade deadline?

    by the way, you didn't watch more yankee games than i did last year. as far as jeter looking
    worse from the eyeball test than from a statistical perspective, i agree from an offensive point of
    view. he was twitchier in the batters box and never seemed to relax. i think it's correctable for
    a player with his work ethic and desire to succeed but i respect the opinion that it is strictly a
    function of age and that his decline will be precipitous. no crystal balls around here so we will just
    have to let it play out and see. on the defensive side, however, i think his decline has been sig-
    nificantly exaggerated. his 6 error total in 150 + games is ample evidence that he makes all
    the routine plays and the fact that he registered more assists last year than in 2010 speaks to
    maintaining his range … and noone makes the shortstop pivot any better.
    the emotion of the issue cannot be extracted when assessing what he SHOULD be paid. his
    market value is inarguably less than he is looking for when viewed in levine's words that
    this is strictly a " player transaction ". that is the yankees leverage. jeter is another player,re-
    placeable as they all are and his time has come. as one of the 5 historical yankee icons, however,
    some of us the negotiation in something other than precise business terms. i am unable
    to divorce jeter's history and legacy from his value to me as a fan. obviously the steinbrenners
    can and it's their money so my 2 cents aren't even worth cents.
    i still contend that jeter has the option of walking and i hope his pride prompts him to do it. it's
    a longshot but so were the giants.

    • Brien@IIATMS

      1. $5 million is essentially what it cost them to acquire Kerry Wood. Would they still acquire players regardless? Possibly, but let's not pretend $5 million isn't a good chunk of change, even to the Yankees.

      2. Let's talk offense. I don't know what you mean by "twitchy," but Jeter's problem was pretty obvious last year: lost bat speed. He couldn't catch up to fastballs as well, especially in the zone, and he was cheating a bit, which left him looking silly against good breaking balls and making poor contact more often than not. Obviously that could be "fixed," but just as obvious it could be the beginning of the end for a 37 year old who's never really been a walk machine.

      3. Errors don't tell us anything about a player's defense. Nothing. So long as errors are limited only to balls a player gets to, they will simply be too lacking in context to gauge much of anything. For all we can tell, Jeter simply doesn't get to balls that are "routine" for the average shortstop. At the most, this tells us that Jeter doesn't make mistakes with balls that he does get to, but the biggest issue is range, so this isn't all that useful at all.

      4. The last paragraph or two of this is just a jumble of contradictions that I simply can't make sense of. Jeter means more to you than just what he does on the field, and you presumably think he's the best option for the Yankees, yet you hope that he walks away to hurt the team and make it so that you'll never see baseball again over $2-3 million a season plus another year after he's already made over $200 million in salary alone? I can't imagine that making sense to anyone.

  7. jake williams

    brien …

    i said it was emotional and that is the enemy of " making sense " so i plead guilty to spewing
    " contradictions " . for example, it is my opinion that star players receive far too much money in
    comparison to the journeymen ballplayers, that the impact of any individual position player in
    baseball is far less than in any other major sport. then i turn around and urge the yankees to
    overpay jeter, the player, for his less tangible contributions to the franchise and the city. i am
    paraphrasing from a book i read some years ago but i ask myself … " how in the world do you
    thank a man for a thousand memories?" sentimental??? sure but i place a high value on sentiment.

    turning to the more tangible aspects of our disagreement, errors are far from an accurate barometer of a shortstops worth but i would never contend that they mean " nothing ". there are many flashy types
    who have lapses on routine plays and they can be costly over a season. .. and i repeat that his assist total increased from 2009. not by much but i regard that as a positive. craig calcaterra described jeter
    as a " poor defender ". as an obvious committed fan i would be interested if you agree with me that
    the nature of baseball wouldn't permit a team to flirt with 100 wins if their shortstop was a " poor
    defender ". it's tough to hide a shortstop. hell, the rangers tried to sneak vlad guerrero through a
    game in right field during the recent playoffs and it seemed like every ball hit found him.

    • Brien@IIATMS

      Well, fair enough. An extremely HIGH number of errors is different than a low number of errors, I'll grant that. But as to whether you can win a lot of games with a poor defensive shortstop, l think you certainly can, and I submit that 3 of the 4 National League playoff teams this year got, at the least, below average defensive play from their primary shortstop.

  8. jake williams

    brien …

    i assume rollins is the nl playoff ss that you regard as a defensive plus. do you
    consider jeter, at this stage of his career, a below average fielder ?

    i am on the fence regarding his hitting and agree with your comment that he often
    looked overmatched chasing breaking balls that couldn't be reached with an oar.
    that certainly can stem from a loss of bat speed but he looked more confident in
    september and through the playoffs and how his hitting pans out is , for me, one of
    the more fascinating aspects of the 2011 season.

    in your next to last post, you mentioned " never seeing baseball again ". if that
    referred to me, i will be an avid baseball fan always regardless of how this turns
    out and will be as narrowly occupied for the best 26 weeks of the year as i have always
    been although i am not certain whether my allegiance to the yankees will remain as
    strong as it has always been. that will be a visceral reaction and will have to await spring.

    what did you think of the tulo signing?

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