While there is always the small possibility that Jeter doesn’t return in 2011, I think we can all agree it’s on the unlikely side. How unlikely I’m sure we’ll disagree on, but we can probably find common ground in the unlikelihood of a Jeter-less 2011 in the Bronx. How Jeter performs in 2011, though, is obviously a mystery.
In 2008, it looked like the beginning of the end was coming. Aside from his cup of coffee in 1995, 2008 saw Jeter with his worst ever wOBA to that point (.343), second lowest walk rate (7.8%), and lowest IsoP (.107). It was later revealed that Jeter was playing through a hand injury and that was what sapped him of his power. Still, though, we wondered if decline was coming. 2009, though, seemed to erase those doubts.
During that campaign, Jeter put up his fourth highest (.390) wOBA and his .131 IsoP was more in line with hsi career averages. Maybe Derek would be able to keep defying time at the shortstop position.
2010, however, gave us a bit of a reality check. Everything important–AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS/wOBA/wRC+/IsoP–was a career worst for Jeter. We’ve heard no news of an injury, so this seems to be all on Jeter. The only thing Jeter “had” this year was “mid-to-late-thirties-shortstop-itis”. Guys with that tend not to have good seasons.
With a down-up-down swing like that, how can we even come close to predicting what he’s going to do in 2011, which will be his age 37 season?
First, let’s look at his comparable players through age 36 on B-R and see where they were at age 37. Let’s use wOBA as our baseline here.
Roberto Alomar: No age 37 season.
Craig Biggio (2003): .337 in 717 PAs
Frankie Frisch (1936): .325 in 348 PAs
Ted Simmons (1987): .319 in 200 PAs
Robin Yount (1993): .316 in 514 PAs
Charlie Gehringer (1940): .409 in 629 PAs
Johnny Damon: No age 37 season yet.
Cal Ripken (1998): .320 in 659 PAs
Alan Trammell (1995): .312 in 255 PAs
Pete Rose (1978): .351 in 729 PAs
There’s a pretty wide range of values there, but most fall in the .315-.330 range. So, if we go on the comparable players, we can expect Jeter to again be right around league average, or maybe a little worse in 2011. This isn’t a perfectly scientific comparison, though, since these guys all weren’t playing shortstop and some of them were apparently injured during those seasons. Taking a more scientific approach, let’s look at the Bill James projection for Jeter, which is up on FanGraphs.
Long story short, James–whose projections are usually on the optimistic side–peg Jeter at .295/.340/.370 in 703 PAs. That averages out to a .344 wOBA and a 115 wRC+, both of which are pretty much in line with his 2008 season. As un-Jeterian as that seems, I’d sign up for that line in a cocaine heartbeat. Doing some rough calculations…assuming a .327 league wOBA and -5 defense from Jeter (roughly his average UZR/150), that makes Jeter a 2.65 fWAR player in 2011.
That’s not all that great, considering he’s averaged higher than that in his career. However, I’d take that from a 37 year old short stop any day.
Like James, I see a relatively modest offensive rebound for Jeter. If he can do what James said–or even duplicate 2008–I’ll be happy with Jeter in 2011. If, like in 2009, he can rebound from a down year and have a near career year again, well that would just be gravy. We should, however, temper our expectations for Jeter. After all, not many 37 year old shortstops hit an upswing a the plate.