Captain Comeback: Jeter’s Rebound Quiets Critics

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

Lost amid the power explosion in yesterday’s 22-9 victory over the Athletics was another three-hit game by Derek Jeter, which momentarily vaulted the short stop over the .300 mark for the first time since the second game of the season.

Game-by-Game Progression of Derek Jeter’s Batting Rates

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Even though his status as a .300 hitter only lasted for one at bat (he struck out in the ninth to drop back down to .299), simply attaining the mark stands out as a remarkable accomplishment when you consider the depths to which the Yankees’ Captain had sunk. When Jeter went on the disabled list in mid-June with a strained calf, he was hitting a paltry .260./.324/.324. At the time of his sabbatical, there was rampant speculation about a lineup demotion, and even suggestions that the Yankees gradually replace him with Eduardo Nunez. In fact, for some, the countdown to 3,000 hits was more like a clock ticking away on Jeter’s time as a prominent member of the team.

Derek Jeter’s Overall Performance Over Given Periods

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Like any great champion, Jeter has responded to his critics, and maybe even his own doubts, by silencing them with his performance. Since returning to the team on July 4, the future Hall of Famer hasn’t merely improved; he has returned to a level reminiscent of some of his best seasons. In the 43 games since coming off the disabled list, Jeter has posted a line of .358/.411/.480, which has lifted his overall output to a more than respectable .299/.359/.388. As a result, the Yankees’ short stop currently has an OPS+ of 100, which marks his ascent from scrap heap to league average.

Derek Jeter’s 2011 RHP/LHP Splits, by Month (click to enlarge)

Source: baseballmusings.com

Even during the bleakest point of his struggles, Derek Jeter was still performing well against left handers. The emergence of a severe divergence in his splits is what led many to suggest that the short stop’s future might be as a platoon player. However, since returning from the DL, Jeter has also started to hit better against right handers, which is what makes his resurgence all the more encouraging. In fact, over the 43 games played since being activated, the Captain’s line of .325/381/.413 versus right handers isn’t that far removed from his career rates of .305/.374/.440 in that split.

Derek Jeter’s RHP/LHP wOBA Splits, 2002-2011 (click to enlarge)

Source: fangraphs.com

Often presented as an iconoclastic figure, Derek Jeter has responded well to his first casting in the role of underdog. Although it remains to be seen for how long he can maintain his resurgence, it does appear as if the rumors of his sudden demise have been put to rest. If Jeter can maintain only a fraction of his recent success, he could actually wind up being one of the most productive short stops in all of baseball this season. What’s more, he could even come close to justifying the much criticized dollar value of his contract extension. On a pro-rated basis, fangraphs estimates that Jeter will provide $13 million in value, assuming he maintains his season-long rate of production (i.e., his cumulative level, not his current hot streak), which isn’t that far off from his 2011 salary of $15 million. So much for all hemming and hawing during the offseason about how much the Yankees had overpaid Jeter.

With the exception of Wade Boggs, who stated Jeter would go on a run after clearing the 3,000 hit hurdle, no one could have expected the level to which the Yankees short stop has rebounded. However, more surprising than the way he has resurrected his season was the way in which so many were kicking him when he was down. Instead of giving Jeter the benefit of the doubt based on his past success, this vocal minority of fans, analysts, and media members opted to instead throw dirt. Now, they are getting to eat crow. Regardless of how long the meal lasts, Jeter has given baseball fans at least one more look at what has made him one of the best players in the history of the game.