New York has never had a shortage of sports writers who have predicted the demise of Derek Jeter over the last decade. The sports writers have always been proven wrong. I’m no different. After the 2010 season I was openly declaring that Jeter was done, and that the Yankees should retain his services only until he collected his 3,000th hit, after which it would be time to find a new shortstop. If the Yankees had listened to me (mercifully they didn’t) the team never would have benefited from Derek’s 2012 season.
For those who don’t remember, this past year, at the ripe old age of 38 (that’s about 138 in shortstop years), Derek hit .316/.362/.429. He led all of baseball with 216 hits. He knocked in 15 homers, which may not sound like much, but it was just one dinger behind his career season average of 16. (Important aside: Jeter isn’t thought of as being much of a power hitter, but he’s amassed 255 career home runs to date, the same number as Kirk Gibson, who was known for being a power hitter.) He managed a 117 wRC+ and played in 159 games. All in all Derek put forward the ultimate “I’m not finished yet” season in 2012. It wasn’t on par with his best seasons ever, but it was an incredible, unexpected performance from a player who is now eleventh on the all time hit list, and just 32 hits away from being number six. What comes next?
Jeter will be a Yankee in 2013 and probably 2014 if he exercises his player option. That means in all likelihood he will be on the Yankees through his age 39 and 40 seasons (Alex Rodriguez, if you’re reading, this is how you age). Derek has burned me too many times. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not going to say that he’s done. The man may never be done. He very well may hit .400 next year, but I wouldn’t count on it. We can, however, try to estimate what Derek is likely to do.
Bill James is estimating that Derek will repeat his 2011 season. He is estimating that Derek will hit .298/.359/.400 with 12 homers. That translates to a .332 wOBA. That is certainly plausible. It would represent a decline from Derek, but it would still translate into an amazing output from a shortstop at the end of his career, and it would be better than any wOBA Elvis Andrus has managed in his career to date, and folks seem to think highly of his abilities. Can the estimate be verified?
Baseball Reference argues that Jeter’s career to date, and his performance at his current age, most closely resembles Craig Biggio‘s output through his age 38 season. If that comparison holds true in Derek’s age 39 season he’ll earn his spot on the team. Biggio also had a comeback in his age 38 season. After posting back-to-back sub 100 OPS+ seasons when he was 36 and 37 Biggio pulled off 105 and 104 OPS+ seasons over the next two years. If Jeter has a similar trajectory he’ll have a solid season in 2013, possibly better than Bill James has forecast.
One day Derek Jeter will no longer be the Yankee shortstop. That will be a sad day, and maybe the day when it finally hits me that I’ve followed this player’s career just about as long as I’ve understood baseball. But that day won’t come in 2013 (provided Derek recovers fully from injury). I’m looking forward to Jeter thumbing his nose at all of us who thought he was finished at least once more.