It’s hard to imagine that a 39-year-old shortstop entering the season with tremendous leg issues and a poor history of defense could be anything more than a liability on the Yankees. As Derek Jeter plays the last season of his career, not many expected more from him than to draw in fans hoping to see him play one last time. Projection systems like ZiPS had Jeter hitting just .263/.329/.356 on the season, which would be his worst full-season of his career. Considering his age, extent of injuries, and missed playing time, that wasn’t entirely out of the question.
Thus far, Jeter is batting .298/.385/.351 with eleven strikeouts and seven walks. It’s early in the season, but Jeter’s offense looks to be in line with his career numbers. While his .370 BABIP remains high, his career BABIP is .353, which is due to a high number of line drives and ground balls. Jeter also hits to all fields, which helps him avoid shifts and place the ball. Jeter’s batted ball rates are perfectly in line with his career, as he owns a 21.7 LD% (career 20.3%), 60.9 GB% (career 58.1%), and a 17.4 FB% (career 21.6%). His batting average on these hits is .286 on ground balls (career .257), .250 on fly balls (career .293), and .700 on line drives (career .740).
Perhaps he’s been a little lucky with ground balls, especially considering his diminished speed, but he’s also gained an advantage with a new leadoff hitter. By batting Jeter second in the order behind Jacoby Ellsbury, when the leadoff hitter gets on base, the first baseman is forced to hold the speedster on first, and the second baseman to cover second base in the event of a stolen base. This opens up the right side of the field for Jeter and his opposite field ground balls.
Jeter’s power has not shown up yet, though we’ve seen the wind rob him of a couple of home runs so far. When the weather heats up, it’s likely that Jeter will get a hold of at least a few pitches. At the moment though, it appears that Jeter is much more concerned with getting on base, and at a .385 clip, he’s succeeding. Out of the shortstop position, even a .385 OBP with no power can be appreciated.
Jeter’s defense is also becoming a minor concern. Anyone that’s watched games can see that Jeter has lost a step with his range. Jeter seems to end up on the dirt for a huge chunk of ground balls hit to him. Despite this, his strong arm prevents him from costing the Yankees too many hits. Though I’m not a fan of UZR, especially at this point in the season, the stat currently has Jeter at -0.2 runs lost through his range. DRS isn’t far behind with -1 runs. I wouldn’t put much stock into these numbers, however it does prove that the Yankees’ new shifts have at least helped Jeter from giving up too many ground ball singles in the first 3 weeks of the season.
It’s still early, but Jeter’s offense is right in line with his career, and that could be a nice boost to Yankee fans that expected a major decline. His defense also seems to benefit through the Yankees’ new shifts, and although he isn’t going to flash the leather too often, he’ll at least adequately prevent hits for his ground ball pitching staff. It now looks entirely possible that in his age 40 season, Jeter is still one of the best shortstops in the American League.