When Brian Cashman made the move to sign Jacoby Ellsbury to an exorbitant contract and re-sign Brett Gardner for the next five seasons, the Yankees knew that they’d need to get power from their infield. The hope was that they’d receive above average power from right field, first base, catcher, and the designated hitter, but outside of Brian McCann, the Yankees took a gamble that Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Alfonso Soriano could withstand age-related regression and stay on the field. That gamble has flopped.
A stronger and more reliable offense would have more power options around the infield, but all three of Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, and Jeter have shown very few signs of life with the bats. If not for Yangervis Solarte‘s breakout season, it’s hard to imagine where this team would be.
There’s a lot of blame to be spread around the offense, but the biggest problem with this team is a lack of production out of the third base, shortstop, and second base spot. As I mentioned, Solarte has been the only player hitting, which means that the other two spots he doesn’t play daily provide black holes of offense and defense nearly every game. With Teixeira out of the lineup, there are three black holes. And with Soriano struggling and Beltran on the disabled list, there are arguably five black holes.
Despite being the best hitter of the three, Kelly Johnson has received the shortest leash. As I mentioned on Tuesday, not only have the Yankees asked him to play out of position all year long, but they’ve asked him to play sporadically while they place an inferior player at second base. Brian Roberts continues to receive playing time, and he’s arguably been the Yankees’ second worst position player. Roberts hasn’t been good in five years, he’s a huge injury risk, and yet he’s started 45 of the Yankees 58 games compared to Johnson’s 34 starts.
And yet Derek Jeter, who’s now hitting .259/.320/.308 over 222 plate appearances, has now started in 49 of the Yankees’ 58 games. His OPS+ is an abysmal 77, his wRC+ is 76, his offensive WAR is -6.1, and no one can convince me that his defense has been any good. With all the shifts that the Yankees have done, UZR (-2.6) and DRS (-3) say that Jeter is now only slightly below average range-wise, but both stats do a poor job of dealing with shifts. By the eye test, Jeter has cost the Yankees many more runs, especially over defensive-wiz Brendan Ryan.
At both fielding and hitting, Jeter has been awful. The only reason that he’s started 49 games is because he brings fans to the ballpark. His line drive rates are down, his walk rates are down, fly ball rates are up, and strike outs rates are up, and yet he continues to not only play, but receive the second most at bats on the team by batting second in the order.
I have a lot of respect for Jeter, personally, and honestly can’t remember baseball without him, but I have gone beyond accepting his retirement, I’m looking forward to it. Though fans are willing to dish out money to see him play his last season in the Bronx, at what point will they stop paying to see a losing team?
As I mentioned, the Yankees’ poor performance isn’t all Jeter’s fault, but he’s indeed one of the factors that are hurting this team. At least Brendan Ryan can field, and Solarte didn’t look terrible at shortstop when he handled the spot, so it’s not like Jeter is Girardi’s only option at shortstop. Less playing time probably won’t happen for an organization trying to fill seats on his retirement, but moving him out of the second spot in the lineup would at least being to limit his at bats.