After a grisly sweep at the hands of the White Sox cut the Yankees’ AL East to just 2.5 games over the sizzling Rays, the Bombers got back some breathing room by taking two of three from the Indians. Despite the series win, the Yankees continue to display frightening levels of incompetence at the plate. In three games against Cleveland and their 4.77 team ERA (third-worst in the MLB), the Yanks managed a total of eight runs. Let’s go game-by-game.
All posts for the day August 27th, 2012
Posted by jfs360 on August 27, 2012
Most of you by now have either seen or read about ESPN Bobble Head Commenter Skip Bayless saying Derek Jeter’s recent hitting surge should raise eyebrows about The Captain possibly using synthetic testosterone (if not, click here). The outraged fan reaction response is fairly played out (a quick Google search reveals), and honestly the backlash has been overblown simply because of how much people hate Skip Bayless. I hate Skip as much as the next sane person, but sadly, suspicion about Jeter is an expected backlash after a decade-long parade of baseball stars going down in scandal.
What’s really unfortunate is that Skip’s comments and the resulting firestorm is obscuring just how good Jeter’s year has been. The story is not that Jeter’s honor was impugned — it’s that 18 months after appearing worn out, Jeter has put up the best offensive numbers by a 38-year-old shortstop in 60 years and become the Yankees’ best hitter this season.
Let’s wind the clocks back 18 months. Jeter, then 36, was in the first year of a new three-year contract (with an option for a fourth year). A dispute with the Yankees during contract negotiations in the offseason made it to the press, which frustrated the notoriously private Yankee shortstop. The acrimonious deal talks were largely due to Jeter’s paltry production in 2010 — he hit just .270/.340/.370, and his OPS+ of 90 was by far the worst of his career for any full season.
The 2011 season started just as poorly for Jeter, who appeared inept and run-down at the plate as he sputtered towards 3,000 career hits. In June, when Jeter was forced to the disabled leg with an injured right calf with 2,994 career hits, his splits were just .260/.324/.324. But Jeter was about to experience a remarkable turnaround** spearheaded by a historic July day at Yankee Stadium
**For what it’s worth, this point in time right here — Jeter’s three-week DL stint last June — is likely where the Captain begins using PEDs in Bayless’ asinine alternate universe. To me, it’s much more likely that Jeter used the time off to recuperate his ailing legs and fix the calf issue that was limiting his ability to stay back on the ball and drive it the other way. It was only the second significant injury of Jeter’s career, and the time off had to have helped him, along with the consistently good advice of Yankees’ hitting guru Kevin Long.
In his fifth game back from the injury, Jeter went 5-5 with a home run and two RBIs in a 5-4 win over the Rays. The home run, on Jeter’s second at-bat of the game, was the 3,000th of his career, and the fifth hit was a game-winning single in the eighth inning. With the 3,000-hit monkey finally off his back, Jeter took off in the second half, hitting .327/.383/.428 after the All-Star Break. Looking beyond the surface statistics, Jeter’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) skyrocketed from .294 before the break to .388 after. Normally that would represent a hitter moving from slightly unlucky to extremely lucky (the average BABIP is roughly .300). In Jeter’s case, though, it signified fewer infield dribblers — a Jeter staple in 2010 and early 2011 — and more cleanly hit balls to the outfield.
Like 2011, Jeter has been better in the second half of this season. The primary difference is that the Captain started out strong this year, hitting a more-than-respectable .308/.354/.411 with 72 runs produced in 83 games before the All-Star Break. Since the break he’s been the best hitter in the American League not named Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera. In 41 games, he’s at .363/.394/.538, with six HRs and 52 runs produced. His OPS+ for the second half in 155; the best full-season total of Jeter’s career is 153 is 1999. Jeter is on pace to reach 200 hits in season for the first time since amassing 219 in ’99. It would be the longest stretch between 200-hit seasons (13) in MLB history, by far, eclipsing the current record of nine.
Step back and think about that for a second. Jeter has gone from “massively overpaid and probably washed up liability” to “keystone of the lineup and best contact hitter in the AL” in 18 months, putting up numbers that by all rights should be behind the 38-year-old active legend. Just how good? The last shortstop to hit over .300 for a full season at 38 or older was the White Sox’s ageless wonder, Luke Appling, who actually hit over .300 when he was 39, 40, 41 AND 42. Appling’s last season was at 42, way back in 1949.
We’ve heard a lot of talk this summer about Jeter’s inexorable march up the all-time hits leaderboard. He’s gone from 21st on the career list at the beginning of the season to 12th now, with none other than Willie Mays (3,283) next in line. Jeter, currently at 3,261, should pass the Say Hey Kid in mid-September. Similarly, Jeter started the year 22nd in runs scored and is now 14th at 1,850, nine behind Mel Ott and 29 behind Alex Rodriguez, who won’t be back from his broken hand until late September. When you start a year hovering outside the top 20 in hits and runs scored, you’re normally not productive enough anymore to gain another 9-10 spots in both categories in one year. Jeter is doing that, leading off virtually every game and fielding at an above-average level, his .981 fielding percentage outstripping the league average at SS by four points.
Jeter could end his career in the top five in hits and runs, a feat only Hank Aaron and Ty Cobb have accomplished. But that’s for another season or four. This year, right now, Jeter has turned back the clock and reminded every Yankee fan why he’s been the cornerstone of the franchise’s most successful run in 60 years. And that’s why Bayless’s boorish comments and the firestorm they ignited are sad. Jeter’s name should be in the paper and on talk shows and on SportsCenter, for sure. But it should be for his remarkable year on the field, not some unprovable, unfounded allegation off it.
Posted by jfs360 on August 27, 2012