Monday, May 9, 2011

Jeter's Big Day: Tease or Turnaround?

(photo courtesy of

Through 29 games this season, many Yankees fans were worried about Derek Jeter at the plate. His batting average was hovering in the .250 range, which isn't really a big deal considering he had just 117 at-bats on the season. One three or four-hit game could quickly turn that number into something respectable.

The real issue was his lack of power. After stroking 43 extra-base hits last season and at least 35 in every season since 1996, the Yankee captain had just three this season, all doubles. Jeter hadn't hit a home run in 62 games dating back to last season and many thought this was a sign of a rapid and surprising decline.

Even at Jeter's advanced age of 36, his track record pointed to a bounceback from last season's struggles (.270 average, 10 home runs, 67 RBI). But the early-season returns, especially in the power department (0 home runs, 6 RBI) left a lot to be desired.

That all changed in Sunday's 12-5 win over the Texas Rangers, where Jeter not only hit his first home run in almost half a season but knocked two balls out of the park in his typical fashion; over the right-center field fence. He finished the day with four hits, two runs, two home runs, three RBI and his first stolen base of the season.

Is it too rash to say Jeter is back? Jeter has been hitting an inordinate amount of ground balls this season and, despite a lower strikeout rate, has struggled to be the line-drive machine he has been throughout his career. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was just .278, well below his career number of .355.

It was difficult for me to believe he would stay at .256 all season, but I was starting to come to the realization that Jeter's ceiling may have been an average in the .280-.290 range with 85-95 runs, five home runs and 50 RBI. Those HR and RBI numbers would represent career lows in a full season for Jeter and considering Jeter has hit below .290 just once and scored under 100 runs only twice, the average and run production left something to be desired as well.

Will Sunday's performance, in which Jeter homered against the likes of Dave Bush and Arthur Rhodes, be the spark he needs to turn around his season after a disappointing first month?

I warn Yankees fans not to expect too much from Jeter after his big day in Texas. I was a believer in a bounceback for Jeter after a disappointing 2010, but I still didn't think he would hit .300 or reach double-digits in home runs. Scoring 100 runs is still a possibility in the always-potent Yankee lineup, but expecting a .300 average and 15 home runs is setting the bar too high.

Jeter is an all-time Yankee great and while his career may be on the downswing, he's not done just yet. Just make sure to accept his skills for what they are and, at a position that can be considered the shallowest in the major leagues, those skills still place him well inside the top-10 at shortstop.

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