When Derek Jeter returned from the disabled list on July 4, there was some concern about whether his re-installation atop the lineup would short circuit a Yankees offense that had scored 5.7 per game in his absence. In addition, there was speculation about whether Joe Girardi might drop the Hall of Fame shortstop down in the lineup once his milestone 3,000th hit was attained. Almost immediately, however, the Yankees’ manager put an end to the whispers by steadfastly stating that Jeter would remain at the top of the batting order for the remainder of the season. Since then, Girardi has been more than rewarded for his vote of confidence.
Although the Yankees have experienced a one run per game decline in offense since Jeter’s return, the shortstop hasn’t been to blame. In fact, since July 4, Jeter has been the team’s best offensive player. Over the last 18 games, Jeter’s line of .324/.385/.521 has more resembled some of his best seasons than the year-plus decline that has led many to question his future. Expanding the sample to include the entire month of July, Jeter’s wOBA of .402 ranks third on the team behind Eduardo Nunez (.406) and Brett Gardner (.403). Jeter also leads the team with a WPA of 0.76 during the month, a figure equal to the combined total of the next two leaders (Nunez and Gardner). Ironically, in the absence of Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees who have stepped up the most are the ones most fans probably least expected.
The interesting thing about Jeter’s decline since the end of the 2009 season is it has been limited exclusively to at bats against right handed pitchers. Over the past two seasons, the Captain has handled lefties with the same ease exhibited throughout his prime, but his performance against right handers has fallen off dramatically. However, in July, Jeter has reversed that trend. In 57 plate appearances during the month, the short stop has posted a line of .283/.333/.396 versus right handers. Although still far removed from his best seasons, if Jeter could maintain that pace, he’d once again become one of the better offensive short stops in the game.
Before getting too optimistic, it should also be noted that during July, Jeter’s BABIP has been .382, a level much higher than his career rate of .354. Also, Jeter continues to hit groundballs at a prolific rate (62.5% in July, versus just over 65% for the past two seasons), and a disproportionate number (11.4%) of his hits during the month have been of the infield variety. Nonetheless, he has been hitting the ball better (19.6% line drive rate in July, versus 13.2% for the entire season), so perhaps the Yankees can look forward to improved offense from the Captain over the final two months of the season.
Monthly Comparison of Jeter’s 2011 Batted Ball Statistics
It’s probably safe to assume Jeter won’t turn back the clock to his prior MVP-caliber seasons, but that doesn’t mean he is destined to be a liability over the final three years of his contract. Months like July might be few and far between, but if Jeter can sustain a modest level of success against right handers, as well as maintain his league average defensive contribution, short stop won’t be one of the Yankees’ concerns during the dog days of the pennant race.