Here’s a few notes in followup to my Jeter article Peter Abraham was nice enough to post today:
- Only seven shortstops have had average to above league average years offensively at the age of 37 or older: Honus Wagner, Luke Appling, Ozzie Smith, Eddie Joost, Jimmy Austin, Jeff Reboulet, and Barry Larkin. Of those 14 seasons, only four of them happened in the last fifty years. Larkin didn’t play enough games to qualify for rankings in either of his two seasons, but if he had, using Range Factor he would have ranked 13th out of 24 defensively in 2004 and tied for 8th out of 24 in 2001. Ozzie Smith ranked 1st out of 15 in 1992.
- Cal Ripken ranked defensively as the 18th best shortstop out of 24 in 1996 using Range Factor, his last year at the position. In 1997, his first year at third base, he ranked 12th out of 20.
- Since 2002, Jeter has had exactly one season with a positive UZR/150 fielding rating (FanGraphs defines UZR/150 as “The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games.”) His average since 2002 is -6, with the extremes being -20 and +0.8. 2008 was his second best season since 2002 at -0.5.
- Averaging out Jeter’s placement in defensive rankings over the course of his career, Jeter places 19th out of an average of 23 qualifiers. These rankings use Range Factor unless UZR/150 is available.
- Baseball Reference lists ten players with similar careers to Jeter through the age of 34. Looking at those ten players at the age of 37 (Jeter’s first year of his next contract): 2 were retired, 5 had OPS+ below 100 (or below average), 2 had above average years at 37: Roberto Clemente in 1972 and Charlie Gehringer in 1940. Gehringer’s next two seasons were below average and then he retired.
All of this looks like I’m picking on Jeter and I’m not. Jeter will follow a natural decline in his performance as he gets older, just like every other ballplayer. It’s not a knock, it’s a fact of life. The Yankees need to determine whether they will pay Derek Jeter like a 37 year old shortstop in decline or like a 25 year old shortstop in the prime of his career. The chances of Jeter being close to league average both defensively and offensively at age 37 and beyond are low. A high salaried contract could quickly become a terrible contract if he doesn’t perform.
There will be a lot more light shed on this as we see how Jeter performs over the next two seasons, but we can be sure he will not be a good defensive shortstop. With few options open defensively for Jeter to play besides shortstop, the Yankees will probably need to hide his bat in a corner outfield spot or suck it up at short. In either case, they will be sacrificing defense and, in the case of the outfield, might have a below average offensive outfielder.