Rewind seven games.
On April 25, the Yankees opened a home series against the Angels, and Derek Jeter had a single and a walk that night. His season slash line improved to .294/.385/.338. Obviously no real power, and right-handed pitchers were giving him some trouble, but the overall production had been pretty good. Nowhere near his prime, of course, and ideally there would be at least a little bit of power in the No. 2 spot, but Jeter had been a perfectly capable table setter.
Jeter’s played six games since then, and in those six games he’s reached base three times. All singles. He hasn’t scored a run, hasn’t driven in a run and hasn’t drawn a walk. His new slash line is .240/.311/.271, and as my friend Jeff Passan wrote this weekend, Jeter hasn’t looked good in the process of seeing those numbers slip.
“When I was in spring training, I got a lot of ‘You’re old’ questions because I didn’t have a lot of hits,” Jeter said. “Two or three weeks into the season, everyone said, ‘You look young now; you’re swinging the bat well.’ Now I’m old again, so I guess I fluctuate.”
All baseball players fluctuate, and it seems that opinions on Jeter’s offensive decline depend entirely on whether you believe this particularly fluctuation is an inevitable in-season slump or the inevitable impact of age and injury. Jeter’s 39 years old, he missed nearly all of last year with a series of lower-body injuries, and now his numbers are ugly a little more than a month into the season. Is this a permanent situation, or simply a bump in the road?
“It’s what hitters go through,” Joe Girardi said. “When you’re older, that question is always gong to come up, but the question wasn’t asked two weeks ago when he was swinging the bat well. We have a few guys struggling right now. We didn’t score a ton of runs on the home stand, so we’ve got to get some guys going, get some more production. … What year was it when people thought it was over before (Jeter) got his 3,000th hit? Then he put up another 200-hit season after that. I understand people’s concerns. It’s a couple years later, I understand that. But for the most part we’ve left him alone and he’s figured it out. We need him to do that.”
If you fully believe that Jeter is finished as an offensive player, then of course it makes sense to get him out of the No. 2 spot in the order. It even makes sense to think about alternatives at shortstop. If you believe there’s still a chance that Jeter is going to get this turned around again, it seems to make some sense to show that confidence and leave him where he’s always been through his career.
For now, it seems Girardi is going with the latter approach, which shouldn’t come as much of a shock given his history of showing faith in his players. Girardi said he would not consider it difficult to talk to Jeter about a lineup change if that seemed necessary, but Girardi said he doesn’t think it’s necessary just yet.
“Derek is pretty easy to talk to,” Girardi said. “I’ve shared ideas with him before about things that I possibly might do and it’s never been a problem. Derek is about winning. Derek is probably going to tell you, ‘If you think that’s the best thing to do, then do it.’”
Is it the right thing to do? Maybe. Jeter still has a .388 on-base percentage against lefties this season — and the Yankees face lefties the next two nights, so I wouldn’t expect a change during this series any way — but right-handers have been a real problem for him. Maybe he’ll eventually move down in the order against righties, but that day is not today. It’s also worth acknowledging that the Yankees don’t exactly have a can’t-miss shortstop knocking on the door. Yangervis Solarte has been terrific, but he doesn’t have much shortstop experience. Brendan Ryan is a great defender, but he’s never been much of a hitter. Doesn’t seem likely that Stephen Drew is going to show up any time soon.
“I always look at the big picture,” Jeter said. “This is not the first time I’ve struggled over four or five games, and I will do it again at some point this year. That’s just how it goes. For me, it’s a feel thing. I want to feel good. If I feel good, the results will be there. Sometimes you feel terrible and you have results, but I’d rather feel good. When I feel good, I trust the results will come.”
Associated Press photos