The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (7 HR, 25 RBIs, .303 BA, 43 R, 6 SB)
Who knew that suffering a calf injury that would land you on the 15-day disabled list would be a good thing? For Derek Jeter it was in 2011.
Jeter was forced to miss the 2011 All-Star Game so he could rehab his injured calf at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL. While there, Jeter also worked with one of his first hitting coaches in Gary Denbo to find his old swing. It was that work that likely turned Jeter’s season and his fading career around.
Jeter came off the disabled list lacing hits all over the yard and he picked up his 3000th hit by going 5-for-5 and hitting a home run for No. 3,000 off David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. From the point he returned to the Yankees until the end of the regular season Jeter hit .344. He ended the season hitting .297 with six home runs and 61 RBIs.
The question heading into 2012 was could he keep it up? Or was it just a fluke and he would continue his decline at age 38 this summer?
The returns are in for the first half of the 2012 season and it appears it was not a fluke. Derek Jeter is simply Derek Jeter again.
His 103 hits after 81 games was the third-bast total in the majors and Jeter was passing legends like Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs on the all-time hit list seemingly on a daily basis. There are thoughts that he might even have a shot at 4,000 hits, should Jeter choose to continue his career into his 40s.
Jeter simply may be among a handful of players that are the best singles hitters in baseball history. Along with Ty Cobb and Pete Rose, the current generation of players gives us Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Jeter of the Yankees. These four have to be considered baseball’s elite at what they do best: Rack up hits in bunches.
Jeter’s career batting average is .313 and the fact he is hovering over the .300 mark at the halfway mark proves he has not lost the touch at age 38.
The only thing Jeter may have lost is a bit of his power, though the most he ever hit in one season was a pedestrian 24 in 1999. He also is not able to steal bases as he once did. In 2006, he stole a career-high 34 bags. But he has only stolen more than 18 bases once in his five full seasons after that.
But everything else is still there for Jeter.
The only disappointment this season is his rather low runs scored total of 43 at the halfway point. Jeter has failed to score 100 runs in only three seasons out of his 16 full years in the majors. Some of it can be attributed to the fact that the middle of the Yankees’ lineup – Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira – hit around .200 with runners in scoring position.
Some of it may have to do with age. But Jeter remains one of the smartest base-runners in baseball and he rarely commits a huge blunder to get himself thrown out on the bases.
When you bring up Jeter’s fielding, the sabermatricians go ballistic because Jeter’s range at age 38 is not anything like it was when he was 28. OK, I will give them that one. Jeter does not have the range of an Elvis Andrus or Alexsei Ramirez, who both are considerably younger shortstops.
But Jeter committed only six errors in the first half. The Yankees can live with that and they will. The fact is Jeter has won five Gold Glove awards, including in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and he is not going to give them back just because Bill James says he should.
IHe also is not going to give back his 13 selections in 16 seasons for the All-Star Game. Jeter will be starting in his eighth All-Star Game in Kansas City on Tuesday.
With Jeter, what you see is what you get. He is just a consummate professional who works hard at his craft and gives 100 percent each and every game. He is not only respected highly by manager Joe Girardi and his teammates but he also is admired by the players and managers on other teams.
Yep, “The Captain” who is affectionately nicknamed in the Bronx is just something very, very special. Cooperstown awaits when his career ends but who knows when that will be the way he is going now.
MIDSEASON GRADE: A-
BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (2 HRs, 6 RBIs, .228 BA)
Nix, 29, became Jeter’s backup when the Yankees decided that Eduardo Nunez needed work on his defense in the minor leagues.
With Jeter requiring a bit more rest, Nix has made seven starts at short in the first 81 games. He has acquitted himself well. He is not going to hit like Jeter and he does not have the dazzling range Nunez has at the position. But, then again, Nix is not going botch half of the balls hit to him like Nunez did.
Because Nix can also play second, third and the corner outfield spots he is very valuable in kind of Jerry Hairston Jr. sort of way.
Nix played his way on the Yankees’ 25-man roster by hitting .323 as a free-agent signee this spring. When Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Nix was recalled and it looks like he is going to keep his role for the rest of the season.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
After playing only four games for the Scranton Yankees, Nunez suffered a severely jammed right thumb and he has missed more than a month. He should be able to return soon but the injury apparently is worse than the Yankees thought originally.
Nunez, 25, is still considered the heir apparent to Jeter when he can’t play the position anymore or retires. After all, Nunez was hitting .294 after 51 at-bats when he was shipped out after committing four errors in the first 19 games he played.
Girardi said the Yankees should have not asked Nunez to play so many positions like the outfield. So the thought is that he will concentrate on shortstop mostly at Scranton. But the injury has retarded that development and so Nunez looks like he will stay in the minors until the September 1 call-ups.
Unfortunately the Yankees not only miss his bat but his speed.
With Brett Gardner of the 60-day disabled list and Nunez shipped out the Yankees lost 71 steals from their 2011 roster. Nunez still is tied for second with four Yankees with six steals behind the team leader Rodriguez, who has seven after 81 games.
With Nunez shelved, the Yankees’ old standby Ramiro Pena is playing short at Scranton. He is hitting .241 with one home run and 18 RBIs.
The Yankees pretty much know what they are getting in Pena, 26. He can play the infield near flawlessly, he is an adept bunter and is an aggressive switch-hitter with absolutely no power. He has decent speed but he is not an athlete or a speedster like Nunez.
It appears Pena’s time has past.
The Yankees have an intriguing prospect at Double-A Trenton in 22-year-old Jose Toussen, who is hitting over .300 there. But all eyes are on Cito Culver at Single-A Charelston (SC) in the Carolina League. He is rated as the ninth-best prospect in the organization. But that might take a hit.
Culver, 19, is hitting just .206 in 74 games there. Scouts are questioning why the Yankees made him their No. 1 in 2010.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A-
Barring injury, Jeter should maintain his climb up the all-time hits list while getting on base for the Yankees’ power hitters that follow him. The hope is those power hitters will actually drive him in more often. If Jeter hits over .300 with 100 runs scored and he hits about 15 home runs it will be a very good season for the future Hall-of-Famer.
Girardi has been smart in starting him in only 70 games at shortstop after 81 games. At the same time Jeter has played in 79 games by being used as a designated hitter or a late-game replacement. Girardi will continue to do this to keep Jeter healthy and fresh for the late season push for the division title and the playoffs.
With Nix, Pena and eventually Nunez is the wings, Jeter has three either current or former major-league players behind him. That is not bad depth.
But the Yankees really could not go very far without Jeter leading off and playing shortstop for them. He is much more valuable than you might think and he still remains the face of the franchise.