Could Derek Jeter cost the Yankees a playoff spot?
Derek Jeter has hurt the Yankees more than he has helped them this season.
As of Wednesday, the retiring Yankees shortstop has been worth -0.2 wins above replacement (WAR) on the year, per Fangraphs, playing his typically miserable defense while also posting the worst offensive numbers of his career. His on-base percentage is a tick lower than his career batting average. Among qualified shortstops, he's been third-worst at the plate in all of baseball this year, ahead of only a light-hitting 24-year-old still adjusting to the bigs and a glove-first no-name approaching his 30s.
Still, given his deified status in New York as the very personification of pinstripes, Jeter continues to start at short and bat second almost every day. (No other player has more than 30 at-bats from the two spot in the order.)
Meanwhile, the Yankees are five games out from the second wild card slot. Given those slim-but-alive hopes of a postseason berth, Jeter's glaring struggles have prompted many to question whether The Captain should be moved down in the order — or benched altogether. It has even led to charges that the Yankees are basically tanking the season to give Jeter the "farewell tour" of manager Joe Girardi's nightmares.
Now, I'm no die-hard Derek Jeter fan. While historically a great hitter, he has undoubtedly been a black hole in the Yankees' lineup all year. But if the Yankees do indeed miss the playoffs, Jeter won't be solely to blame.
Though it's tempting to think the Yankees would be better off with Jeter riding the pine, they have no better in-house option. While Jeter has been horrendous, the team's other shortstops have somehow been far worse, with none batting better than .213. Stephen Drew, acquired mid-season as insurance at short and to fill a void at second, has been 60 percent worse than league average per wRC+, a comprehensive measure of offensive output, weighted against the rest of the league.
The Yankees have also been woeful elsewhere around the diamond. Among the team's three splashy position player signings last offseason — Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann — only Ellsbury has been better than league average with the bat. McCann, signed to a six-year, $85 million deal, has been especially terrible, ranking 27th among all backstops to receive at least 200 plate appearances this year.
As a whole, the team has scored the second-fewest runs in the American League, ahead of only the last-place Red Sox. Dropping Jeter way down in the batting order would help the Yankees string together a more potent punch at the top, but they'd still be stuck with plenty of dead weight at the bottom.
Then there are the injuries, which decimated an already creaky lineup. By July, four-fifths of the team's starting rotation was on the DL. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova managed 12 starts between them before surgeries ended their seasons. Staff ace Masahiro Tanaka was pitching like a Cy Young candidate when he went down in early July with an elbow injury.
The rotation has actually performed alright in the absence of those big names — it ranks 14th in baseball in fielding independent pitching — but it would undoubtedly be stronger at full health.
And of course, the Yankees are without a certain All-Star second baseman whom they let walk over the winter when his asking price got too high for even their liking. Robinson Cano has been worth 5.2 wins to the Mariners this year; Yankees second baseman have been worth -0.1 wins combined. And remember, the Yankees are only five games out of a playoff spot.
Of course, simply adding Cano back to the picture doesn't mean the Yankees would automatically have five more wins. But his departure left them with a gaping hole they've been unable to fill.
So no, keeping the fans — and Jeter's ego — sated won't help the team win more games, but it alone won't doom them to another early vacation. That's been a full-team effort, and Jeter has been its flailing captain.