Derek Jeter's defensive improvement is bad news for the Yankees? Really?

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I wrote yesterday that tons of ink will be spilled over Derek Jeter’s extension despite the fact that it’s probably going to all go down rather quickly and painlessly after the season is over.  As if on cue, Joel Sherman of the Post chimes in, showing just how hard the tabloids are going to work in order to turn this into some big controversial issue.  After relating the story of how Jeter has worked hard over the past couple of years to improve his defense, Sherman says:

. . . the good news for the Yanks is that Jeter is a competent shortstop again; the bad news is he is a competent shortstop again . . . He is in the same training regimen for the third straight offseason
and if 2010 resembles 2009, the Yanks will be very pleased, well, until
negotiations begin.

This would have been a different
negotiation if Jeter was holding on as a left fielder or DH, being kept
around mostly for emeritus reasons. Now the Yanks almost certainly will
have to treat Jeter as the current and future shortstop of the team,
and not the kind of defensive liability that enabled them to play
hardball in pushing Williams and Damon off the roster.

Call me crazy, but despite what Sherman says I can’t help but think that the Yankees would much prefer to enter into negotiations with Derek Jeter: competent shortstop as opposed to Derek Jeter: DH. I mean, sure, the latter may have given them a modicum of additional leverage, but it also would have meant that they would be about to pay a way less useful player $60 million+. Unless of course you think the Yankees would push Jeter out the way they did Bernie and Damon.  Which is never, ever going to happen.

The only way Jeter’s contract extension is going to get complicated is if he puts up a truly wretched season at the plate. I’m talking, like, .269/.331/.380 + a ton of high profile errors or something, with no corresponding injury to use as an excuse. Yes, I suppose it could happen, but it’s not damn likely.  

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.