Tuesday Morning Food For Thought: Jeter's Playing Time

Jeter vs TB II Back in November of last year, when the disappointment of the season that was had fully worn off, I started looking ahead to this season and wrote this post discussing the possible playing time split at shortstop.  Derek Jeter was going to be 40, we had no way of knowing what kind of shape his ankle and legs in general would be in after a season in which they were a constant problem, and the Yankees had already re-signed Brendan Ryan as his defensive insurance policy.

In that post, I predicted Jeter would play in 120 games total in 2014 and about 80-100 of those games at shortstop while DH'ing in the others.  Why do I bring this up now?  Because we're 122 games into this season and Jeter is well on his way to blowing my predictions, and the predictions of most others, out of the water.  He's already exceeded the number of games at short that I called.  Jeter has played in 109 of the 122 games so far, a 144-game pace over a full 162-game season, and he's played 102 of them at short.  6 of the remaining 7 have been spent as the DH and 1 came in late as a pinch hitter.

The heavier than expected workload at shortstop has been a byproduct of a couple different factors.  Ryan was on the DL for most of the first half of the season, Triple-A backups like Yangervis Solarte and Dean Anna didn't show much in their time filling in, the rest of the infield has needed a lot of help since almost game 1, and Jeter himself has stayed healthy and able to play almost every day.  The quality of his play at the position and at the plate is a different story, but there's been some value, in consistency if nothing else, in Jeter being the everyday shortstop.

Until recently, that is.  In the final 2 games of the weekend series in Tampa, Jeter started and played both games as the DH.  Those games marked the first time he got a DH day since July 9th and were only the third and fourth times he DH'd since the start of June.  The reasons for this move were not clearly explained, but as we head towards the home stretch of the regular season, Jeter's final regular season, the question arises of whether this is something Joe will do more and what his motivations are for doing it.

Is Jeter a little more worn down that we've been led to believe?  Given the aforementioned number of games played, that's a reasonable assumption.  Jeter's slash line in August (.237/.250/.322) is his lowest monthly output of the season, the .572 OPS a good 67 points below the next lowest.  His 14.0% LD rate this month is also his worst monthly rate of the year, and his 74.0% GB rate the highest by a lot.  Perhaps Joe wants to try to get him some more time off the field to ensure that he's healthy enough to finish the season.  There will be a lot of upset fans at Yankee Stadium (or even more empty seats) in September if Jeter is on the DL.

Or perhaps Joe and the rest of the decision-making contingent are shifting their focus to next year.  Stephen Drew was a late-game pinch hit replacement for Ryan at short on Saturday and got the start there on Sunday.  He hasn't hit a lick since being acquired, but you have to think the Yankees brought him in with the idea of him bringing him back as Jeter's replacement.  If The Captain isn't hitting and needs a few more days off the field, why not use those as audition opportunities for Drew?

Whatever the reasons are, it will be worth monitoring how Jeter is used over the next few weeks.  Yankee fans are going to want to see him play and presumably play shortstop just for nostalgia's sake when they come to the ballpark.  With making the playoffs a longshot at best, soaking up that nostalgia is a more important goal for people who have been watching Jeter for a long time.  If Joe has to change up how, when, and where he plays Jeter to make that happen, so be it.  I'm going to the game on September 20th, and I know I'd rather see Jeter playing than in the dugout with some nagging injury.