Sunday, September 7, 2014


It's Derek Jeter Day in the Bronx, and there's no truth to the rumor that slightly more than 8,000 seats had to be reserved for the ladies who have passed through his portals--er, life.

The once-mighty Yankees are looking for some version of the infamous Jeter "gift basket" here in the waning days of 2014, flailing to acquire something that resembles their September magic of yore. It's been clear for the last month that such an elixir, or talisman (or "proof-of-purchase" coupons, the post-modernist answer to the "box top"...) is unlikely to emerge from their 40-year old captain.

The decline of the Bombers has paralleled the momentum in the aging process as it has affected Jeter, whose "last hurrah" season in 2012 was spoiled by a severe post-season injury that has robbed him of his uniquely crisp offensive skills. What Jeter has proven thus far in 2014 is that the Yankees can give up more runs than they score--just as they did in 2013 without him. (The Yanks haven't done that since 1992, when they completed a four-year run of sub-.500 seasons.)

Jeter beat the odds back in 2011, coming back from a foot injury and the doom-laden prognostications of Nate Silver (in a moment he should have heeded, as it's become increasingly clear that the "wunderkind of electorality" would be better off if he and his posse would stick to politics...) to hit .340 down the stretch, and follow up the next year with his last "Jeter season" at the plate. But it was soon all too clear that he was not going to do the same in 2014, even with two off-seasons to recover from his broken ankle.

The splits data shows what's happened, and it's more than stark. Derek has lost his ability to dominate lefties. This is a guy whose lifetime OPS against LHPs is .893, a little more than a hundred points better than when he's facing RHP. His lifetime SLG against lefties is .492. This year, it's .296.

Over the years, Jeter has had a slight but measurable home-field advantage (.833 OPS at home, .803 on the road.) This year, that's gone. His OPS at Yankee Stadium in 2014: .543. He has not hit a home run at home this year.

Likewise, Derek has always been a very dangerous hitter when he was ahead in the count (.345 BA, 1.006 OPS). He looked just like himself in 2012 (.383 BA, 1.030 OPS). This year? .217 BA, .595 OPS.

High leverage situations? Lifetime: .310 BA, .810 OPS. 2014: .202 BA, .532 OPS.

Another odd fact in the splits that you might not associate with Jeter--he's been markedly weaker hitting against relievers in his career (OPS vs. SP: .852; OPS vs. RP: .744). As you'd suspect, that pattern has continued in 2014. Spectacularly so. Jeter is hitting .184 against relievers this year. With an OPS of .478.

That's not a misprint. The Yanks would be better off batting Brendan Ryan (insert obligatory "for Crissakes" here...) against relief pitchers. Or Stephen Drew. But, in a climate that apparently demands reverence above and beyond the call of duty, not only can manager Joe Girardi (in every other way doing a fine job, keeping a crumbled/crinkled ragtag group of has-beens and whosis on the fringes of the playoff race without his two top starting pitchers...) NOT drop Jeter from the #2 slot, he can't bat for him. As Richard Carpenter sang--and does anyone remember that Richard could actually sing??--it's a "marvelous charade."

As noted, it's the climate. The "Jeter climate" has been increasingly contentious, as the usual Midwestern suspects have gotten their collective hackles up about East Coast media bias and its willful ignorance with respect to Jeter's fielding skills. The grumbles started in earnest when Jeter gunned down [EDIT: or should that be "flipped out"?] the hapless Jeremy Giambi in the 2001 playoffs, and that led Joe P. to develop his own patois mauvais in a pathetic attempt to gain access to the New Yorker crowd. Much of the Yankee-hating crowd, both within the media bubble and in the boob-tubeified boondocks, came running to join in the din of disdain.

Which made us wonder if we could track all that, as a kind of meta-valedictory sendoff to the dickhead who has launched a hundred thousand screeds. Just how the forces of "yea" and "nay" fared over the years where polarization between the foul poles was just as prevalent (and just as invidious) as it was in the halls of Congress?

Over the past couple of weeks we've had C.O. Jones feed copious quantities of flavored rice crackers to our favored feverish researcher, Fergus McFollicle, who's been busy quantifying the "love" and "hate" as it radiates around the Gift Basket King. (All this, and droning background quotes from the works of Empedocles--a guy who, unlike Joe P. and his ilk, knew when to take the strategic swan-dive into the volcano.)

Fergus courageously immersed himself in every freakin' piece of verbiage either spoken or written about the man who has a dead man announce him, and, as we suspected, the backlash began in 2002. (The two different versions of our "Jeter's gift basket" chart show the relative volume of commentary and the "love/hate" percentages over the ensuing years.)

As you can see from the percentage chart, things leveled off a bit when the Red Sox found post-season success. But when Jeter's 2009 season threatened to bring him an MVP award, the negative trend was put back into overdrive. As the volume chart depicts, things were relatively quiet (and blissfully so) in 2013, while most of what folks had to worry about pertained to just how many cheeseburgers Derek was consuming during rehab.

The positive commentary, doubtless peaking due to the protracted "farewell tour," has gone up sharply in 2014. And it's clearly benefitted from the parallel tour being conducted by Budzilla, a junket whose travel arrangements should have specified a Chinese junk with training wheels.

Ultimately, the only percentage that's going to matter in 2020 is 75%--what Jeter will need to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. You can read it here first: he's going to score in the 90s. If it's higher than 95, there will be grumbling.

[UPDATE: it's the bottom of the ninth in the Bronx. Mr. Gift Basket has an infield single and a walk in four PAs, but the Yankees have been unable to rise to the occasion against the Royals and Yordano Ventura, and they trail, 2-0, in the top of the ninth.]