Why Derek Jeter Isn't Worth the Waiver Pickup
As I write this, Justin Timberlake-predecessor Derek Jeter is preparing to bat second and play DH in his first real baseball game in nine months, an afternoon affair against the Royals. Yankees fans are understandably ecstatic, and so are fantasy owners: Jeter's been picked up in 27.7 percent of ESPN leagues over the past week.
That brings Jeter's grand total to 52.0 percent of total ESPN leagues he's owned in, which means he's quite possibly still available on your waiver wire. But you're a smart fantasy owner; you're reading numberFire, after all. Leaving the name and the star power aside, will Derek Jeter actually put up the numbers to be worth a fantasy roster slot?
Hell no! And here's why.
The Case Against Mr. Derek Jeter
Who wants a declining shortstop who doesn't walk, has no power, and whose line drive rates indicate an upcoming fall in batting average on balls in play (BABIP)? Anyone? Bueller? OK, let's tackle these one by one, Judge Judy-style.
First: walking. Jeter used to do it. He doesn't any more. For Exhibit A, your honor, I would like to submit into evidence his past four seasons, which saw his walk rate dip from 10.1 percent (in 2009) to 8.5 percent to 7.6 percent to 6.1 percent. The trend is overall worrisome enough where numberFire projected him with just 22 walks in 363 plate appearances (just over a six percent rate) before the season, and there's no reason to believe he'll perform differently now.
Second, your honor, we have the complete lack of power that Jeter produces. Sure, he might hit a bomb or two. So does Ichiro every once in a while. That doesn't mean it's a strength. Jeter has posted a homerun rate over 2.0 percent of plate appearances exactly once since 2005: a 2.5 percent rate in 2009. His 2.0 percent rate last season looks pretty, but the 1.0 percent and 1.4 percent rates that immediately preceded it aren't fun. It also doesn't help that Jeter's GB/FB ratios from 2010-2012 were the three highest figures (meaning more ground balls) of his career. Especially when he's competing with guys like Andrelton Simmons (1.8 percent HR rate), Zack Cozart (1.9 percent, 2.4 percent career), or Brian Dozier (2.6 percent) for your last SS spot, this has to be considered a minus.
Finally, your excellency, I would like to submit a rebuttal to the defendant's most common argument: Jeter's high BABIP causing him to hit near .300 every season. I will grant them that when Jeter puts balls in play, he's typically excellent. I can't argue against only having one season below a .333 BABIP (2010's .309 clip) since 2004. However, he didn't get those hits through solid contact - Jeter has not topped the current 22 percent line drive average in a single season since 2002. Instead, he gets hits through ground balls and beating out throws... which becomes tough when recovering from a fractured left ankle at the age of 39. I'm not sold that hole-finding ability will still be there, and I see his BABIP being closer to 2008 and 2010's .333 range than his career .354.
So he's walking less, he's hitting for less power than his competitors, and there are questions about his ability to grab as many hits on balls in play as he once did. Are there any questions from the judge? No? Well, I believe I have made my case. The stats speak for themselves. (You know, maybe I should work at a law magazine...)
The Projected Stats
Since Jeter hasn't actually played any baseball so far this year, our projection system hasn't updated Jeter's expected projections since the beginning of the season. What you thought was there at the beginning of the season is still there, just on a smaller scale. And what we thought was there was a decent average, but absolutely nothing else of note.
All things considered, 363 plate appearances is definitely high considering that no other shortstop is currently projected above 300 the rest of the season. This also assumes there will be no further injuries from Jeter, which I don't think is an assumption we can safely make. For now, though, let's roll with it.
A 1.9 percent homerun rate? It's possible, but seven projected homeruns is also what we're expecting from Cozart in 100 fewer projected plate appearances. Jeter's .121 runs per plate appearance also places him squarely middle of the pack, right below Everth Cabrera's .125 and above Simmons' .118. And that low .093 RBIs per at-bat places him far down the SS list, below even Brandon Crawford's .111. And let's not even get into that reduced speed and stolen base ability.
Sure, take a flier on Jeter. Maybe it will work out. However, the projections are highly skeptical. With his lack of power, inability to produce RBIs, and an expected lower OBP, this isn't the Derek Jeter you once knew. I'd leave him right where he is and look towards Simmons, Cozart, or Crawford instead.