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By The Numbers: Is Derek Really On The Decline?

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(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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By Father Gabe Costa
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Raymond D. Aumack is truly a man for all seasons (including baseball seasons!). All of his adult life he has interacted with people and has helped them in a myriad of ways. A man of many talents, Ray is an accomplished writer, he has been a successful businessman, and has guided people as a trained counselor, to name but a few of his activities.

Ray, who lives in northern New Jersey with his wife Ruth, is our guest blogger for this episode of By The Numbers. I hope you enjoy the following essay.

Raymond D. Aumack: After the baseball season came to an end, we had several days of no activity before the start of playoffs, during which baseball columnists had to fill their allotted space in their newspapers. One predominant topic used to fill the emptiness concerned Derek Jeter and the presumed decline of his on- field skills. The obvious reason for this is that Jeter’s batting average for 2010 was 40 points lower than his lifetime average. The shallow observer noting this, presumes that Jeter is drifting over the hill.

He is 36 years old, a time of life when athletic skills can be expected to decline. He is coming into negotiations for his final contract with the Yankees. At his current salary of over $22 million in 2010, one would not be surprised if the Yankees wanted better value from a .277 hitter. After all, as much as everyone loves and admires Jeter, baseball is a business and there is no sentimentality in a business. So what if Jeter has had an extraordinary record of baseball excellence over the last 16 years. Negotiations are based on recent contributions to the business.

Reading all of these arguments leads me to wonder if the college of baseball columnists watched any Yankee games this summer. Let’s take a look at the record:

• Jeter had 179 hits during the regular season, second on the Yankees only to teammate Robinson Cano who had 200, and far ahead of Nick Swisher who was third on the roster with 163 hits. In 2003, Jeter’s batting average was .324 with only 156 hits, the difference explained by the number of at bats that he had this year as a leadoff hitter.

• Once on base, he advanced 18 times by stealing a base and was caught only 5 times.

• He scored 111 runs.

• Jeter drove in 67 runs as a leadoff hitter, fourth on the club.

• With the exception of his batting average, Jeter’s offensive statistics are consistent with those of the league’s leaders in each category. They also demonstrate a remarkable consistency with his offensive output over the previous fifteen years.

On the defensive side of his game, Jeter has constantly improved each year over the span of his career. This year, 2010, he had the highest defensive percentage of his career at .989. He committed only six errors in 553 chances. Among these, he scored 182 putouts and 365 assists. The demanding Fangraph stats measure a player’s range of motion by arbitrarily identifying alleys to the players right and left. While this is a subjective consideration, the graphs demonstrate that Jeter currently ranks with the best shortstops in the league. He has won four Golden Glove Awards and is a candidate for his fifth.

Finally, how can anyone measure something like leadership skills among the players and the clubhouse staff? He is the team captain and is well respected by the players. He has become the face of the Yankees with the fans. Many opposition shortstops use him as their role model. He does everything he is supposed to do and does it better. He is on the field before home games signing autographs for fans, especially for children. He is a leader among the club’s charitable and philanthropic enterprises.

What is the bottom line? He can fill seats in any team’s stadium. The Yankees do not need him to fill seats. They need him because he is a great player and because he represents all the class and dignity that the Yankees want to project. Major League Baseball needs him for the same reason.

Next Blog: Baseball’s Second Greatest Team

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