Writing about baseball every day can be a challenge when a bazillion other writers are doing the same thing. What can this writer say that's different or interesting? How can a different angle be found? Most of the time, those thoughts have to be discarded because in the end, you write what you know. Inspiration falls where it will and today it's fallen on Derek Jeter. Crap! This writer doesn't want to write about Derek Jeter. Nobody in the world has an non-emotional thing to say about the Yankee shortstop. Either it's all old-school para-praise or it's taking him down three or four pegs from his lofty pinnacle in baseball. Yuck!
But Jeter is today's inspiration. It doesn't help that this writer has admitted many times that Derek Jeter is this writer's favorite player ever. Being a responsible Fan, that man-crush comes with a price. To attempt any sort of respectability in this writing game, logic has to overcome raw fan-love. And so any post in the past with Jeter's name attached to it has gone in this space with as much of the rose-colored glasses off as possible. At times that has meant admitting that the Captain isn't as good as his build up. The Captain Clutch moniker is about as deserved as Paris Hilton's fame. The glasses-free stance here is that Mr. Jeter has been a nice cog in the Yankees' success for a long time--no more, no less.
For much of this year, that stance meant admitting that the old Yankee looked about done. After a sub-par year last year (following a brilliant offensive 2009), Jeter followed this year with another stinker and as Brien Jackson points out in his post today over at IATMS, the shortstop was batting .244 with a .648 OPS when the shortstop strained his calf a few hits shy of 3,000. Getting to that milestone meant a death crawl to the finish line like some Olympic marathon runner with a cramp.
It was painful to watch. When Jeter came up with men on base in big situations, this writer would cringe and assume a fetal position. You knew Jeter was going to fail. And he did...regularly. His pathetic stretch of emptiness with runners in scoring position was bandied about on Twitter every night. Jeter's jump throws from the shortstop hole no longer beat the runner by a step. Now the runner was safe by a step. When Gardner got on with a walk or a hit, you just knew Derek Jeter would hit into a double-play. He was playing better than Jorge Posada, but not by much. And with the admission that Jeter is this writer's favorite player comes the other admission that the Fan has watched just about every game he's played this season. And the truth was, the Yankees were winning in spite of Derek Jeter and not because of him.
This writer has still been watching since Jeter returned from that calf injury. And something interesting has happened. This isn't the same Derek Jeter from before that injury. This Derek Jeter is driving the ball even when he makes outs. When runners are on base, he's not an automatic out. In fact, it took him three months to compile twenty runs batted in. Jeter has driven in 24 in the last month and a half. In the first three months of the season, Jeter became Ichiro and had only twelve extra base hits. He's had twelve in the last month and a half.
So far, in the second half of the season, Derek Jeter is batting .315. His slash line in August is: .388/.444/.914. He's looked very much like the old Derek Jeter. Before the season started, this Fan was hoping Jeter could at least hit .280. That's not a bad batting average for a shortstop. So when Jeter was hovering around .250 to .260, it was cringe-inducing. Now, Jeter is batting .283 for the season. His OPS is over .700 at least. The hope is coming true.
Will time catch up with Jeter again? It might. Will he falter again? He could. But as of right this moment, Derek Jeter has a little swag back. In the last month, the Yankees have been winning in part because of Derek Jeter's play and not despite it. If Jeter can maintain this kind of hitting for the balance of the season and into the playoffs, you have to like the Yankees' chances all that much more.
Yes, a Derek Jeter post is a dreaded thing to write. But Jeter's resurgence of late had to be written.