It’s been quite a while since Derek Jeter has done anything remotely close to playing Baseball since suffering a broken ankle, but the New York Yankees still expect him to be ready to play when the 2013 season kicks off.
At 38 (Jeter will be turning 39 in June), it’s harder than ever recovering from injuries. Still, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman believes Jeter will be ready for opening day on April 1, facing the Boston Red Sox.
Jeter had an operation on his ankle three months ago, and is out of the walking boot, and is able to run and walk on an underwater treadmill. During his recovery period, Jeter had ridden a specially made, one-legged bicycle at the Yankees’ training camp in Tampa, but Jeter has yet to be cleared for any baseball activities and is not likely to be before mid-to-late January.
Still, that shouldn’t matter too much, as Jeter doesn’t begin his preseason preparations before late January anyway, according to Jeter’s agent. His timetable would have been relatively the same as it is now.
Jeter hasn’t been again the way some expected him to. In 2010, it seemed that it was catching up with him, finishing with .270/.340/.370 season. He bounced back in 2011 just before summer kicked off, coming back from a calf injury, finishing with a .297/.355/.388 line. In 2012? Even more impressive than his stats, .316/.362/.429 were the number of games he played in: 159, tying his career best just before he reaches 40.
But how long can this last? There’s usually a very steep decline for players when they’re approaching 40, let alone carrying an injury that has its long term effects. Looking at numbers of players in the past and factoring Jeter’s reliance on a high batting average of balls in play, with his .355 BABIP ninth in MLB history, suggests that this year might be the one in which we see a real decline.
Ty Cobb, the all time leader in BABIP, was 42 points off his career mark after turning 38. Other greats usually fall by 35 points or more from their career marks after turning 38. Most players at the end of their careers have had great difficulty holding onto high BABIPs.
Some projections, like this one , suggest that Jeter’s best case scenario might be a .288/.338/.396 for the 2013 season, but that’s even before factoring in his ankle. With that injury, formulas suggest that at best, he’s a .277/.334/.369, 1.8 WAR for the season. Still not bad, but if his defense starts falling to, it’s going to be a problem keeping him in the lineup.