Saturday, April 30, 2011

Derek Jeter no longer Captain Clutch?

I’m not ready to concede John Harper’s argument that Derek Jeter is no longer the star player he used to be, but I’m not prepared to dismiss it either.

A month into the season, Jeter’s average is still hovering around .250, made up mostly of infield hits, which shows he still has some speed left. But most concerning is that he has consistently failed in situations he used to master: runners on base, sometimes in scoring position, with the New York Yankees desperate for runs. Harper argued that Jeter’s decline has gotten so bad that the Yankees can no longer count on him.

I’ve been wondering about the same thing since I went to the stadium on Monday when Jeter came to bat late in the game. I was hoping he could work his magic and save AJ Burnett’s gutty performance, but all Jeter could manage was a weak groundout. It was hard to see the Yankees fall short, partly because of that at bat when Jeter has been amazingly clutch in the past.

Jeter has been successful in these situations because he’s not afraid of them and he responded to all questions with his typical air of confidence. But he seemed somewhat frustrated after a couple of at-bats today, including when he failed to drive a ball far enough in the outfield to score Jorge Posada.

Coincidentally, (or perhaps not), the YES Network did s a short pre-game feature on Jeter’s climb toward the 3,000 hit mark, not focusing on his struggles, but on the magic of the milestone. Alex Rodriguez was part of the feature, praising the captain’s leadership skills and talking about how much he will personally enjoy watching Jeter reach that achievement. (Maybe ARod was specifically included to show how good a relationship the two now have, with an upcoming book promising to shine new light on the decay of their formerly close friendship).

Perhaps we should let the pace of Jeter’s climb to 3,000 tell us if he’s really done. Prior to the season, the baseball geeks projected he would hit that threshold sometime around June 8-10 (I have a ticket for the June 10th game, just in case). But if he approaches early June and is well off the pace, perhaps it is time for us Jeter fans to finally admit the cold, hard truth: that he’s just not as good as he used to be.

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