Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SweetSpot [Print without images]

Monday, June 13, 2011
Jeter injured, but Yankees won't miss him

By David Schoenfield

Since Derek Jeter became the Yankees' shortstop in 1996, they've been a better team with him in the lineup. They're 1,405-925 with him in the starting lineup and 91-69 without him. That's a .603 winning percentage versus .569, or about six wins per 162 games.

Jeter
Jeter
That's a very crude method to evaluate Jeter's value but another way to say this: It's 2011, and we all know Jeter is not the player he once was. He left Monday's game with a calf injury and he might miss a day or two, or he might head to the disabled list. We don't know yet.

But it doesn't really matter. Even if he's out a couple of weeks, the Yankees will be just fine. Eduardo Nunez is a capable shortstop; if anything, he has more range than Jeter. The defense might improve slightly with the younger legs in there. At the plate, Nunez is hitting just .214, but that's in just 57 at-bats and sporadic playing time. Before the season, the ZiPS systems projected Nunez as a .265/.301/.357 (BA/OBP/SLG) hitter -- a .658 OPS. Jeter's current OPS: .648.

More importantly, it means Brett Gardner will move into the leadoff spot. Gardner is the better hitter than Jeter right now, and it's not close. He has a .351 on-base percentage to Jeter's .324. He has more power (17 extra-base hits in 184 at-bats, versus Jeter's 12 in 262). Plus, he's hot right now. After a slow start, Gardner has hit .321 since May 1, including .375 in June. Getting Gardner into the leadoff spot makes the Yankees a better offensive team.

It's a shame that if Jeter is out for a period of time that it happened right as he was on the brink of his 3,000th career hit, a great milestone for a terrific player. I'm sure he wanted nothing more than to get that hit out of the way so he could focus on the rest of the season.

As for the Yankees, the biggest question isn't whether Eduardo Nunez can fill Jeter's shoes, but whether Gardner will get to keep the leadoff spot when Jeter returns.