It’s no secret that Derek Jeter has been one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball for a few years now. Virtually every defensive metric rates him somewhere between below-average and atrocious. At the same time, there’s no doubt that the Captain can still hit as evidenced by his 117 wRC+ last season. However, you have to figure that at some point his defense will become enough of a liability that the Yankees just won’t be able to afford to keep pencilling him in at SS every day. He’s 38 years old now and will be coming off of a severe ankle injury. It’s not hard to predict that this could be the year that his defense finally reaches unacceptable levels.
So would it make sense for the Yankees to start easing him into more of a DH role? It seems like they may be considering just that as they’re supposedly in the market for an upgrade over Jason Nix. Now as far as backup infielders go, there’s nothing wrong with Jason Nix. He’s shown the ability to play a respectable 2B and 3B while not embarrassing himself at the plate. However, he’s played very little SS in his career. While Eduardo Nunez has experience at short and is a decent hitter, he’s not the solution due to his frequent blunders in the field. With no DH on the roster at the moment, maybe the Yanks will instead look to bring in someone who can play significant time at SS while Jeter splits between SS and DH. Jeter did play 25 games at DH last year; but, a good chunk of those came at the end of the year when he was banged up. So would moving Jeter to DH make sense for the team?
If we go by Fangraphs’ positional adjustments, a SS over 162 games is worth 7.5 runs just for being a SS. A DH is worth -17.5. So according to the theory of positional adjustment, a SS would have to be worth 25 runs below average over 162 games in order to warrant a move to DH. This may seem like a lot on the surface until you consider how much of a premium position SS is. There just aren’t that many guys out there who can play a passable SS and be an offensive force. This is why guys like Brendan Ryan manage to play everyday. For comparison, a 1B would only have to be 5 runs below average to warrant a move to DH. Obviously, every team’s situation is different and defensive alignments are generally determined by the players on the roster. For example, if the Yankees were to trade for Elvis Andrus (that would be nice), they’d play him at SS rather than trying to squeeze a little more WAR out of Jeter. Nonetheless, this provides a good baseline for Jeter’s value relative to his position. Let’s look at Jeter’s fielding stats over the last 3 seasons: