If you were alive during the 90s, you know the name Derek Jeter, unless you lived under a rock. If you played baseball during that time, you probably attempted to imitate his swing. If you grew up in New York, and were asked to write a paper about who your hero was, the answer was most likely Derek Jeter. The Captain is an icon of baseball, and for good reason.
Derek Jeter's career began in Wally Pip fashion when Tony Fernandez, the starting shortstop, got hurt playing on the artificial turf in Toronto. The Yankees called up Jeter, and never looked back. Since then, all Derek has done is get 3,427 hits (seventh-best in baseball history), score 1913 runs (11th-best), earn a life time average of .311 (putting him in the top 100 all-time), drive in 1291 runs (top 120 all-time) and hit 259 HR. Fans and non-fans alike will never forget his flip play to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate in the 2001 ALDS, or his dive into the stands against the Red Sox in 2004. Love him or hate him, everything points to Derek Jeter being a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, and he has been the ambassador of baseball for years now. The torch may be being passed to baseball's new darling Mike Trout, but I'd like to take a moment to examine how baseball's old face impacted fantasy, since we all know what an impact Trout has had.
The Early Years of Derek Jeter
1996: The Captain's first full year in pinstripes, saw him hit .314/.370/.430 with 10 HR, 104 R, 78 RBI and 14 SB. Not a bad rookie year at all, especially when you factor in that it would put him on par with shortstops that were brand names, like Cal Ripken, Barry Larkin and Alex Rodriguez. Offense was more readily available in those days, but if these numbers were translated to today's game, Jeter would easily have been one of the most valuable fantasy players this year.
1997: Derek followed up his rookie campaign by posting a .291/.370/.405 with 10 HR, 116 R, 70 RBI and 23 SB. So much for the feared sophomore slump. This was just the beginning of the Captain proving how consistent he was, and any owners who had passed on drafting him in dynasty or keeper formats were kicking themselves.
The Dynasty Years of Derek Jeter
(1998-2001): Derek was at the center of the four-year run that found the Yankees making the World Series every year, and winning the championship in three of those four years. During this span, he hit .331/.404/.499 with 79 HR, 490 R, 333 RBI and 98 SB. This was arguably the best stretch of his career, with multiple season in which he hit close to 20 HR or more, stole 20+ bags every year except 1999 in which he stole 19, scored 110 + runs every season and hit at least 70 + RBI per season.
His best year was 1999, in which he hit a blistering .349/.438/.552 with 24 HR, 134 R, 102 RBI and 19 SB. That average made him more valuable by WAR standards than Alex Rodriguez, who hit .285/.357/.586 with 42 HR, 110 R, 111 RBI and 21 SB. Jeter was also more valuable by than Nomar Garciaparra, who hit .357/.418/.603 that year with 27 HR, 103 R, 104 RBI and 14 SB. Arguably, depending on formats, that would have made Derek the more valuable fantasy shortstop that year.
The Three Shortstops
(2002-2004): Between 2002 and 2004, it seemed anybody's guess who would emerge as the top shortstop between Derek, Nomar and Alex. Alex was widely considered the best player in the game, and his WAR of 9.8 in 2002 and 9.2 in 2003 would certainly support that, but Nomar and Derek weren't that far behind. Derek continued to post strong numbers in 2002, hitting for a .297/.373/.421 line with 18 HR, 124 R, 75 RBI and 32 SB. However, 2003 was a bit of a down year for the Captain, as he posted a .324/.393/.450 line, but only had 10 HR, 87 R, 52 RBI and 11 SB. The 2003 numbers are still great though, especially when you consider that Jete's shoulder was dislocated on Opening Day of that year.
2004 is when things all changed. A-Rod became teammates with Derek, and started playing third base. Nomar had somewhat of a down year (though when we are saying someone who hit for a .306 average is having a down year, you know he's pretty good) and was traded to the Cubs. Suddenly, Derek was easily the top fantasy shortstop, and he responded by hitting .292/.352/.471 with 23 HR, 111 R, 78 RBI, and 23 SB. Mr. November is one nickname for Jeter, but based on the season lines I think Mr. Consistent would still be more apt.
The Mid-to-Late 2000s
(2005-2009): Derek didn't have the title of number one shortstop to himself for long. In 2005 Derek Jeter was easily the shortstop to own, hitting .309/.389/.450 with 19 HR, 122 R, 70 RBI and 14 SB, but in 2006 Hanley Ramirez really came into his own. Even if Derek had competition during this span, he was still easily one of the top shortstops to own especially when you factor in how thin the position had become. For this stretch of years Derek hit .322/.393/.452 with 74 HR, 537 R, 375 RBI and 104 SB.
The Later Years of Derek Jeter's Career
In 2010 there was some talk of the Captain's ultimate decline because he hit "only" .270/.340/.370 with 10 HR, 111 R, 67 RBI and 18 SB. I think if you told most fantasy owners they were going to get double digits in homers from their shortstop and he'd score over 100 runs, they'd sign up for that immediately. The only reason this can be viewed as decline is because of how consistent Derek had been before it.
2011 was another down year of sorts for Jetes. He saw his triple slash climb back up to .297/.355/.388, but he only hit 6 HR (failing to break double digits for the first time since his rookie season), scored just 84 runs (only the third time since his rookie season he failed to score 100 runs), drove in 61 runs and stole 16 bases. Could this really be the tail end of Jeter that we were all witnessing?
Not if he had anything to say about it. In 2012 he responded by hitting .316/.362/.429 with 15 HR, 99 R, 58 RBI and 9 SB. It seemed like age would never catch up to Derek, and he would continue to be one of the top fantasy shortstops well into his 40s. However, the playoffs had something else in mind for him. During the real-life playoffs, Jeter broke his ankle.
In 2013, he was never really able to stay on the field, and he hit only .190/.288/.254 with just 1 HR, 8 R, 7 RBI and no steals in the injury-ridden campaign in which he managed only get 73 at-bats. As a life-long Yankee fan, there was little harder than watching Jeter suffer through the misery that was 2013. I imagine his fantasy owners couldn't have been too happy with him either.
The Final Year of Derek Jeter's Career
2014:-Derek surprised everyone by announcing this would be his last year early in Spring Training. It sort of makes sense since all of his friends from the Yankees championship years are gone now, and he feels he'd rather go out on top. It doesn't make it an easy pill to swallow for Yankee fans, though. At the very least, Derek is getting the farewell tour he so rightly deserves from baseball. I'm not going to lie to you guys, Derek Jeter initially had a place on my fantasy roster this year as a place of honor. Before you go criticizing that it's not the best strategy, just know that I'm currently in first so it didn't hurt me for the period of time that I did it (which was well over a month). This year, the Captain is also currently ranked 18th at the shortstop position in Yahoo leagues, making him relevant in deep leagues despite his advancing age and declining skills.
I personally would love to see Derek go on a tear to end the season. I think there would be no better way for him to end his final season than go out on a hit streak like he was so prone to do during his career. As a Yankee fan, I thank Derek for all the fond memories he has given me. As a fantasy manager, I thank Derek for all the wins he has given me over my opponents.