Derek Jeter has been able to do nothing but watch this year, and what he’s seen hasn’t been pretty.

As the veteran shortstop has been busy rehabbing a fractured left ankle that he suffered last October, the New York Yankees have been one of the most ineffective offensive teams in the American League. If their current pace holds, the Bombers are going to have their worst offensive season in over two decades.

Yankees fans can rest assured. The Captain will have something to say about that when he returns, and he won’t even have to be his old self in order to do so.

We’ll get to that soon enough. For now, here’s the good news: The time of Jeter’s return is finally drawing near.

Jeter just started a minor league rehab assignment a few days ago, but he told Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger and other reporters on Monday that he’s ready to go. Even Yankees manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman admitted there’s a chance Jeter could make his return this weekend.

On Tuesday, that still sounds like a pretty real possibility. Here’s McCullough with the latest:

Nothing’s final, but there’s a chance Jeter will get his feet wet against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium this weekend. Either way, it’s now pretty much a given that he’s going to be there in the second half to help the Yankees make a run.

But there’s the tricky part. Precisely how much will Jeter be able to help?

It’s a question I touched on a few weeks ago, but only very briefly and there was just as much attention paid to how Jeter is going to impact the Yankees’ lineup as there was to what his actual performance is going to be.

What I want to do here is focus more on his actual performance with the use of some super-fun-happy numbers.

One solution to this quandary would be to take a rough guess at what Jeter’s second-half numbers are going to be. But, nah. A better solution is to consult the Steamer projections.

According to FanGraphs, the Steamer system sees the following numbers in Jeter’s future:

56   228 19  66  11  1  4  4  2

The bottom line is a .288/.345/.389 slash line and a .734 OPS.

Such numbers look modest at first glance, especially in light of what Jeter did in 2012. He hit .316/.362/.429 and, of course, led the league in hits. If he goes from there to the numbers Steamer is projecting for him, he’ll be taking a step back offensively.

But now for why that makes perfect sense.

Steamer is projecting a 7.4 BB% and a 13.5 K% for Jeter. That’s because of what he’s done over the three previous seasons, in which he’s racked up a 7.4 BB% and a 13.3 K%. He’s always been a relatively low-walk and low-strikeout guy. He was just that in the last three seasons, and Steamer is expecting him to be just that once more down the stretch in 2013.

There’s also the .323 BABIP that Steamer is projecting for Jeter. That’s a far cry from the .347 BABIP he posted last year and a step down from the .330 BABIP he compiled between 2010 and 2012, but it’s fair because of what we know about 39-year-old hitters.

According to Baseball-Reference, only 11 39-year-olds in history to qualify for the batting title posted BABIPs as high as .320. Only five of those went as high as .330. So to a degree, a projected BABIP of .323 for Jeter is paying him a compliment. One I’d say he’s earned, given his history.

Then there’s the matter of Jeter’s projected ISO (Isolated Power) of .101. That’s a step back from the .113 ISO he posted last year but almost perfectly in line with the .102 ISO he racked up between 2010 and 2012. Also, Jeter only had a .095 ISO in his final 133 games last year, as the bulk of his power production came early in the season.

Lastly, there are those 56 games played. The Yankees have 67 games lined up for the second half, so Steamer is anticipating Jeter getting a lot of days off between now and the end of the season. Probably a few too many knowing him, but at the same time it is practical to anticipate the Yankees taking it easy with Jeter. They’d rather have him occasionally annoyed than broken again, after all.

From a league-wide perspective, the Steamer projections would make Jeter about an average offensive player. The Yankees will gladly take one of those for the second half, however, as getting average production from shortstop would be a huge leg up.

Here’s how the numbers projected for Jeter compare to the numbers the Yankees have actually gotten from their shortstops so far in 2013.

Jeter 56   228 19  66  11  1  4  4  2
Yankees SS 89  311 23  66  13  2  2 11  1

Suddenly the numbers projected for Jeter don’t look so bad, do they? In fact, they look darn good.

How bad have Yankees shortstops been at the plate? Well, the Yankees are a lousy offensive team, so it’s saying something that they’ve gotten a worse OPS (.558) from shortstop than they have from any other position on the diamond. Jeter will be a ginormous upgrade.

In fact, what the heck. Let’s go ahead and put some numbers on it.

If you were wondering why I picked out the specific numbers I did for the tables above, it’s because those are the numbers one needs to make use of the Runs Created calculator over at Had2Know.

(Quick note: If you’re just now joining us from a multi-decade slumber, “Runs Created” is a stat that was developed by Bill James a while back that measures more or less what it says it measures: how many runs a player is worth to his team.)

By the formula used by Had2Know, Yankees shortstops have created 25 runs thus far in 2013, or about seven percent of the 349 runs the Yankees have scored. Given their horrid production, that sounds about right.

Plug in Jeter’s projected numbers, and you get 31 runs created for the stretch run. That’s a minor difference at first glance, but it’s a much bigger difference once you factor in the smaller number of at-bats and games played. If he lives up to his projections, Jeter is going to create many more runs in a much smaller sample size of playing time.

That underscores the point that, health permitting, Jeter is going to be an offensive boon for the Yankees in the second half. The Yankees are at 3.92 runs per game now. With Jeter in the lineup on a regular basis, you have to think that they’ll be able to get over four runs per game easily.

The catch?

Jeter should be a significant defensive downgrade for the Yankees. Their shortstops rank about in the middle of the pack in Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs. Jeter was the worst shortstop in the league in both those categories last year, and that was before doctors went in with instruments and put his left ankle back together.

Point being that some of the runs Jeter is going to give the Yankees on offense are going to be erased by his defense. The Yankees are going to need either better pitching or more offense to account for those.

More offense is hardly out of the question. Just as Jeter will be an offensive upgrade at short if he stays healthy, Alex Rodriguez will be an offensive upgrade at third base if he comes back stays healthy. Curtis Granderson will (theoretically) provide some power upon his return.

Factor in the production that Rodriguez and Granderson should bring to the lineup alongside Jeter, and it’s going to be an upset if the Yankees don’t manage four runs per game in the second half. If anything, they should be able to close the gap between them and the American League average of 4.42 runs per game.

The Yankees’ offense will still be pathetic in light of the Bronx Bombers offenses of old, to be sure. But since they’ve managed to stick in the race with a lousy offense, the Yankees have to like their chances of doing better than merely sticking in the race with an improved offense.

At the very least, they might be able to get people to start watching their games again


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