Let me start by saying I'm going to have to kick my own ass for writing this post, but it has to be said. Take a look at the two pictures below:
Plays like these are what make this post so incredibly painful to write, but again, it needs to be said. When the game is on the line, Derek Jeter should not be playing shortstop for this team. Not right now, anyway. He just doesn't have the range to get the job done.
I don't think this is due to a deterioration of skills, I think the knee injury he's playing through is much worse than he's letting on. Obviously, this isn't a thought to be taken lightly, but it's one that Joe is going to have to face as the games start to increase in importance. Jeter cannot cover the ground right now. You could make the argument that his extremely high baseball IQ, playoff experience, on-the-field leadership and "right place, right time" tendencies outweigh the physical limitations, and trust me, I've argued that myself, but we've reached the point where having him out there can be a liability.
I'm not saying he needs to be benched, I'm not saying you take his bat out of the lineup every game. What I'm saying is that when Joe goes to Doug at first in the 8th inning or later of a game in which the Yanks are leading, he should also call on Betemit or the rookie Alberto Gonzalez to replace Jeter at short.
There was a perfect example of what I'm talking about in tonight's game. With the bases loaded in the second inning, and two out, there was a pop-up hit to shallow left-center. Jeter took a half step toward the ball, then stopped and pointed. Damon made a nice running catch for the final out, but that's beside the point. The Derek Jeter of old catches that ball, easily. The Derek Jeter we're watching today, doesn't even go after it.
In the last game Jeter played before tonight's, at K.C., he ranged far
to his right to get a ball in the hole. This was Jeter's patented play,
the jump-throw. Now, he fields the ball and eats it, he can't make the
Don't get me wrong, I think and hope that this is temporary. The knee
explains most of it. His range is limited up the middle because he has
to push off of his right leg to get moving in that direction. A bad right knee
short circuits the whole movement. Same thing with the jump-throw, he
has to take off from that right leg to get airborne, the bad knee
doesn't let him do it.
If you've been watching every Yankee game, you have to be feeling an all-too-familiar feeling whenever a grounder is hit up the middle. As you watch, sometimes there's a doubt as to whether the ball will make it through. Watching the Yanks, with Jeter at short, you know it's going through now. His range to his left is non-existent at this point. I say it's a familiar feeling because think back to the last five years or so of Bernie's career. With a man on second, if there was a single hit up the middle you should have a feeling of anticipation, "Is he going to throw him out at the plate?" With Bernie, you never thought twice, you counted the run and watched him bounce a throw off the pitchers mound.
Let me say emphatically that I don't think there's a chance in hell this will happen. Joe Torre is perhaps the most loyal manager in the game, and he's especially loyal to Jeter, as well he should be. But just because something won't happen, doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. Honestly, I'd be sad if it did, but it really would give the Yanks a better shot at catching the Sox and ultimately, winning the series. Jeter's a smart player, he knows what's going on, so he cheats more than usual. This opens up even bigger holes that he can't cover.
I wish there was some way around this, sadly, I don't think a day off here and there is going to make much of a difference. Jeter had back-to-back days off coming into tonight, and he still looked hobbled out there. The Yankees absolutely need the Captain. The need him in the lineup every day. They need him in the clubhouse. Unfortunately, they also need him to take a seat late in the games to shore up the defense.
Take a look at one more picture below. This is Jeter at his best, and it's an image we won't soon forget. Unfortunately, if that play happened tomorrow, I don't think he'd even be in the picture. He just doesn't have the speed right now.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go punch myself in the head.