Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jeter, Yankees fit new park

Don't look now, but Derek Jeter is on pace for 20-25 home runs and 30+ steals. The new Yankee Stadium and Jeter's obsessive new preparation techniques have proven to be a time machine for the Captain, who is playing like it's a decade earlier.

Six of Jeter's eight home runs have come at home so far this year. Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira are all loving hitting lefty at the new park. Their power numbers are all up. Alex Rodriguez and Jeter both have a substantial amount of power to right, which means that nearly every Yankee starter can expect to produce more this year. This team is 18-11 at home so far, and it is perfectly constructed for the new bandbox. Future Yankees' general managers take note. Even an injury-diminished Hideki Matsui has shown some pop thanks to the friendly confines.

But for Jeter, this power surge has extra meaning. After his eighth home run of the season against Tampa Bay last night, Jeter sits at 214 career dingers. He is a couple of 20-home run seasons away from a real chance at 300 career home runs. Now, I didn't think that was anywhere near possible coming into this season, but with the new park, who knows? And if Jeter gets to 300 home runs, his already very good chances of reaching the Hall of Fame become great chances.

Also, Jeter's contract expires at the end of next season, and there have been rumblings for a couple of years now about what the Yankees could do with him in light of his diminished shortstop defense. One of the big concerns was that Jeter's power production was dropping, meaning he could not be a factor at designated hitter or in left field. If Jeter can hit around 20 home runs each of the next two seasons, to go with his usual .300+ batting average, the odds increase that Jeter remains valuable to the team. And like many Yankees fans, it would kill part of my soul to see the Yankees push Jeter out the door the way they did Bernie Williams.

So thanks to the architects, or Babe Ruth's ghost, or wind currents or inexplicable air density anomaly. Your penchant to take balls out to right field at the New House may mean that I get to see Derek Jeter retire as a Yankee, when he's good and ready.

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