Without Derek Jeter, Yankees Getting Along Just Fine

NEW YORK - JUNE 14: Eduardo Nunez #26 of the New York Yankees hits a RBI single in the bottom of the second inning against the Texas Rangers on June 14, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Rangers 12-4. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Since Jeter last played a game, the Yankees have posted the best record in the American League. This probably shouldn't come as too much of a surprise.

As I lay in bed this morning in the transition state between asleep and awake, I scrolled through my Tweetdeck when I happened upon the following:

#Yankees are tied for the best record in AL (8-3) since Derek Jeter was placed on the disabled list. Weird stat, huh?less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

 

That tweet caught my eye. I got out of bed to confirm, and the Yankees are actually 9-3 since Jeter got hurt on June 13. That ties them with the Rays for the best record in the American League over the same span of time, and the only team with a better record in baseball is the Nationals, at 10-2.

It got my attention because I sensed that there was something there. Some lessons that we could all probably stand to learn, or re-learn. After giving it some thought, I've settled on the following three:

Anything can happen over small samples
Everybody knows this, but not everybody considers it in every appropriate situation. Between May 20 and June 2, the dreadful Astros went 8-5. Between May 14 and May 24, the awesome Phillies went 4-7. These stretches aren't really meaningful, because they're small stretches, and over small stretches, there can be incredible variability.

Individual players aren't as important as they seem
One of the consequences of the development of the Wins Above Replacement framework is that we've been given a better idea of how important individual players actually are. According to Fangraphs, the best player in baseball since 2005 - Albert Pujols - has been worth about 8.5 wins over a replacement guy per season, or 1 - 1.5 wins a month. For other players - inferior players, like Derek Jeter - those numbers are much smaller. Over brief stretches, it should make little difference whether or not a decent or good player is active.

Derek Jeter ain't much
This may be a classic case of burying the lede. Since getting hurt, Jeter has been replaced by noted no-name Eduardo Nunez. The two players have posted the following batting lines since the beginning of the 2010 season. Which line belongs to which player?

.259/.301/.367
.267/.336/.357

Nunez owns the first while Jeter owns the second, and the gap between them isn't big. The two players make comparable contributions on the basepaths, and in the field, even though defense is hard to measure, Jeter is a 37-year-old with a certain reputation, while Nunez is a 24-year-old who's handled short at every stop, although he's admittedly been error-prone. It is worth considering that, when you strip away everything that doesn't matter or hardly matters, Eduardo Nunez may be about as good a player as Derek Jeter.

There are three lessons. I don't know which most applies to the Yankees' recent run of success. Ultimately, though, here's what matters: when Jeter got hurt, the Yankees had the highest run differential in baseball, so given that, and given what Jeter has been, it should come as no surprise that the team's been just fine without its captain.

(For more on the Yankees' situation at shortstop, be sure to read Rob Neyer's evaluation.)

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