Getting a Healthy Derek Jeter Back in 2013 More Important Than a Hurried Derek Jeter

Girardi Says It’s Not Clear Whether New York Yankee Captain Will Be Back for Opening Day

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COMMENTARY | New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said last week that it's not certain whether shortstop Derek Jeter will be able to man his familiar post on Opening Day next season.

"I think there's a bit of a question, but I think he'll find a way," Girardi told MLB.com on Thursday. "That's who he is."

Jeter suffered a fractured left ankle during Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers on Oct. 13 (click here for video). He had been playing on a weakened ankle for quite awhile.

According to the MLB.com report, Jeter is in Tampa, Fla., and is said to be keeping weight off the ankle until after the New Year. That will undoubtedly delay some of Jeter's normal offseason workouts.

The Yankees estimated that Jeter would need four to five months to fully recover after having surgery to repair the injury in late October. That would place his return between Feb. 20 and March 20 if those estimates are correct.

If Jeter can make it back in February, the odds are good he would be 100 percent by Opening Day. A return closer to March 20 puts that in doubt.

The Yankees are scheduled to open the 2013 season on April 1 against the Boston Red Sox.

If he can't go, it would be Jeter's first missed opener since 2001, when he was out with a strained right quadriceps.

While it would be terrific if the Captain were able to be on the field Opening Day, the big-picture view says it's more important to get him back healthy than it is to get him back quickly.

Eduardo Nunez could handle the shortstop duties on an interim basis until Jeter is 100 percent. Jeter's range at shortstop has been a concern for several years now. At age 38 and coming off such a serious injury, those range concerns become magnified.

According to FanGraphs.com, Jeter had the worst Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) among American League shortstops. UZR attempts to quantify how many runs a player saved or surrendered through their fielding.

Jeter's UZR for 2012 was minus-15.2. The American League leader, Brendan Ryan of the Seattle Mariners, recorded a UZR of 14.7, so that's a difference of almost 30 runs over the course of a season.

The last time Jeter recorded a positive UZR was in 2009 (6.4) and he's been sub-zero in the statistics for nine of the last 10 seasons.

Nunez's UZR is comparable to Jeter's, if not a bit better. In 116 innings at shortstop in 2012, Nunez had a UZR of minus-1.1. In a little more than 10 times the innings (1186.1), Jeter's UZR was 14.1 runs worse. By doing some quick and dirty math, if one were to multiply Nunez's UZR by 10.225 to equalize the innings, Nunez grades out at a minus-11.2.

That's still bad … but better than Jeter.

This isn't a knock on Jeter, who had a fantastic 2012 season at the plate. He hit .316/.362/.429 and led the American League with 216 hits. That made him the second-oldest player to ever league a league in hits, younger only than Paul Molitor.

Molitor was 40 when he banged out 225 hits for the Minnesota Twins to lead the AL.

Rather, it's just facing the reality. The Yankees have an aging shortstop coming off a major injury. It's more important to make sure Jeter is ready to come back, even if that means sacrificing some playing time in April.

Better to give those up than not have him 100 percent at all in 2013.

Phil Watson was a writer and editor for several daily newspapers for more than 20 years and is a longtime New York Yankee fan.

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