Brian Fuentes, Derek Jeter, and Changing Roles

This is ultimately going to be about Derek Jeter, but I first want to mention the ongoing drama between Brian Fuentes and manager Bob Geren. For those not aware: Fuentes pretty much called out the manager for using him incorrectly. What was Geren’s crime? Using Fuentes – the de facto “closer” – in the 7th inning.

As pretty much all baseball fans know, the closer comes in in the 9th, with a lead of 3 runs or less. Or if the game is tied at home. Those are the unwritten rules. Yes, it’s kind of ridiculous, as it plays to the meaningless save statistic, but that’s how it is generally done. There have been many compelling arguments made over the years that really your best reliever should be used in the highest leverage situations, which often come in the 7th and 8th innings.

Relievers seem to like defined roles though and most attempts at a “closer by committee” system – where the person who actually finishes the game is decided by situation, not preset role – have not gone well. If you really think about it, the whole thing seems to warrant a psychological study, but that’s a topic for a different day.

What I am trying to get at though is that Fuentes was upset – upset enough to call out his manager to the media. Now, Fuentes throughout his career has been pretty good. Since 2002 he’s only had 1 season where he posted an ERA+ under 100. He’s not dominant, but he is generally effective enough to consider in the closer’s role. He’s not so good though that pitching him in the 7th inning should be blasphemy and I’m basing that just on his career before this season.

Well, this year, Fuentes has been nothing short of awful. I’m not a fan of win-loss statistics for pitchers, but Fuentes already has 7 losses – the most in the league (which is pretty remarkable for a closer). His ERA+ is 77. This is only over 20+ innings, so clearly there is a good chance Fuentes will bounce back.

Bob Geren decided it was time to change things up a bit. Maybe use Fuentes differently to help him get on track. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and really Fuentes’ performance thus far pretty much demanded it. Yet, Fuentes was angry enough to insinuate that Geren is perhaps the worst manager around. Pretty harsh.

So what does this have to do with Derek Jeter? Well, even the most staunch Jeter supporter has to realize that he’s not that good anymore. He’s batting .255/.310/.321. His defense has always been questionable. Now, there aren’t exactly a ton of good shortstops out there. There is still value in what Jeter is doing. Yet, he continues to bat leadoff and even occasionally DH. You could make the argument that Jeter is currently the Yankees’ worst hitter and yet he gets the most at-bats. If we’re trying to figure out why the Yankees can’t string hits together, this is a good place to start.

So most of us can look at these numbers and say “well, Jeter should be batting 8th or 9th” and that is the reality of the situation unless Jeter has a sudden revival. If only it were that easy though. If Brian Fuentes – a mediocre closer in the midst of a terrible season – can throw a fit for having to pitch in the 7th, how would sure-fire Hall of Famer and Yankee legend Derek Jeter react to hitting at the bottom of the order? We already have seen how the less iconic Jorge Posada reacted to batting 9th.

The move has to happen however. Winning games ultimately is the goal and the Yankees are not putting the best team out there by having Jeter get the most at-bats (or DH for that matter).

Bob Geren sat down with Brian Fuentes and explained he’d have a new role and made Grant Balfour the closer. I’m sure Fuentes isn’t pleased about it, but it had to happen. At some point, Girardi and Yankees will have to figure out how to move Jeter. Unfortunately, it’s not just as simple as writing his name into a different spot in the lineup.

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6 Responses to Brian Fuentes, Derek Jeter, and Changing Roles

  1. allen says:

    Jeter has always choked a bit when approaching a milestone. Now he is approaching 3000 hits, and it may be that his sub-par performance thus far is due, at least in part, to that. Might be a good idea to give him until the all-star break to get his 3000th and see if that loosens him up.

    • Somehow I doubt that this is what it's about. He dropped off quite a bit last season and this season he has dropped off even further. It's hard to admit it, but Jeter is just old now.

      • Mike Sommer says:

        As Jess Coleman wrote on this blog in November 2010, only 9 SS age 37 or older have hit .270 in a season. Jeter is at .255 right now, and turns 37 in a month.

        I don't know if he listed the 9. They are Honus Wagner, Maury Wills, Dave Bancroft, Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, Barry Larkin, Luke Appling, Rabbit Maranville and Omar Vizquel.

        One thing to note. In many of these cases, the OPS+ was still very low, and many of those nine fell off the table soon after having that .270+ season at age 37 or older. (Example: Wills .281 1971, .129 1972). As for Wagner and Appling, those two were just freaks the way they performed into their 40s.

        History (and Father Time), for Jeter, may be a very hard thing to overcome.

  2. Brandon Burkhart says:

    This whole thing is just outrageous. We have our worst hitter batting in front of our hottest hitter. Our second hottest hitter is batting 8-9 regularly and he also happens to be the fastest player on the team. Just because Gardner slumped to begin this year he's no longer a candidate to lead off?

    Also, I can't wait for the ESPN stories on Jeter being "disrespected" when he finally does get moved down in the order. Just like he was "disrespected' when he got overpaid in the off-season.

  3. Mike Sommer says:

    Just a quick update since nothing posted in a few days what with the holiday weekend. Yanks lost 2 of 3 in Seattle. Both losses were 1-run losses, the 2nd in 12 innings. They avoided the sweep on Sunday as Ace and Stopper CC won 7-1 behind a bases-loaded double by Andruw. Jeter is now at 2980 hits. Teixeira had a couple HR (15), Granderson now with 16. Swisher got his 3rd yesterday. Hughes may be facing batters this weekend as he progresses from that dead arm spell. In the minors, Jorge Vazquez now with 18 HR 45 RBI at AAA. Betances ERA 1.30, Banuelos 2.16 at AA. Yanks now in Oakland where each starter they'll face has an ERA under 3.00. Two are lefties. For now, that's a wrap.

  4. Mike Sommer says:

    Wow. A Memorial Day masterpiece from Colon. Wins 5-0 on a 4-hit shutout. Another HR by Teix. No one saw a CG shutout by Colon back in March.