we've made no secret of our preferred position of the Yankees and Brian Cashman holding firm at their three-year, $45 million offer to Derek Jeter and see absolutely no reason for the Yankees to bid against themselves seeing as how no team is going to come anywhere close to offering a 36-year-old shortstop coming off a career-worst .320 wOBA season $15 million a year, I thought it might be fun to take a step away from the negotiation table for a second and look at what the Yankees have gotten out of shortstop (in terms of wOBA) since 1990 (arguably the team's darkest year ever) and what Derek has done for the Yankees since being instated as the full-time shortstop in 1996.
In mining the data I assumed that the Yankees would've gotten practically nothing out of shortstop in the years leading up to Jeter's ascendancy, but it turns out that's not entirely the case.
Here's an easy-on-the-eyes graph charting the wOBA the Yankees have received from the shortstop position since 1990, so you can stop squinting at text for once:
As I indicated previously, I was fully expecting sub-.300 wOBAs in every season pre-1996. While the Yankees did receive what has to have been one of the lowest shortstop wOBAs in franchise history in 1990, with Alvaro Espinoza (.242 wOBA) and Wayne Tolleson (.193) combining for a .235 wOBA, things slowly improved in 1991, as Espinoza (.283) and Randy Velarde (.304) brought the shortstop mark up to .284.
However, the Yankees' collective shortstops surprisingly posted the top fWAR in all of baseball in 1992, 6.1 (to go with a .323 wOBA), and the second-highest fWAR in the Majors in 1993, 7.8(!) (along with a .329 wOBA). Who, pray tell, contributed to these impressive marks, numbers that Derek Jeter only eclipsed four times in his 15-year career (in 1998, 1999, 2006 and 2009)? In 1992, Andy Stankiewicz was, believe it or not, worth 2.6 fWAR in just 451 plate appearances (.317 wOBA), which was more valuable than Derek Jeter's 2010 (2.5 fWAR in 739 plate appearances). Velarde also contributed 2.0 fWAR in 461 plate appearances (.328 wOBA), while Mike Gallego chipped in 1.4 fWAR in only 201 plate appearances (.323 wOBA). (Edited to add that Stanky and Gallego also played an undisclosed number of games at 2B that season, and so their numbers weren't compiled exclusively at shortstop. However, the cumulative wOBA figure is still accurate. For some reason Fangraphs doesn't filter out games played by position that far back, though I assumed it did, and that's my oversight. Thanks to Skip for the heads-up.)
In 1993, Gallego went crazy, posting the best season of his career by far in accumulating 4.7 fWAR over 465 plate appearances (and a .349 wOBA), while Velarde also went nuts, raking to a .362 wOBA over 253 PAs, good for 2.3 fWAR. (Again, Gallego also split time at 2B this season). Somehow Spike Owen was allowed 367 PAs that season in which he awfuled his way to a .274 wOBA, but still managed to contribute a positive fWAR (0.4).
The following season Gallego came back to earth, with a .307 wOBA in 357 PAs, while Velarde showed some pop (.341 wOBA in 310 PAs) but little else (1.0 fWAR). Additionally, Robert Eenhoorn and Kevin Elster "contributed" 0.1 fWAR (4 PAs) and -0.5 fWAR (22 PAs), respectively.
Entering the 1995 season the Yanks signed Tony Fernandez, coming off a .340 wOBA season in strike-shortened 1994 with the Reds, to be their everyday shortstop. However, Fernandez was a significant disappointment, posting a pathetic .296 wOBA and 0.7 fWAR in 438 plate appearances (a 21-year-old Derek Jeter got a 51-PA cup of coffee, also posting a .296 wOBA and -0.5 fWAR).
Fernandez famously missed all of 1996 with an injury, setting the stage for the Yankees' 22-year-old rookie phenom to step into the shortstop role full time, and Jeter rewarded the team with its best shortstop wOBA in years (possibly since Phil Rizzuto's .397 in 1950), a .353 mark (2.6 fWAR), good enough to win Rookie of the Year.
As you can see from the graph, Jeter has provided a minimum .340 wOBA at a position historically not known for its offense every season of his career save 2010, and rather incredibly kept it above .360 every season from 1998 through 2007. Not that any of this is new information, but it seemed worthwhile to show that, for as frustrating as it is that Derek appears to be on the downswing of his career, he was such a reliable component of the offense for so long, and it's easy to take his performance for granted in light of what the Yankees were getting out of the shortstop position in the late '80s (1989 SS wOBA: .289; 1988: .270; 1987: .273; 1986: .265) and early '90s.
With regards to the rumor that Eduardo Nunez would be the shortstop apparent should the impossible happen and the Yankees and Jeter can't come to turns, the picture for the 2011 Yankees becomes a bit grayer. The gulf between Jeter and Nunez is pretty vast, but it may not be quite as large as one might initially think, and as much as I can't picture Jeter wearing the uniform of another team, I don't think the Yankees would necessarily be dead in the water in the event that Nunez took over as starting shortstop.
For one thing, the overly optimistic Bill James projections (though Bill of course doesn't see it that way) somehow have Nunez posting a .330 wOBA in 2011, though that projection is only over an 88-game span (233 plate appearances). SG's CAIRO system has Nunez at a much more realistic-sounding baseline projection of .286 (0.6 WAR) over 528 plate appearances. James has Jeter bouncing back to a .344 wOBA in 2011 and SG also sees a similar bounceback, at a baseline of .342 (2.5 WAR).
However, things begin to get interesting when you mix and match with CAIRO's projection percentiles. If Jeter were to falter and only hit his 35% percentile projection, he'd be back around his disappointing 2010, with a .323 wOBA (and only 1.4 WAR). And if Nunez were to overperform to his 65% percentile projection, he'd still be a pretty big zero with the bat at a .305 wOBA, though not being Jeter on defense would hypothetically enable Nunez to accumulate 1.5 WAR.
This is all an overly complicated way of saying that it's not impossible that Eduardo Nunez could outperform Derek Jeter in 2011, although the odds are very much against it. For as much as the Yankees absolutely should not overpay for Jeter, and while they could probably get by with Nunez at short (especially if Jeter were to slump again), they're definitely a better team with Derek in 2011.