With the 2010 baseball season a little more than a month away, Derek Jeter is entering his 15th full Major League season.  With an already impressive list of accomplishments, Jeter has a chance to achieve something that no other shortstop in the last 60 years has done: finish the season with an OPS+ of at least 120, playing at least 120 games at SS when older than 35. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, “OPS+”, it simply means On-Base Percentage + Slugging compared to the league the average.  Jeter’s On-Base Percentage last season (.406) +(.465 Slug)=.871 was 21% above the average OPS in the game(.688), giving us the figure 121 for OBP+. Truly an impressive feat for a Shortstop.

In 2009, Jeter became the oldest shortstop (35-years-old) in the last 60 years to finish a full-season with an OPS+ greater than 120, breaking Barry Larkin’s mark of an OPS+ of 120 at the ripe age of 34.  This season, Jeter could become only the third shortstop ever, to have an OPS+ of 120 after the age of 35.  The only players to have accomplished this feat are Hall-of-Famers Luke Appling and Hinus Wagner.  One thing to consider is Jeter’s lifetime OPS+ of 121.  In fact, Jeter almost always posts an OPS+ of at least 120; he’s reached this mark 9 times in his 14 full major league seasons:

Year    Age      Tm     Lg        G          PA       OPS     OPS+

1996   22       NYY     AL       157     654     .800     101

1997   23       NYY     AL       159     748     .775     103

1998   24       NYY     AL       149     694     .864     127

1999   25       NYY     AL       158     739     .989     153

2000   26       NYY     AL       148     679     .896     128

2001   27       NYY     AL       150     686     .858     123

2002   28       NYY     AL       157     730     .794     111

2003   29       NYY     AL       119     542     .844     125

2004   30       NYY     AL       154     721     .823     114

2005   31       NYY     AL       159     752     .839     125

2006   32       NYY     AL       154     715     .900     132

2007   33       NYY     AL       156     714     .840     121

2008   34       NYY     AL       150     668     .771     102

2009   35       NYY     AL       153     716     .871     132

162-Game Avg.                        162   743     .847     121

(Courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com)

Looking at Jeter’s career OPS numbers, one detail jumps right out: he has never been below average in terms of OPS+.  Jeter’s reliability is truly remarkable.  (If betting were legal) I’d wager that Jeter finishes the 2010 season with an OPS+ greater than 120, becoming the first shortstop to accomplish this in the last 60 years and just the third shortstop ever, over the age of 36, to do so in baseball history.

With Jeter’s contract up following the 2010 season, and Brian Cashman on record saying the Yankees will wait until after the season to attempt to re-sign him, there is (*has recently been) speculation of moving the aging shortstop to another position.  My take on the thought of moving Jeter has always been this: if the Yankees were going to switch him to another position, they would have already done so.  It’s not very often that we hear the conjecture of switching a gold glover to a new position. The Yankees would have brought in a different shortstop a few years ago if this change was in fact going to happen.

The argument of moving Jeter does hold some weight.  Before the Yankees championship last year, the last team to have won a World Series with a starting shortstop age 35 or older was the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, with a 35-year-old Pee-Wee Reese; and before that, the Pittsburgh Pirates won the 1909 World Series with a 35-year-old Honus Wagner.  Jeter, Reese, and Wagner are household baseball names, though.  Moving a first ballot Hall-of-Fame Shortstop to a new position is a very difficult decision, given Jeter’s consistency over his career. He has posted one of the best four-year stretches ever by a shortstop:

Yr.      Runs  Hits    2B       HR       RBI      BA      OBP     SLG     OPS     OPS+   TB

06        118    214    39        14        97       .343     .417     .483     .900     132    301

07        102    206    39        12        73       .322     .388     .452     .840     121    289

08          88      179    25        11        69       .300     .363     .408     .771     102    243

09        107    212    27        18        66       .334     .406     .465     .871     132    295

(thanks, again, to Baseball-Reference)

With Jeter’s 2008 campaign skewed partially because of a hand injury that he played through, he bounced right back in 2009 to put up yet another MVP-caliber season.

Teams often suffer, due to a shortstop over 35 in their everyday lineup. Jeter is a nice exception to the rule.  Since his rookie year, Derek Jeter has always been the model of consistency at the shortstop position.  In 2010, Jeter will become just the third shortstop in baseball history, at least 36-years-old, to finish a season with an OPS+ of at least 120.