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Derek Jeter has a legit shot at MVP

Strong numbers down the stretch, intangibles, make a great case
09/13/2012 12:13 PM ET
By Jon Lane

Jeter's contributions on the field and in the Yankees' clubhouse make him a top MVP contender.(AP)

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Two seasons ago Derek Jeter batted a career-low .270 and then became embroidered in a very public contract battle with the New York Yankees before the two sides agreed on a three-year contract extension. When that clip bottomed out at .260 midway through the 2011 campaign the Yankees’ captain was declared finished. At age 37, the career of a lifetime was in an irreversible decline and the idea of an old baseball body breaking down was validated when a calf injury landed Jeter on the disabled list for the next three weeks.

Before anyone could blink, Jeter returned on July 4. Five days later he became the first Yankee in franchise history to join the 3,000-hit club. Fast forward another 14 months, Jeter is on the fast track to yet another Jeterian season, one that could finally net him an elusive AL Most Valuable Player award.

The competition for AL MVP is intense. Amazing L.A. Angels rookie Mike Trout is batting a league-leading .331 with 27 home runs, 77 RBIs and 45 stolen bases, vying to become the first freshman since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 to be named both Rookie of the Year and MVP. In the same division, Josh Hamilton is powering the first-place Texas Rangers close to another AL West title. Following a Ruthian April and May Hamilton endured a severe late spring-early summer drought until resurrecting his game to its current .285-41-121. In Detroit resides Miguel Cabrera (.328-36-118), who like Jeter is accustomed to being a bridesmaid in voting having finished in the top-five the past three seasons.

Where Jeter has the edge – no pun intended – is the fact that while some of the competition has been on a slight downward trend, Jeter’s game has risen to match the critical nature of the Yankees’ remaining schedule, one that has them fighting for their lives after seeing what was a 10-game AL East lead disappear entirely. Through 11 September games, Jeter is batting .362 and on an eight-game hitting streak. Trout, who on July 31 was batting .353, stands at .331 – precious points ahead of Cabrera and Jeter. Hamilton is hitting a paltry .191 in 11 games and was removed from Wednesday’s contest with left knee soreness.

Put everything together and Jeter has a real shot at winning his first AL batting title. That won’t guarantee Jeter the MVP, but it will make his greatest case since 2009. En route to winning his fifth World Series, Jeter’s .334 average ranked third in the AL to go with a second-best 212 hits, 18 home runs, 30 stolen bases, 107 runs scored and a .406 on-base percentage – all during a season when he became the Yankees’ all-time hits leader when he passed Lou Gehrig on September 11. With 20 games left in 2012, Jeter already has a league-leading 194 hits, 15 homers and 91 runs scored. When the pressure is at its greatest, Jeter delivers time and again, batting .314 with runners in scoring position and two out, and .284 in “close and late” situations.

Jeter’s trump card to any MVP discussions is the intangibles, X-factors that can’t be measured by even the smartest of sabermetric gurus. His outward appearance doesn’t suggest it, but if you watch him play or have been around him long enough, you’re convinced that he is The Captain. His leadership is immeasurable to the point where the Yankees and their fan base received a major scare when Jeter was removed from Wednesday’s game in Boston after aggravating an ankle injury trying to beat a double play.

Jeter, of course, tried to talk his way into staying on the field, but trainer Steve Donohue insisted he ice the ailment immediately. That opened the door for the press to asked the inevitable “Are you playing tomorrow” question in 10 different variations, even though they already knew the answer.

“I don't talk about injuries,” Jeter said. “You either play or you don’t. I'm playing so it's not an issue. If you're a player you play. If you play you don't talk about it.”

If there is one player who truly produces beyond the numbers, whose complete game on both the physical and mental side explains Most Valuable to the exact letter of the definition, it’s Jeter. Despite his current September slump, many remain seduced by Trout for legitimate reasons. But out of all the indispensible players the Yankees have lost this season, Jeter has been the one constant. He’s carried them on his back, leading like captains are born to lead – all at age 38. That’s more than enough to make a compelling MVP case.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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