Thus far in 2011, two Yankees legends have shown their age and performed in a manner that suggests their time as effective major league hitters is over. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have struggled to have a consistent impact offensively, with Jorge showing an inability to make consistent contact and Jeter displaying an alarming lack of pop in his bat. Watching the two of them play has been painful, and there have been few signs that point to a career renaissance for either player. However, let’s jump in the wayback machine to 2009 and take a look at a similar start for an aging slugger that turned out just fine.
In early 2009, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz seemed to be nearing the end of the road. After a 2008 that was solid but a significant decline from previous seasons, he started 2009 looking incredibly old and slow at the plate. On June 5th of that season, he was hitting .188/.281/.288 with just 1 home run, and fans and media alike were already burying him and begging Terry Francona to take him out of the lineup. To watch Ortiz was to know that his bat speed was gone and it was never coming back. Until it did.
Ortiz hit .266/.360/.557 over the remainder of that season, hitting 21 doubles and 27 homers over the Red Sox’ final 101 games. While that line was not quite a return to his former glory, it did make Ortiz one of the best DHs in baseball once again and restored confidence in his ability to anchor the middle of a lineup. Then 2010 rolled around, and while you would think we would have learned our lesson, a poor start once again had us shoveling dirt on Ortiz. Ortiz hit .143/.238/.286 in April, and people began to wonder whether he was really done this time. He was able to turn his season around yet again, going .286/.385/.558 over the remainder of 2010 and finishing the year as the AL’s best DH.
The point here is not a scientific one, as I am not trying to suggest that Ortiz is the rule rather than the exception. When players begin to show signs of aging, more often than not it is because their skills are deteriorating. It is quite possible, maybe even likely, that Jeter and Posada do not have a resurgence in them. But the lesson to learn from Ortiz is that a player can look so bad to the naked eye for months on end to the extent that everyone thinks he is done, yet turn things around and put together an effective stretch of baseball. There are some reasons in the statistical record to believe that Posada and Jeter might have at least some bounce-back in them (low BABIP for one), and Ortiz’ saga should tell us that despite how bad these two aging stars have looked at the plate, it is still a bit too early for eulogies just yet.
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