As it all turned out, thanks to a 12th inning catch that Nick Swisher could not make and a hard ground ball hit to Derek Jeter‘s left, it was the Yankees who lost both the game and a key cog – and not the Detroit Tigers. But make no mistake: both teams are bloodied and weaker going into game two than they looked on Saturday morning.
The Yankees have lost Derek Jeter for the remainder of the postseason to what sounds like the same kind of thing that ended Magglio Ordonez‘ career last October. They will be left filling short with some combination of Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez. Nix has been described as a slick fielder, but that is sort of up in the air: he has mostly played second and third and fielded those positions well. By the numbers his 249 career at short have been pretty rough. Nunez looks to be the superior offensive player – a guy that gets on base thanks to a low strikeout rate and is a threat to steal – but has been a statistically terrible shortstop in the big leagues. Though Derek Jeter at 38 is no longer an MVP-caliber bat or a Gold Glove caliber fielder, clearly losing Jeter affects not only the Yankees morale, but also the talent that they are able to put on the field going from a .791 OPS to a .690 or .723 with no improvement in defense or matchups.
The Tigers, on the other hand, have effectively lost Jose Valverde. While Jeter can be immediately replaced on the 25-man ALCS roster with Nunez, Valverde is still there occupying a roster spot but cannot realistically be called upon in any situation until Jeff Jones is confident that they have “fixed” his delivery. Until then, not only do the Tigers need to use somebody else to close games (and it doesn’t look like they are going to name any one guy “the closer” anytime soon) but they’ll be going out there with a 6-man bullpen. In a sense the “loss” of Valverde could be worse than the loss of Jeter, both because Valverde cannot be replaced on the active roster and because his in-game replacement has to be a guy shifted from other situational use and not a guy that would have otherwise gone entirely unused.
That isn’t the only way to look at this, though… If you, like Matt Snyder, believe that Jim Leyland is really an evil genius he might have sent Jose Valverde out there to fail in a situation where that failure wasn’t likely to cost the Tigers the game. It almost did, but it didn’t. If Jose Valverde was a ticking time bomb all along (which a lot of us figured after watching him in game 4 of the ALDS) he had already been “lost”. Now he’s aware of that fact, as are we all. Now the Tigers may be better off than if they had put in Al Alburquerque in that non-save situation and watched him retire the side because today we might have to watch Jose Valverde hold on to a one-run lead for all of two batters. It’s an odd thought, akin to wondering if – since Derek Jeter’s ankle was bound to fracture the first time he landed on it awkwardly – the Yankees are better off with Jeter injuring it after the go-ahead run had already scored (and it didn’t actually cost New York the game) in the 12th yesterday than if that grounder had been hit to second so that he could hurt that ankle today. Like I say, odd but perhaps valid.