Tuesday, August 21, 2007

'Past the diving Jeter'

At best it's a joke.

"What do you call a slow roller to Derek Jeter's left?"
"Single up the middle!"


At worst, it's one of the best kept 'non-secrets' in Major League baseball. Commentators, players, managers and fans alike all ignore the glaring fact. Indeed they do worse, they laud the player for something he isn't. Watch Fox, ESPN or YES's coverage of the player and you would think you were watching a combination of Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel.

Let me preface this with a disclaimer of sorts. I am a Red Sox fan (I'm Cormac, I have been a Sox fan for 22 years and I am starting to come to terms with life...'') however I have to admit to a grudging respect for Derek Jeter. He plays with class, is respectful of opponents and seems to really enjoy the game, above and beyond his pay check.

Here's the problem though. Derek 'by the dive of' Jeter is not a good Major League shortstop. He is, statistically, a bad player at that position. His defensive statistics are below average, or, in layman's terms, bad. Pretty much everyone knows this, the facts are there for all to see. However ESPN, FOX and the YES network refer to Jeter as a superior defensive players. The latter media outlets greasy adulation of the kid is somewhat understandable, but what defense do Fox, ESPN and other non-Yankee-owned media entities have for their gratuitous, sycophantic behaviour towards Jeter?

Even New Yorks fans have their doubts about their captains defensive abilities.

''Jeter was the best SS in the game last year, when considering the whole package. Defensively though, he's no better than average, probably a bit below average, and in past years has been way below average.''
from nyyfans.com

Jeter (prone, front) shows Roger Clemens (back) how it's done

Jeter's defensive inefficiencies are not a new phenomenon. Among AL shortstops who qualified, Jeter ranked dead last in Range Factor (putouts + assists divided by innings) in 2001, 2002 AND 2003. That's last, behind every other AL shortstop. That is not good. In fact, some might go as far as to say that is bad. Furthermore, among those same AL shortstops who qualified, Jeter ranked dead last in Zone Rating in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

The evidence against Jeter's ridiculous status as a Gold Glove shortstop is almost overwhelming, unless you simply stick your head in the sand emu style to avoid it like the guys in Fox, ESPN and YES. The book The Fielding Bible by John Dewan contains an essay by Bill James which analyzes the available evidence and suggests that Derek Jeter could be the worst defensive shortstop of all time. He concludes, "Giving [Jeter] every possible break on the unknowns, he is still going to emerge as a below average defensive shortstop." That isn't the only source on record with that opinion. The conclusion of the analysis done by 'Baseball Info Solutions', was that Derek Jeter "was probably the most ineffective defensive player in the major leagues, at any position."

Strong words, softly spoken. So, according to the people that put time and effort into actually looking at Jeter's defence, and ignoring the flashy 'jump shots' and flips and concentrate on the every day duties of a Major League shortstop, Derek Jeter is not only below average, he is awful.

So, where on earth have these Gold Gloves come from?

Rawlings Gold Glove AL Award winners
  • 2004 Derek Jeter New York Yankees
  • 2005 Derek Jeter New York Yankees
  • 2006 Derek Jeter New York Yankees
According to Wikipedia; ''the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, usually referred to simply as the Gold Glove, is the award given annually to the major league player judged to have the most "superior individual fielding performance" at each position (in each league), as voted by the managers and coaches in each league.''

I am confused. Statistically, Jeter, year in year out, delivers some of the worst individual fielding performances at shortstop. He is consistently at the lower half or, worse, bottom of all fielding statistical categories. Yankee fans openly talk about Jeter having zero range to his left and if you google the phrase '..past the diving Jeter...' you get over 79,000 hits.

Take for example Jeter's 'Gold Glove' winning 2004 season. Check out some of his defensive statistics for that season
  • 1. Range Factor: 8th (out of 11)
  • 2. Zone Rating: 6th (out of 11)
  • 3. Fielding Percentage: 4th (out of 11)
  • 4. Fielding Win Shares: 4th (out of 11)
  • 5. Fielding Runs Above Replacement: 5th (out of 11)
  • 6. Ultimate Zone Rating: 8th (out of 11)
Not the worst, but almost the worst, and certainly not the best. Most of all, certainly not deserving of the title- "superior individual fielding performance"

Next time you hear a commentator exclaim "Past a diving Jeter!" just note it down mentally, and recall it when you hear that Jeter has won the 2007 Gold Glove at shortstop. Then go bang your head off the wall for a while. Life is, sometimes, just stupid, and stupid people make stupid decisions and there's nothing we can do about it. Giving Derek Jeter a gold glove ahead of some of the incredible defensive shortstops on show is just stupid. Even the Yankee fans think so!

''Look, there's no denying that Jeter is a way-above-average hitting shortstop and a below-average fielding shortstop. He has been serviceable, and even improved a little over the past few years (although Gold Gloves are a joke). Despite the fact that he has been great for us for a long time, there will come the day when we have to move him somewhere because his fielding at SS will become a liability.''
from nyyfans.com

I started with a disclaimer and I will finish with one. Jeter is a likable player. He works hard, seems pretty loyal and strikes the viewer as a pretty stand up guy. Heck, his mother is Irish for God sake, what's not to like? Actually, Derek, are you busy next summer? Around August? The Irish baseball team could probably fit you in to their next European Championship run. Maybe not at shortstop though.

Anyway, this isn't a random verbal assault on Jeter, this is a plea to those who pick the Gold Gloves and those who write about it. Do your damn job right and call this one as it is. Jeter is not a Gold Glove caliber defensive player. Rise above the sycophantic desire to crown the Yankee captain and pick someone who actually deserves the title.


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5 comments:

The Omnipotent Q said...

Amen.

Great article, Cormac. Very well said.

John Fitzgerald said...

Come on Cormac. Jeter may be overrated defensively, but he's not that bad.

If defensive statistics told the whole - or even PART - of the story, then Theo Epstein would be a genius.

But he's not. And the truth about Jeter's fielding lies somewhere in the middle. You can't quantify the intangibles. Someday, Theo and Bill James will learn that (you remember Theo, right? The guy that tried to deal Manny before the '04 season and tried to trade for ARod?)

Oh yeah... How's JD Drew working out?

Cormac said...

Morning John. A couple of quick questions for you. Firstly, did you actually read the post or just skim over it? If you did read it properly, you would have seen that the slant was not how bad Jeter is, but how ridiculous it is that he is the annual Gold Glove winner at short in the AL. That is ridiculous.

So, you are saying you would hand Jeter the GG annually? I guess that's my main question to you. I watch an awful lot of baseball, way too much some significant parties would say. Recently, I have been amazed with how often I see Jeter run awkwardly to his left, wave at a ball up the middle and miss it entirely. That or dive helplessly as it skims by his lack of range.

On the other hand, every time I watch the Yankees he is lauded by commentators for his terrific defensive plays. I am not blind. I see the guy, he is at very best an average Major League shortstop. HE IS NOT A GOLD GLOVE SHORTSTOP.

If you honestly think so, cool...let's agree to disagree! I highly doubt you believe that though. The crazy thing was when I did some research into the whole thing, I was amazed at how many Yankee fans were openly dismissive of Jeter's defensive play. So, I know it's not just me.

As for your Drew comment, the guy's kid recently underwent life threatening surgery. So, frankly I don't care what he does. There's more to life, as they say. Hopefully he continues a recent strong display like his six hit double header performance last week. Personally I am not bothered kicking a guy when he is down.

Now, did I hear the Emerald Diamond is now on netflix? Tell us more!

John Fitzgerald said...

JD Drew is garbage. Always has been. What has happened with his kid is terrible, but he's still not a very good player. I said before the season that he can't do jack in a pressure situation and he still hasn't. It's another example of Theo putting numbers before common sense - anyone who saw Drew play regularly before this season could tell you he falls apart in big situations - from pennant races to one-run games in April, the guy consistently shuts down when he's needed. He makes faces at umpires and sulks... Based on that alone, it's easy to see why he could never succeed in Boston, NY or Chicago.

Jeter probably shouldn't be the GG winner again, but he has been outstanding in the past. He made the greatest play I've ever seen in organized sports - I'm sure you know which one I'm talking about. I'm not sure who you would have given the award to in the past, but I'd say that Jeter should have at least been in your top 3 or 5 every year since he came into the league. I'm not a Yankee fan - I grew up hating them. But Jeter is about as solid a fielder as there is.

Range factor is bogus. I can't put any faith into fielding statistics. I remember when the Mets signed Cameron to play CF, Jeff Wilpon stated that by using some Bill James statistic (possibly range factor), Cameron would track down X amount of extra balls, resulting in Y more outs, thus lowering the Mets ERA by Z points. It's all garbage. Cameron is a great fielding CF, but you can't sit and figure out every last detail about stuff like that. With a guy like Cameron in CF (or Jeter at SS), strategies change, lineups change, the way a pitcher works a hitter will change. The only fielding stat that holds any merit is Errors. And even that is a dubious way to rate a fielder.

Yup, 'The Emerald Diamond' is on Netflix. Put it on your list!

Cormac said...

''Jeter probably shouldn't be the GG winner again''

Good stuff - we agree then! On that much at least. The greatest play I have seen in organized sports is not a nice flip for the out when the runner didn't slide, no, there would be about 7,564 plays ahead of that in my book. Vince Young at the Rose Bowl, Maradona against England in the World Cup, Jordan a few times, but no, not Jeter correctly taking advantage of bad base running.

I was using the stats to illustrate what my eyes see, which is, namely, Jeter waving at the ball as it zips past him into centre field. Allot. Check it out some time. You might nod in agreement.

''Past the diving Jeter...''

As I said already, many Yankee fans agree with me.

Irish National baseball team

Irish National baseball team
Team Ireland at the European Championships, Croatia, 2000.

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