The Worst?

A study done by some students at Penn have concluded that not only is Derek Jeter not deserving of his 3 Gold Gloves- but that he is in fact the worst defensive shortstop in baseball.

I’m a numbers guy for the most part and maybe this study is right. Maybe Jeter is the worst. But I watch a lot of baseball and a ton of Yankee games. In my mind, I break the position into a bunch of different scenarios:

Going to his left: Bad. The ball up the middle always seems to kill the Yankees.

Going to his right: Good. Jeter seems to be able to get to most balls in hole and his patented “jump-throw” allows him to get some runners I’d think other couldn’t.

The play he should make: Average. By this I mean the routine play. Jeter will muff a couple on occasion.

Pop-flys: Excellent. When the ball is in the air and Jeter is in the area, it’s caught. Doesn’t matter if he has to topple a teammate or dive and catch it over his shoulder.

Relays: Excellent. Jeter has a strong arm and is quite adept at gunning people down at the plate.

So obviously, just watching him play, I think Jeter is an average shortstop. Where can I be wrong? Well, everywhere probably, but most likely, it’s with plays to his right. It is quite possible that Jeter just makes a lot of plays look extraordinary that other fielders would make look routine.

From looking at the numbers in the study, the first 3 categories are all we really know: range right, range left, number of errors. So yeah, poor range right + awful range left + handful of errors = pretty bad shortstop. Makes sense.

However, when people defend Jeter by saying he’s great because of his “intangibles” and his “clutchness” I can’t help but cringe. Why can’t we talk more specifically and say that he catches pop-flys better than anyone (everyone knows the over the shoulder catch) and is great at running the relay? Or that he has a great field sense that allows him to make plays on-the-fly when a weird situation arises?

Sure, any stat person will tell you right away that those plays aren’t nearly as valuable because they happen so rarely. And I’m sure that’s true. But they should at least count for something. Why do they seem to be so valuable? Well, because they directly stop runs from being scored. Sure, if Jeter had better range, he would end up saving a lot more runs. But the average spectator doesn’t realize that. But when Jeter guns someone down at the plate, everyone knows: the Yankees just saved a run.

So what does all this mean? I don’t think Jeter is a good defensive shortstop. But I’m not ready to announce him the worst. Yet.

And I still think he’d make a very good outfielder someday. Maybe after Matsui and Damon are gone in 2010?


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