August 9, 2002
Send those angry emails to...
If you haven't already, I suggest reading Rob Neyer's recent article about Derek Jeter's defense and whether or not it has improved this year.
Before I say any more, let me first say that I am far from a Yankee basher, and would actually consider myself a casual Yankee fan.
That being said...
I have a friend, let's just call him "Scott," who is a Yankee fan and a casual baseball fan.
Months ago we had a long argument about Derek Jeter.
Scott feels as though Derek Jeter is and has been one of the top 2 or 3 players in all of baseball.
He points to the high batting average and championships rings, as well as stuff like the Giambi-flip and the catch he made falling into the stands.
I, being the baseball geek that I am, tried to enlighten him with actual facts and statistics involving Jeter.
First I tried to explain to him why batting average is not the best way to judge a player offensively. I didn't bring up anything complicated like EqA or VORP or anything like that. I just tried to explain the merits of on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
I then explained to him that, although Jeter is certainly a huge part of all those championships, he is not any better or worse of a player for winning them. If Jeter hits 15 home runs one season and they don't win the championship, it is the same as hitting 15 home runs and winning the championship, his home run hitting was not any better. I also asked sarcastically if Luis Sojo was, in his mind, a Hall of Famer.
Finally, I tried to explain to him that there are more important things to a defensive player than making a few highlight reel plays in a season.
Of course, Scott bought absolutely none of that.
Now, whenever he is watching a game or reading a paper and he sees that Jeter hit a homer or made a diving catch, he sends me an email that reads, simply, "Jeter Sux Huh?"
I, of course, never said anything close to "Jeter Sux." I believe Jeter is a very very good baseball player. Just not as good as my friend Scott and many other people think he is, mostly because of his defense.
Because of the lack of headway I made in that argument a few months ago, I decided to focus my new approach to enlightening my friend to simply discussing Jeter's defense.
After all, Jeter's offense is very good, so trying to convince Scott that his offense is simply very good and not as great as he thinks it is, is sort of pointless anyway.
I try to explain to him why errors are not a great stat.
I try to explain to him the merits of range factor or zone rating or double plays or the more complicated measures of defense.
But, all he sees is the Giambi-flip, the catch made while falling into the stands and the diving grab he saw on Plays of the Week a few days ago.
I have decided that the argument with Scott is almost 100% pointless, so I am considering leaving it alone. I mean how much harm could there be in allowing some casual baseball fan to believe that Derek Jeter is a gold glover.
But, the people who read this blog are obviously not casual baseball fans. So, you are my next target.
Derek Jeter is simply not a good defensive shortstop.
Very good hitter, probably a heck of nice guy, has a lot of championship rings...NOT A GOOD DEFENSIVE SHORTSTOP.
He consistently ranks at or near the bottom in pretty much every defensive stat:
Range Factor. Meaning he makes less plays per inning and per game than most shortstops.
Zone Rating. Meaning he makes less plays on balls in his "zone" than most shortstops.
Double Plays. Meaning he turns less double plays than most shortstops.
This season, Derek Jeter is last in the American League in all 3 stats (Don't believe me? Click on those links above and see for yourself. Notice who is at the bottom of all three lists?). He is making the least amount of plays, he is making the least percentage of plays on balls hit in his zone, and he is turning the least amount of double plays, so bad in fact, that the Yankees are on pace to turn the least amount of double plays in the last 20 years of the American League.
Now, I know, some people will bring up the Yankee pitcher's strikeouts or the flyball nature of the staff, but Jeter is not the first shortstop to play behind a strikeout/flyball staff. And, a person does not consistently rank at the bottom of every defensive stat if they are not a bad defensive player.
And, of course, the more complicated measures of defense.
Bill James' Win Shares, which ranks Jeter as a D+ defensively (on a scale of A+ to F).
Baseball Prospectus' fielding rating, which consistently ranks Jeter at or near the bottom of all shortstops.
Diamond-Mind baseball, which is one of the most accurate simulations available, assigns Derek Jeter the 2nd to worst available rating defensively.
Scott, are you listening? Or better yet, Scott have you read Neyer's article that I emailed to you?
Yeah, yeah...I know..."Jeter Sux Huh?"