Just kidding. That’s not why we’re here. This is an intervention, we’re here because we love you. Since you’re already here why don’t you have a seat because its about to get really ugly before things get better.
Derek Jeter is a Yankee Legend. That doesn’t mean he’s immune to scrutiny. Would you spare Alex Rodriguez the same scrutiny? No you certainly would not.
Fangraphs has been breaking down defensive metrics since 2002, so that’s as far as they go back and that’s as much as we can quantify. In that time period Derek Jeter’s range, quantified as Range Runs saved, was positive exactly two times. The first time was 2002. Since we can’t prove it you can give him the benefit of the doubt and say that this was the decline of his abilities, though declining at 28 leaves me skeptical. The second time was 2009, when he decided to not be made of granite. Otherwise he’s finished at the bottom for every other year. He was dead last among qualified Shortstops in 2003, 2007 and 2010, second to last from 2004 to 2006 (thanks Michael Young!), 2011 and would be dead last again this year if not for the limbless Tyler Pastornicky. Tyler Pastornicky has been sent down. Derek Jeter is in the clear.
His -84.9 Range Runs saved, or Range Runs Not saved, is 41 Anti-Runs worse (better?) than Yuniesky Betancourt. Not Rafael Betancourt; he’s a closer. Yuniesky Betancourt, commonly known as the worst baseball player in the world, is better at something than another living person. Less bad. In case you missed it, -43.9 is closer to 0 than -84.9. By a lot.
To be fair, Derek Jeter has always been lauded for making the ‘sure’ plays, limiting errors and jump throws. Oh, the jump throws. His 31.6 Error Runs saved is good for second on the list of qualified Shortstops from 2002 to 2012. He’s good at doing the things he’s supposed to do. Usually. Last year he had under 1 Error Runs saved and currently sits at a very pensive 0. Does that make up for the lack fo range? It should. He’s good at one thing, but bad at another, so one good and one bad cancel each other out. Except it doesn’t:
*I wanted to use red, but red was too red, so it was either a slightly less threatening orange or pink.
The purpose of defense is to prevent as many runs as possible. Derek Jeter is good at one thing and mindbendingly awful at another thing. The good does not upstage the bad. It doesn’t even equal it. Given the differences between his Error Runs saved and the other Error Runs saved in the orange, Derek Jeter is terrible at moving to his left. He’s so good at preventing errors, yet he’s still last in net runs saved.
It turns out that not all defensive plays are valued equally. There are three components that go into determining a player’s Ultimate Zone Rating. For infielders they are Range, Errors and Double Plays, but Range is valued so much more than the other two. Justin Bopp of Beyond the Boxscore developed a means to visual UZR, called UZR TargetView.
Despite TargetView’s flaws, you can see how UZR is broken down. Range is valued higher than both Errors and Double Plays. Derek Jeter’s -84.9 Range Runs saved is magnified in comparison to his 31.6 Error Runs saved and -7 Double Play Runs saved. Even though he is very good at converting the balls he gets to into outs, the fact that he gets to a well below average amount of balls in play is considered much more significant.
This probably contributes a lot to his certain to be record breaking -132 Defensive Runs Saved. DRS is calculated by determining how many plays a fielder should have made based on his contemporaries’ ability to make those same plays. Here is Bill James talking about Derek Jeter’s defensive shortcomings all the way back in 2006. Here are some excerpts if you don’t like to read. If you don’t read that then you don’t like baseball.
John’s henchmen at Baseball Info Solutions had watched video from every major league game, and had recorded every ball off the bat by the direction in which it was hit (the vector) the type of hit (groundball, flyball, line-drive, popup, mob hit, etc.) and by how hard the ball was hit (softly hit, medium, hard hit). Given every vector and every type of hit, they assigned a percentage probability that the ball would result in an out, and then they had analyzed the outcomes to determine who was best at turning hit balls into outs. One of their conclusions was that Derek Jeter was probably the least effective defensive player in the major leagues, at any position.
I have to say that the case for Jeter as a Gold Glove quality shortstop is a dead argument in my mind. There is a lot we don’t know, and Derek Jeter could be a better shortstop than we have measured him as being for any of a dozen reasons. He is not a Gold Glove quality shortstop. He isn’t an average defensive shortstop. Giving him every possible break on the unknowns, he is still going to emerge as a below average defensive shortstop.
From studying video it is obvious that Derek Jeter’s inability to reach ground balls is what destroys his chances of being even an average defensive Shortstop.
But what about the Gold Gloves? Fangraphs defines a Gold Glove caliber player with a +15 DRS, 0 being average and a -15 DRS being the opposite of a Gold Glove. In the years that Jeter has won a GG his DRS has been as follows: -13, -27, -16, 3, -9. None of those were Gold Glove Caliber. Meanwhile the top DRS Shortstops in those same years were as follows: 15, 32, 34, 28, 27. Those are Gold Glove Caliber scores. Too bad Defensive Runs Saved is not a criteria among voters, otherwise the likes of Cesar Izturis, Jack Wilson, Adam Everett, Jack Wilson again and Alex Gonzalez would be Gold Glovers over Derek Jeter. What kind of world would that be.
Overall Derek Jeter is not a good fielder, but perhaps he is the product of a very limited understanding of a part of the game that has been difficult to quantify. If Jeter was a prospect today I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t be moved from the position or at least be on notice until a better option could be acquired.
Nothing can be done about this now, but it needs to be talked about more.