Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 17, 2008
BASEBALL: Any Way You Count It

This Slate article does a pretty good job of capturing why anybody who takes statistical analysis of baseball even remotely seriously ends up sooner or later writing about Derek Jeter's poor defensive performance. (Note, of course, that most of those analysts don't dispute that Jeter is justly headed to Cooperstown - analysts may feel Jeter is overrated by the media and Yankee fans who think he walks on water because the Yankees win the World Series every year, but, as I argued last January, his bat still makes him one of the all-time greats at his position). I would quibble with just this part, at the end of the discussion of the many complex and sophisticated defensive statistics that have been developed and their unanimity that Jeter has been a bad defensive shortstop for most of his career:

Until defensive numbers have the same score-at-home simplicity of ERA or batting average, Jeter's reputation is probably safe (as long as he keeps his error totals down).

First of all, errors also couldn't dent Jeter; he was second in the league in errors in 2000, and it didn't leave a mark (although for his career, Jeter's error rates have been pretty good - not great, but good). Second, you don't need complicated statistics at all to suspect that Jeter's a bad defensive shortstop - Range Factor is the simplest of defensive stats (it asks how many plays a guy has made per game or per 9 innings), and Jeter's Range Factors have often been quite bad. Per 9 innings, the average AL shortstop over Jeter's career has turned 4.58 balls into outs; Jeter's rate is 4.18. Jeter was slightly below average by this easy-to-tabulate measure in 1996 and 1997, and again in 2004, and above average in 2005; otherwise he's been way below, and frequently dead last in the league - making only 84.8% of the league average number of plays in 2001, 83.5% in 2002, 82.6% in 2003.

The burden of proof of invoking complex (and more accurate) measurements of defense, then, is on Jeter's defenders, who must substantiate their excuses for why he doesn't make more plays. As it turns out there have been some mitigating factors - the Yankees had a high-strikeout, high-flyball pitching staff in the early 2000s (the 2001 team set the AL strikeout record, whiffing 22% more batters than average), and Jeter's numbers got better by virtually any measurement in 2004, when Roger Clemens left the team and A-Rod joined. One of the problems with individual defense (not just in baseball but in other sports) is the tendency to think of it as a fixed characteristic, rather than a matter of performance that varies from year to year and changes over time just like hitting or pitching - most analysts agree that even aside from the illusions created by the pitching staff, Jeter really did improve with the glove for about two years there. But there is nonetheless unanimity among virtually every statistical measurement in the business that Jeter has been a significantly below-average fielder for the balance of his career (and, indeed, the more concrete measures of team defense have shown the Yankees to be a poor defensive team for much of this decade), which is why the argument is not between simple and complex measurements of performance but between those who are interested in measuring performance and those who simply refuse to accept the idea that defensive performance can be measured by anything but the eyes of sportswriters. And that is why analysts return to this issue again, and again, and again.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:15 AM | Baseball 2008 | Comments (36) | TrackBack (0)

Jeter selfishly demanded that he play SS even when the Yanks obtained the best SS in baseball. The Yanks haven't won a title since.

Posted by: stan at July 17, 2008 10:35 AM

Jeter has also been helped by favorable treatment from official scorers keeping his error total down. I recall a game with the Red Sox a few years ago at Yankee Stadium. It was tied in the late innings and the Sox had the bases loaded when a ball was hit to Jeter. He made a lousy throw which Cairo could not handle at 1B and two runs scored. The official scorer ruled it an infield hit and two rbi's for the batter. Now I ask you, how can someone get two rbis's on an infield hit? Even if it should have been an infield hit (questionable in my view) there had to be an error on the throw allowing the second run to score. But not at Yankee Stadium when it would reflect badly on the Great Derek.

The bottom line is that if Jeter were really a team player he would have moved to 3B and let ARod who is a better defensive SS play there.

Posted by: Ed K at July 17, 2008 10:47 AM

It is a beautiful thing to see how much you Met fan’s hate Jeter and love to put him down. A-Rod came to the Yankees with the proviso that he would not be a short stop. So he knew the deal and signed on for it. Twice. Jeter’s value is in his leadership and clutch performance, two things that A-Rod can read about in books but is not within shouting distance his whole career. Face it dude, you just hate Jeter because he gets more pussy than the toilet at WNBA game. And much better looking pussy at that.

Props to the Crank for giving Jeter some of his due. I misjudged you and I apologize.

I think that defense is very, very important almost overwhelmingly important in a short stop. That’s why Mark Belanger is in the Hall of Fame.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 10:59 AM

"And that is why analysts return to this issue again, and again, and again."

They turn to this again and again because they love to bash Jeter and the Yankees. It's kind of like saying Jessica Biel has big feet. So what.

By the way, Jeter banged Jessica Biel.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 11:16 AM

Jeter does seem to have good footwork on DPs. I don't know how much range factor measures this. Does he get credit for two plays on a DP? One for the putout, one for the assist? Does he get no credit at all because he didn't handle a batted ball? If range factor ignores DP pivots, it is missing a key component of a middle infielder.

When the Yankees signed A-Rod, I thought Jeter should have moved to CF. Jeter is very good at chasing down looping pop-ups in short left and short center field. I would expect he would have made the adjustment to CF relatively easily. With the arms the Yankees have had in center the past couple of years, his throwing strenght would have been an improvement. Plus, for the Yankee captain, how many positions have more tradition than CF for the Yankees? Maybe Notre Dame QB, USC tailback.

For Trooper York:

Mark Belanger is not in the HOF. Rabbit Maranville, all defense, no bat SS - he is in.

Posted by: Chris Graham at July 17, 2008 11:47 AM

Why do we "hate" Derek Jeter?

IMHO it is not because of his off the field activities, it is because those us who are NOT Yankee fans (not Yankee haters but just fans of other teams) are tired of our good players getting slighted by the media while lesser Yankees get the publicity.

A average Yankee player is made out to be an All Star and an above average Yankee is ticketed for the HOF in his 1st season! Yankee players are not held to the same standards as all other players.

That should not be!

Posted by: Lee at July 17, 2008 11:50 AM

Yankee players are held to a higher standard. The real build up is for Mets players. Witness the build up for Reyes and Wright who have done exactly what? Generation K? All of the Yankees who have made the Hall of Fame are totally legit. They have been getting ink because we have been in playoffs so many years in a row. Sucess leads to publicity. Maybe it can be over done, but that's not why you hate Jeter and the Yankees. It's because you are jealous out there in Kansas City Royal land.

It's like saying that Mariah Carey has a great voice and a really great set of knockers but she goes on TV too much so we have to knock her knockers.

By the way, Jeter banged Mariah Carey.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 12:11 PM

I know Mark Belanger is not in the Hall of Fame. It's called irony dude. Or being a wise ass. Take your pick.

By the way, Jeter banged Mark Belanger.

Well he banged into him when he dove into the stands to catch a foul ball in Baltimore. I think that counts, doesn't it.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 12:16 PM

Yes, Range Factor includes both the putout and the assist in a DP.

Posted by: The Crank at July 17, 2008 12:17 PM

Trooper York, you know, Kevin Elster bedded a lot of women too. It didn't make him a good ballplayer.

Posted by: The Crank at July 17, 2008 12:20 PM

It seems to me that people get so focused on what Jeter *can't* do, they completely forget about what he *can* do. Which is a A LOT. And why he generates such controversy.

Posted by: Cheese at July 17, 2008 12:26 PM

I never said that banging these broads made him a good ball player. I said that it is part of what makes so many people jealous of him. Even A-Rod.
Especially A-Rod. What do you think this Madonna thing is all about? And the poor sap can't even get that right. I mean Beyonce sure, or that Natasha Bettingfield or whatever her name is. But Madonna?
What he couldn't get Pat Benatar's phone number?

By the way, Jeter banged Pat Benatar in high school.

Or at least a girl who looked a lot like Pat Benatar.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 12:54 PM

Plus, by listing all the broads he banged I can prove to you that Derek Jeter can really play the field.

Numbers aren't everything.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 12:56 PM

Other than Arod and Vizquel, who is in Jeter's class as an overall SS post 1990?

"IMHO it is not because of his off the field activities, it is because those us who are NOT Yankee fans (not Yankee haters but just fans of other teams) are tired of our good players getting slighted by the media while lesser Yankees get the publicity."

What's your view on the Red Sox? Talk about excess publicity. That franchise has its own national network (Every Sox Player Now).

"Plus, for the Yankee captain, how many positions have more tradition than CF for the Yankees?"

Other than Mantle, who are the great Yankees CFs?

Posted by: Bob from Ohio at July 17, 2008 1:02 PM

Well there was this Joe DiMaggio guy. You might have heard of him.

By the way, Joe DiMaggio banged Marilyn Monroe.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 1:17 PM

Hey Trooper,

The first time it was vaguely humorous, but the repetitive nature of your sarcasm about Jeter's sex life is not adding any useful information about his defensive abilities. Do you have any real point to make, or are you too busy fantasizing?

Posted by: NRA Life Member at July 17, 2008 1:27 PM

stan: What is your source for saying that "Jeter selfishly demanded that he play SS even when the Yanks obtained the best SS in baseball."? My recollection is that Cashman made an offhand comment to Boras that the Yankees couldn't use A-Rod unless he planned on switching to thrid base, and A-Rod jumped at the idea. I don't ever recall hearing anything that even remotely suggested that Jeter resisted changing positions.

Posted by: wd at July 17, 2008 1:35 PM

Dude it's called humor. It is often defined by repititon until you grind it into the ground.

Ok it's a school of humor. Haven't you ever seen the Family Guy?

Think of it as a motif. A repeated meme that gets sillier and sillier until it descends beyond parody and transforms into an insanity.

And I never have a useful point to make.

But thanks for telling me what to say.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 1:41 PM

And it's not sarcasm, it's sincere admiration.

For both Jeter and his exploits.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 1:43 PM

Agreed about Trooper's weird and repetitive statements about Jeter's sex life. Not ironic, not funny -- just weird and annoying.

And to repeat Crank's point -- Jeter is a HOF player but that does not make him a good defensive SS. Until someone makes a real argument to the contrary, the evidence suggests that Jeter is in fact a poor defensive SS.

Posted by: Jm at July 17, 2008 1:43 PM

Oh I see, you are supposed to post the same comment twice in a row so as not to be weird and repetitive. Got it. Sorry.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 1:57 PM

That's a technical problem a bunch of people have been having. I'm trying to clear out the duplicates.

Posted by: The Crank at July 17, 2008 2:01 PM

DiMaggio! Oops, hangs head in shame.

Trooper, how come you don't comment at Althouse anymore?

Posted by: Bob from Ohio at July 17, 2008 2:03 PM

Hey sorry Crank, just busting chops. I am auditioning for the role of asshole Yankee fan. Just to establish an identity.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 2:04 PM

Interestingly, the Hardball Times win shares numbers show Jeter just ahead of Jose Reyes (1.8 to 1.7) this year. Which isn't to say that either of them is better than the other, but Reyes is also a player who, despite his speed, has less range than he seems to have when you watch him.

Posted by: Jerry at July 17, 2008 2:05 PM

It's a crowded field.

Posted by: The Crank at July 17, 2008 2:06 PM

I do Bob. Only under several super secret squirrel identities. To mix it up a little. You know, like my hero Derek Jeter.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 2:06 PM

I know, that's why you have to do something to stand out don't ya know.

And I have been an asshole Yankee fan since my dad took me to my first game in 1961.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 2:08 PM

Judging by the number of posts it would seem that there is one aspect of Yankee fandom he has nailed.

No job.

Posted by: jim at July 17, 2008 2:22 PM

Do you know how much Yankee tickets cost pal?
Independently wealthy.

But that was a good one.

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 2:28 PM

Plus it is the Chicago Cubs fan's that don't have any jobs. Haven't you ever talked to Lee Elia?

Posted by: TROOPER YORK at July 17, 2008 2:30 PM

"Asshole Yankee fan" is redundant.

Posted by: mikeski at July 17, 2008 6:18 PM

"who must substantiate their excuses for why he doesn't make more plays."

I accept this, but I'm ok with it - his range is quite poor. And, didn't he injure his shoulder in 2000/2001? As to the others, isn't one of the knocks on him is that he makes what people expect him to make, misses the others?
If you're a sportswriter who doesn't care too much for raw stats, seeing this is enough to give him even more leeway.

How about this - he's ben consistently mediocre, but not consistently terrible, ARod could not have been moved in to improve, and no one can really push him out yet. So, not enough to shake things up and move him. Yet. 2010, I'd be amazed if he isn't at 1b.

Posted by: Dave at July 18, 2008 2:28 AM

Jeter leads all AL SS in revised zone rating of .866 according to hardball times.

Posted by: marko at July 18, 2008 9:58 AM

Jeter's a clutch player in a town that eats up better talent coupled with weaker psyches, get over it and accept that the guy is pretty freaking good.

You can throw a bunch of better sterile individual stats up there for Right Fielders, too...but Paul O'Neill had a very accurate arm, killer instincts, not much range, and carried a great stick - won a batting title once or twice, if I'm not mistaken. He and Jeter, and a lot of other Yankees are viewed as incredible players because they brought it, more often than not, on American sport's most storied stage when it counted.

I forget who brought it up, but are there some Yankee HOF'ers (who are still alive) we should talk about who don't deserve the respect they've received?

Hats off, captain.

Posted by: macsonix at July 19, 2008 9:07 AM

I'm not big on defensive statistics such as range factor, I don't think they are very helpful. Too many variables and difficult to measure. I'm comfortable with errors, but not much beyond that.

Putting measurements aside, it's not a slight on Derek Jeter to say that there are better defensive shortstops in the league. He's come up with so many great defensive plays in big situations, it's difficult to say that he has been a "below average" defensive shortstop.

Posted by: MVH at July 20, 2008 11:20 AM
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