Wow, it must be really hard being Derek Jeter. There you are, captain of the New York Yankees. Men want to be you, women want to be with you. Your salary is $20 million a year, and you net an extra $6 mill in pocket money from endorsement deals with the likes of Nike and Gatorade. You have such magnetism that you forced one of the best shortstops ever to become a third baseman, so that you wouldn’t have to learn a new position, and yet scarcely a man, woman or child breathed a word against you for it, bewitched as they were they by your carefully woven cloak of charm. And this year, there seems to be an unstoppable momentum building towards your selection as AL MVP. Nationally, you’re the most popular player in baseball. Why, you even have your own cologne!
And yet there’s a fly in the ointment. Someone, somewhere, is suggesting that you, with your dimples and teeth, are not the best defensive shortstop in the American League. Well, Derek, fortunately for you, Coley Ward is here to save you.
Nevermind that Coley himself called you “overrated” and said you had “limited range” just three months ago. Ward, with his own “straighforward [sic], unbiased critique” talks a lot about “facts” in his post. But he overlooks a few.
And like a trout to a fly, I rise to the bait.
Let’s pretend we’re doing a picks post for the Gold Gloves. Okay? Let’s start from scratch. If you’re a classicist you start with fielding percentage, and there are three shortstops with better fielding percentages in the AL than Jeter: Michael Young of the Rangers, Jhonny “I can’t spell my own first name” Peralta of the Indians, and Juan Uribe of the White Sox. Jeter is tied for fourth with Orlando Cabrera of the Dodgers (or as we call them in Boston, the Blue Sox). Alex Gonzalez of the Red Sox doesn’t qualify for the stat, because he missed a number of games this season, mostly due to an elbow injury. However, if Gonzalez—who played 111 games, far more than any other “unqualified” shorstop—made the list, he would top it, with a fielding percentage of .985 to Jeter’s .975.
As my esteemed colleague points out, Jeter’s 15 errors this year isn’t bad—but then, “not bad” is hardly the standard by which Gold Gloves are usually awarded. Nevertheless, only Young and Uribe had fewer goofs this year, with 14 errors apiece. Oh, except that the “unqualified” Alex Gonzalez only had 7. But as Massaroti pointed out, Gonzo did play in fewer games than Jeter. So let’s do some simple math: Jeter averaged an error every ten games. That’s “not bad.” But Alex Gonzalez averaged an error just once every 16 games. That means that if Gonzo had played as many games as Jeter (150), he would have had about 9 errors on the season. That’s damn good.
But say someone out there—my stat-savvy friend Nick, perhaps—thinks that fielding percentage isn’t the best stat by which to measure defensive ability. Many kids nowadays prefer to discuss a player’s range factor, a more complete metric. How does our Gold Glove recipient stack up against other shortstops in range factor?
In range factor, of all qualified AL shortstops, Derek Jeter is dead last.
But maybe, just maybe, slick-fielding Derek had a boatload of double plays. Oh, wait, no, once again he’s caboosing it with 81. Michael Young, on the other hand, is ahead of the madding crowd with 113 twin killings.
Here’s a defensive stat in which Derek Jeter is not last among shortstops: his zone rating. Of course, Uribe, Young, Carlos Guillen, Miguel Tejada, Cabrera, and Peralta are all ahead of him. (Gonzalez would be second, right after Uribe, if he qualified.) But at least he’s better than Yuniesky Betancourt and Angel Berroa. (At least there’s that.)
So no, Coley, my dear misguided friend. Derek Jeter did not deserve the Gold Glove this year, because he was most emphatically not, as you wrote, “the best in 2006.” That’s not to say that A-Gonz was a shoo-in. But he would have been an excellent choice. So would Michael Young. So would Juan Uribe.
Oh, but I forgot. Derek Jeter gets extra points for being a freakin New York freakin Yankee. And you wonder why we hate them so.