As regular visitors to UmpBump know, I have no love for Derek Jeter’s glove. I have no personal animus against Jeter, despite my disdain for the Yankees, which is less of a raging hate-on and more of a well – I’m – a – Red – Sox – fan – so – what – do – you – expect? kind of thing. I’ve always felt that Jeter seemed like a pretty classy guy and that he definitely has one of the finest boohiners in baseball. I even felt a twinge sympathy for Derek Jeter when I read recently that despite his raft of “objectively hot” model-stripper-singer exes, he might need a few tips in that department. Apparently, he hit on hot indie actress Sienna Miller at a club, only to get ignored when Sienna didn’t even know who he was. Ouch. (Dude, she’s already going out with the Anti-Jeter anyway!).
Yet I could only spare Jeets so much sympathy. After all, Derek Jeter has won multiple Gold Gloves, yet his defense sucks. And even more infuriating, no one in the professional commentariat seems able to admit his defense sucks. I will agree that Jeter has pretty sure hands, and so you rarely see him bobble the ball, but there is simply no evidence that Jeter’s defense is actually that good. And in fact, there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary:
1) Last year, Derek Jeter ranked in the bottom half of major-league shortstops in fielding percentage, put-outs, and assists. He ranked second-to-last in range factor. He was dead last—in all of baseball—in zone rating. In fact, the only stat in which Derek Jeter even ranked in the top ten of MLB shortstops was double plays. And last year, the year he took home the trophy, he caboosed it there, too. Simply put, there is no statistical evidence that Derek Jeter is even a good defensive shortstop, let alone a great one deserving of praise and trophies. Now, I’ll admit, he had a pretty good year in 2005. But he had absolutely abysmal defensive years in 2001, 2002, and 2003. When you look at other, more abstruse stats—David Pinto’s DER leaps to mind—the evidence is clear: Derek Jeter is not good at defense. And the weight of all of these metrics taken together is clearly on the side of sucks-more-than-he-doesn’t-suck.
2) Lee Panas, a Detroit Tigers fan and research analyst, looked at six different systems for evaluating a shortstop’s fielding and combined them to devise the number of runs that player would have prevented if he had played in 150 games. In fact, Derek Jeter came in dead last. Jeter actually cost the Yankees a whopping 27 runs with his glove last year. That is some hardcore defensive suckage.
3) A professor at the Wharton School recently finished an evaluation of nearly half a million baseball plays (every play from 2002 to 2005) and estimated that Jeter was one of the worst defensive shortstops in that span, costing his team an average of 14 runs a year with the leather during that period.
4) Francis Bacon would have agreed.
[W]ith Jeter on the field the shortstop makes an out on 11.6 percent of balls in play. However, when looking at all pitchers that Jeter has played behind when pitching with other shortstops on the field, the rate goes up to 12.5 percent—that’s a difference of 38 plays over a full season, and the second-worst mark for a regular shortstop in baseball, behind only [Michael] Young. Tango then does likewise controlling for batters (Jeter is 25 plays worse, fourth from the bottom), a runner on first base (11 plays worse, ahead of only Felipe Lopez), and park (18 plays worse, ranking in the bottom half).
And yet, somehow, the people with the microphones just refuse to believe the evidence that is staring them in the face. When I was watching some Red Sox Spring Training coverage over the weekend, there was NESN’s Tom Caron chatting it up with the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. The two of them just went on and on about how great Jeter is on defense, and how you can make stats prove anything, and how only lame homer Red Sox fans don’t “respect” Jeter (as if “respect” is synonymous with “think his defense is really great, even when it’s clearly not”). They even claimed Jeter‘s defensive ability is actually just really clutch (oh, is that what they’re calling it these days? those crazy kids!). Cafardo kept talking about Jeter‘s skills ‘after the seventh inning,’ as if Jeter is just keeping all his defensive range in reserve for those close-and-late situations. Even worse, to cap it all off, they finished up the segment by showing a clip of Jeter with the Gold Glove trophy and saying, “Well, Jeter has the hardware and you can’t argue with that, ha ha!” I would posit that one actually can argue with that, as I hope I have just effectively demonstrated.
I respect Derek Jeter. I respect his ability to reliably hit .300 with moderate power. I respect his ability to sell flavored water on TV. I respect his dimples.
I just think his defense sucks.