• Jeter’s Lack Of “Glove” Not Really A Big Deal?

    Posted by on September 29th, 2007 · Comments (8)

    From John Dewan’s Stat of the Week with a hat tip to BaseballThinkFactory.org

    Fact: Derek Jeter had the second worst plus/minus figure at shortstop in 2005 at -34.

    Fact: Derek Jeter had the second worst plus/minus figure at shortstop in 2006 at -22.

    Fact: Derek Jeter is tied for the worst plus/minus figure at shortstop thus far in 2007
    at -34.

    Fact: Virtually every other fielding metric shows similar results.

    But Jeter won Gold Gloves in 2005 and 2006. And he’ll probably win again this year. As my good friend Carmen Corica used to say, “Don’t let facts cloud the issues.”

    The issue is that Derek Jeter is the best shortstop in baseball. The first shortstop I would pick in all of baseball to play for my team this year or next year would be Derek Jeter (though I would have to consider putting A-Rod back at short as well). Jeter is great offensively and has tremendous leadership skills. But he is not one of the best defensively. The managers and coaches who vote for the Gold Gloves have a hard time separating the best defensive shortstop from the best shortstop.

    So, Derek Jeter makes 34 fewer plays than the average player at shortstop. Derek Jeter averages about 155 games played per season. This means there is one play, at short, every 5 games (rounding up) that Derek Jeter fails to make that an average shortstop would handle.

    What does that mean? Well, one study says that a batted ball out is worth -.299 of a run. So, if Jeter misses 34 plays a year, he’s costing the Yankees around 10 runs a season with his play at short. Or, if you look at his games played per season, Jeter is costing the Yankees one run, with his glove, per every 16 games (rounding up) that he plays at short.

    That doesn’t seem like a lot of damage – does it?

    But, again, this is compared to an “average” shortstop. If you compare Jeter to a Troy Tulowitzki type, then he’s costing the Yankees around 20 runs per season – or one run, with his glove, per every 8 games (rounding up) that he plays at short.

    What does this mean? Let’s use pythagorean winning percentage for a test. The Yankees, to date, this season, have scored 938 runs and allowed 753 runs. That’s a pythagorean winning percentage of .608.

    Now, take away 20 runs (that Jeter allows compared to a great fielding SS) from that runs allowed total. This would give the Yankees a pythagorean winning percentage of .621.

    The difference between the .621 and the .608, in terms of wins, over a 162-game season, is two wins.

    Therefore, in the end, I would suggest that having Derek Jeter at short, compared to having a world-class fielding SS at that position, is costing, the Yankees two wins per season. (Keep in mind this is under the condition of the Yankees having a great offensive team.)

    Without looking, I would bet that Jeter makes us those two wins, somewhere, with his bat.

    Don’t get me wrong here. My blood pressure goes up every time I hear “Past-a-diving Jeter” during a Yankees broadcast. And, when I hear it, the fanboy in me comes out and says “It’s time to get someone with some range at short.”

    However, in the end, when you look at the numbers, it’s really not like Jeter is hurting the Yankees with his glove – or, better said, he’s not killing them with his glove. And, at this moment, it only makes sense to move Jeter off short if you had a replacement who fielded like Adam Everett and who could hit like Jeter.

    So, unless you had a healthy Barry Larkin in his prime, you’re not going to find someone who will help the Yankees more at short than what Derek Jeter is doing now…even with his defensive “shortcomings.”

    Comments on Jeter’s Lack Of “Glove” Not Really A Big Deal?

    1. adam
      September 29th, 2007 | 11:13 am

      here is my biggest problem with the whole thing:

      i would never ever agree to get a slick fielding shortstop (orlando cabrera, et. al) to replace jeter. i believe that reduction in defense is overrated compared to the surplus offense that jeter provides. but here’s the catch: what if the yanks could improve defense at shortstop with absolutely no loss to the team’s offensive production? well, we had that chance 4 years ago, when the best fielding shortstop *and* the best hitting shortstop joined the yankees, but derek jeter’s pride got in the way of the yankees improving as much as they could have. jeter at 3rd, and alex at short, give the exact same offense at presently configured, with with dramatically improved defense (assuming that if alex was at short for the last 4 years, he would have kept the added weight off and not lost some range). under that scenario, the yanks would have won those two extra games this year (and 2+ games for the 3 years before), and they would stll have a shot at the best record and home field advantage.

      sure, jeter looks like a great leader/team player, but is he? a team player wouldn’t cost his team any chance at winning because of personal pride.

    2. Sky
      September 29th, 2007 | 12:45 pm

      Yes, yes! More discussion of fielding, I love it. Nice analysis, except that the value of one play is more like 3/4 of a run. Think about it in terms of linear weights. A single worth .5 runs. An out is like -.3 runs. The difference is .8 runs. Therefore Jeter’s more like 25-30 runs below average for a SS, which costs the Yankees 2.5 to 3 wins per season. (NL East title…) Obviously, I disagree that fielding is overrated. I think it’s vastly underrated.

      There’s been some great work done translating BIS’s zone fielding data into +/- plays (like Dewan does) and then into runs. Here’s the background link: http://jinaz-reds.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-should-we-calculate-zone-rating.html

      As for the ARod/Jeter thing, people forget that switching ARod and Jeter would leave Jeter in the field. It’s a switch, not a “all of a sudden Derek Jeter can field groundballs” miracle. Plus, ARod comes out about 5 runs below the average 3B this year.

    3. singledd
      September 29th, 2007 | 1:41 pm

      Great analysis Steve. Very cool.
      To the first comment: a Single is worth 0.5 runs?
      So a team that gets 10 singles (no BBs, no HBP, no XBHs, no PBs or WPs) in a game will score 5 runs? Doesn’t seem right to me.

    4. Sky
      September 29th, 2007 | 2:13 pm

      I posted an article at my blog with the Yankees’ fielding performances this season. There’s a cool chart with each player’s contribution at each position.


      (I usually try not to spam links to my own blog, but hopefully Steve finds it ok it this case.)

      Linear weights assumes a typical mix of hitting events, so .5 runs for a single should be taken with an “on average” qualifier. It’s possible to generate custom linear weights for any environment (like if people only hit singles) if you want. (You’re example also forgot to subtract .3 runs for each out, which yields -3 runs, obviously a problem.)

      With custom weights, you’d expect to score 2.2 runs per game with only 10 singles. Tango’s fun Markov-based simulator says 1.9 runs. Either way, it’s a bad strategy ; )

      (Really geeky side note: the simulator says a single is still worth .4 runs in this 10-single situation, but the value of the out isn’t as harsh — only -.15 runs.)

    5. Don
      September 29th, 2007 | 3:07 pm

      Alex isn’t playing SS for the Yankees, get over it. And how do we know how well he could play there after being at third for four seasons? Alex is bulkier now than back when. Bulkier and older. Heck, he may not even be a Yankee in 2008.

      As far as Jeter’s poor range, the numbers cannot possibly show how his inability to reach a routine ball up the middle affects the rest of that inning. It could be far worse, as I suspect it is, than sabremetrics can ever show.

    6. #15
      September 29th, 2007 | 5:46 pm

      Who you gonna believe, the stats or your own lying eyes. I look at the whole picture, many of which don’t show in the stat sheets. DJ charges balls with the best of ’em. He also tracks fly balls as well or better than anyone else (refer to the tread marks on Cano’s back last year and “The Catch” against Boston). He is adequate to slightly plus going to his right. Admittedly he is somewhat below average going to his left. But, his very strong arm and unusually ability to catch and throw accurately in one motion makes him among the very best relay men I’ve ever seen (stats don’t show that, it’s simply another assist), As I’ve said before, he’s helped cover-up for a decade of the Venus di Milo outfield (Robbie does too). Cap also turns the double play very well. Until this year, his base-running, stolen base %, and bunting skills were in the elite category. I kind of felt like he had base running and bunting slumps this year. Hopefully it’s not a sign that he’s lost a step. Don’t underestimate those contributions. Again, it’s tough to calculate that value. Tell me how many SS would have even thought to be in position to relay Spencer’s overthrow against Oakland. His situational awareness is off the charts. Can you spell S-L-A-M-D-U-N-K H-O-F? Also, FWIW, I’ve watched slick-fielding Adam Everett kill 3-4 rallies a week over the past few years.

    7. adam
      September 29th, 2007 | 7:44 pm

      don, i wasn’t saying that alex should be moved to short now, i was saying that jeters pride prevented him from being there 4 years ago. i know he is bulkier and admitted that in my post.

      i don’t even care about jeter’s defense, i am just sick and tired of everyone lauding his team play when he has shown on a consistent basis that he is a me first player, just like every other professional athlete.

    8. September 30th, 2007 | 10:39 am

      I always say that if Derek Jeter’s defense is a serious worry for us, we must be an awesome team. 🙂

      He has his shortcomings and all, but like #15 said, he also has his strengths. And, ask yourself this, if it’s game 7 in the 9th inning, is there anyone else that you’d want a ground ball hit towards? Not me.

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