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
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.”