• Why Derek Jeter Deserves A Gold Glove

    Posted by on March 21st, 2009 · Comments (5)

    Yesterday, here, we used the The Fielding Bible — Volume II to make a point regarding Derek Jeter’s defensive limitations playing shortstop. However, today, we’re going to use the same book to make a point on why big league managers and coaches feel, or at least have felt in the past, that Derek Jeter deserves a Gold Glove for his play at short.

    One of the sections in The Fielding Bible — Volume II is a feature from Bill James entitled “Defensive Misplays.” James point in the piece is that “errors” are a weaker statistic because they’re subjectively awarded (by a scorer) and that “errors” are not all equal – in the sense that some result in no impact to the score of the game, some don’t allow other runners to advance, etc., while some do result in runs, and so on.

    Rather than using “errors,” James suggests that a better metric to use is “Defensive Misplays” – which are a very specific and organized observation of a very narrowly defined event. Without getting into all the details, for shortstops, this measure looks at things such as a fielder letting a ball roll under glove or between his legs, juggling or dropping a ball on a smooth play that might have gotten an out, making a poor throw, mishandling a pivot, cutting off a better-positioned fielder and failing to make a play, losing a ball in the sun, hesitating or double-clutching before making a throw and losing the play, having a ball get stuck in their glove, giving away the lead runner to take a play at first (when they clearly could have gotten the lead runner), etc.

    In his analysis, Bill James then shares who were the major league leaders last season in terms of fewest “Defensive Misplays” per inning among regulars or near-regular postion players. And, who was the top shortstop in baseball last season using this measure? It was none other than Derek Jeter – with just 17 “Defensive Misplays” in 1,259 innings played.

    Now, let us examine what some respected “baseball people” consider to be important when it comes to playing shortstop in the big leagues. Via the Palm Beach Post last March -

    “You make a hell of a lot more routine plays than great plays,” says Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa, a former outstanding shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies. “A great play is a play you make that no one in the park is expecting you to make. So you make it and you get on a highlight reel. You might have, over the course of a year, maybe 20. But routine plays — bases loaded, ground ball right at you, ground ball to your right — you’ve got to make those plays. That’s what keeps you in the big leagues.”

    From Delray Beach. Fla., comes agreement, to a point.

    “Routine — I hate that word,” says [Bucky] Dent, owner of Bucky Dent’s Baseball School and former Yankees shortstop. “Everybody says, ‘Oh, that’s a routine ground ball.’ Well, what’s so routine about a ball being hit real hard right at you?”

    At shortstop, it happens hundreds of times per season, and all you’ve got to do is never boot one. Phil Rizzuto was a Hall of Fame shortstop for the Yankees, but in the 1951 World Series, he made an error that led to five runs for the New York Giants. When Rizzuto died last year, that play was cited in his obituary in The New York Times.

    Shocking stuff? Not really. We’ve heard this from baseball folks in the past. You know, things such as “The routine ground ball is an out, and that’s really what you want from your shortstop, just make the routine plays every time they hit it to you…” and the like.

    In fact, Ozzie Smith (perhaps the greatest fielding shortstop of all-time) once said “The plays that should be the easiest often become the toughest ones. You make more mistakes on the routine plays than on the tough ones. The tough plays are reactionary. On the routine plays, you have too much time to think. So, you have to concentrate more.” And, it’s because of this that coaches and managers hold guys who don’t screw up the routine play in such high regard.

    In a nutshell, it’s his ability to avoid “Defensive Misplays” that has enabled Derek Jeter to win Gold Glove awards in the past. And, it’s probably the same reason why the Yankees haven’t moved him off shortstop yet. Whether that’s right or wrong, I’ll leave that up to you. Me? I’m just trying to consider all angles of the debate.

    Sure, there’s lots of plays that Derek Jeter doesn’t make a shortstop. And, his defensive skills are limited. But, as long as he contines to make all the routine plays, does it matter? You tell me.

    Comments on Why Derek Jeter Deserves A Gold Glove

    1. Tresh Fan
      March 21st, 2009 | 10:50 am

      Fielding stats are beginning to become as diverse as hitting stats—and nearly as conflicting. For instance, the most effecient SS in the AL last season in turning DPs (DP% and Pivot%) was Bobby Crosby of the Oakland A’s. Yet he had a subpar Range Factor and led all AL fielders in throwing errors. So was it a good year or a bad year for Crosby with the leather?

    2. YankCrank
      March 21st, 2009 | 11:17 am

      Steve, I applaud you for presenting both sides of the issue with unbiased arguments over the last two days. Well done.

    3. thenewguy
      March 21st, 2009 | 12:14 pm

      Sure, there’s lots of plays that Derek Jeter doesn’t make a shortstop. And, his defensive skills are limited. But, as long as he contines to make all the routine plays, does it matter? You tell me.
      ————–

      In fact, Steve, all I want from Jeter is for him to make the routine plays. I don’t care if he never does another jump throw again. My problem is simply that I feel he doesn’t make enough of the routine plays because he can’t get to the ball. Or that he turns routine plays into non-routine plays.

    4. March 21st, 2009 | 4:24 pm

      Maybe it’s just because I haven’t RTFA, but I don’t really see how James’ defensive misplays is any less subjective as a measure than errors.

      Anyway, yes, this is what can be said in defense of Jeter, and it’s not really a new argument (well and originally stated though it may be). But…

      My problem is simply that I feel he doesn’t make enough of the routine plays because he can’t get to the ball. Or that he turns routine plays into non-routine plays.
      ======================
      This is the crux of the issue. How do we weigh these things? I don’t honestly know. But, personally, I think if we add Jeter’s poor range to his undeniable smoothness, we get a moderately below average defender.

      Which is fine considering his offensive production. But smoothness alone doesn’t actually make him worthy of a gold glove. It does, however, explain why people might mistakenly believe it does.

      (BTW, I really wish I could figure out how to make the frakking Quote button work. I must be incompetent.)

    5. Evan3457
      March 22nd, 2009 | 4:11 am

      “Sure, there’s lots of plays that Derek Jeter doesn’t make a shortstop. And, his defensive skills are limited. But, as long as he contines to make all the routine plays, does it matter? You tell me.”

      ========================
      Heck, yes, it DOES matter. Would you justify a hitter not hitting .320 by saying, well, he gets all the routine hits, and he’s hitting .275, which is average, so does it matter? Would you justify a base stealer getting thrown out every time by Jose Molina by saying, well, he gets all the routine steals off of A.J. Pierzynski?

      What matters most of all is the relative numbers. If other players are making 15 more misplays a season, and Jeter isn’t getting to 15 balls up the middle, then everybody’s about even. But if its an additional 30 or 40 or 50 balls going up the middle, then that’s 15 or 25 or 35 fewer outs (maybe more, because some of them might be GIDP grounders with a man on first), and an addition 5 or 10 or 15 runs worth of baserunners.

      Of course it’s true that botching a routine play, especially when it extends a rally with 2 outs, can be devasting for the pitcher and the team, but so can seeing a DP grounder go “just past a diving Jeter, one run scores, and the other runner goes all the way to 3rd…” Just because it isn’t scored an error doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a toll on the pitcher, and on the team as a whole.
      ==========================
      As for Ozzie Smith…you do realize that Ozzie got to more balls and made more plays in all but his three worst years than Jeter did in his best years, don’t you? That’s because Ozzie made almost all the routine plays, but he also made almost all the hard plays, and he also made quite a few damm-near-impossible plays.

      And that’s why Ozzie’s in the Hall of Fame, despite being nowhere near the hitter Jeter has been up to this point in his career.

      ==================================
      Lookit, Jeter used to be good for 50-60 EBH in a typical year, with about 15 HR on average. Last year (and last year may have been an aberration because of a lingering hand injury), he played 150 games and had 39 EBH and 11 HR. His slugging percentage was the lowest it’s been since his 2nd full season.

      Hey, but Derek still hit .300, right? So, as long as he’s still getting his routine singles, do those more spectacular doubles and superduperooper homers really matter?

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