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.