I hope you’re sitting down for this, because I’m going to share a notion that might shock you right out of your Snuggie.
No, it’s not that Jose Canseco is suing MLB. Or that Congress is now setting its sights on Sammy Sosa. Those two nuggets wouldn’t even surprise this guy.
No, what I’m going to point out is so shocking, you might question everything you thought you knew about baseball:
DEREK JETER IS NOT SUCH A BAD DEFENDER ANYMORE.
That’s right, he’s not. In fact, at the age of 34 (35 in 9 days, don’t forget to send a card), Jeter is putting together his finest defensive season since they’ve been keeping advanced defensive metrics.
Looking at two fielding stats, range runs and UZR, Jeter has improved immensely since 2005, when he contributed to one of the worst defensive teams to ever make the playoffs.
And, via Jon Paul Morosi the same day -
The debate has gone on for several years now.
Traditional baseball observers talk about Derek Jeter’s value to the New York Yankees as their starting shortstop. Some statistically-minded fans argue that his defense has declined.
Well, have you checked the numbers lately?
Last year, according to the Fielding Bible statistics at Bill James Online, Jeter allowed eight more runs than the average shortstop. This season, he’s saved two.
Yes, he’s gone from minus-8 to plus-2.
Defensive statistics don’t necessarily provide a full picture of a player’s fielding ability. In Jeter’s case, though, virtually all the numbers point to noticeable improvement between 2008 and 2009.
He committed only two errors in his first 59 games at shortstop this year for a .992 fielding percentage. That is the best mark in a season during Jeter’s big-league career, which began in 1995. (Last year, he had a .979 fielding percentage.)
The statistics at FanGraphs.com tell the same story. Jeter has positive zone and range ratings this year, suggesting that he’s been better than the big-league average. The same numbers were negative for him in 2008.
And there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that improved positioning has helped Jeter reach more balls. He made a superb play on Alex Cora’s ground ball up the middle in the second inning of Saturday’s game against the Mets. Yankees first base coach Mick Kelleher, a former infielder, said Jeter has adapted in the same way that Cal Ripken Jr. did in the latter stages of his career.
“Just like Ripken, you adjust in other ways,” Kelleher said. “His ‘ready’ position is better. His angles to the balls are great. He continues to work at it.
“You’ve got realize he’s 35-years-old. You aren’t going to be the same guy you were 14 years ago. Nobody should expect that. But he’s a lot smarter than he was 14 years ago. … He’s a worker. He’s very, very smart. He has instincts. And that comes from playing.”
Of course, two weeks before these reports, we had the good news on Jeter’s improved defense this season posted at WasWatching.com.
I’ve heard some credit Mick Kelleher for this improvement – due to his work positioning Derek Jeter in the field. And, since Kelleher is one big new element into the Jeter’s defense equation this season, it makes sense to consider that as being a factor.
All I do know, for certain, is that you don’t hear “Past-a-diving Jeter” as much these days as you used to…and that’s nice.