I know, I know. You’ve all heard the arguments before. For years we heard every Yankee critic around bashing Derek Jeter for his poor defense. It’s something that we thought we had put behind us, but unfortunately The Captain has lost a step as he is about to turn 38.
People are touchy about Jeter. Last night when I wrote about this on Twitter I was immediate called a “looser”(sic) by someone who no doubt meant to call me a “loser” but the numbers are not in his favor.
I got to thinking about it when I watched Jeter botch a groundball last night. It was an easy play that he would never have booted in the past, but when he did this time it got me thinking that he looks worse than usual in the field this year. So I turned to the stats to ease my fears.
The first thing I see is Jeter’s -11.7 UZR. A huge number so early in the season. It essentially means that he has already cost them a loss just on his bad defense alone. Because it’s early it also means that he’s on pace for a -35, which would be his worst season by far since they started tracking UZR. Worse than the Joe Torre days before Brian Cashman challenged Jeter to get better.
Don’t like UZR? That’s fine. I’m not a huge fan either. But it doesn’t stop there. There is his Total Zone rating which is -5. That doesn’t sound terrible, and Jeter’s had worse season by that measurement, but it would put him on pace for his worst year since 2002 and it is also the worst among starting shortstops in baseball.
Not a modern stat guy? That’s fine. Let’s use the traditional assist stat. Jeter ranks last with 119 out of 23 shortstops who have played at least 400 innings this season. Maybe he just had fewer opportunities. However, that doesn’t stand up when you consider that the Yankees pitchers induce ground balls 45.4 percent which is right in the middle of the pack meaning that he should have enough opportunities.
Then consider that the Yankees have two lefty starters. That means teams would have the tendency to stack their lineups with right handed hitters who are more likely to hit the ball to the left side of the infield. All of this means that it is very likely that Jeter would have enough ground balls hit to him where he shouldn’t be anywhere near the bottom of the league.
Finally we’ll take a look at Defensive Runs Saved, a stat created by Bill James and the basis of the Fielding Bible awards that are quickly becoming more popular than the Gold Glove award (for obvious reasons). Finally we find a category Jeter isn’t deadlast in. His -8 is only second worst among all shortstops behind only Jose Reyes at -11.
So Jeter has failed the eye test this year, UZR and Total Zone both have him last among shortstops, he converts fewer ground balls into assists than any other shortstop in the game, and he is second to last in Bill James’ DRS category. How does he stack up against other fielders?
Comparing Jeter to all defensive players who have played at least 400 innings this year, he ranks last in UZR, he’s tied at 967 out of 1001 major leaguers who have played this year in TZR, and only three players in the game have a worse DRS.
Now it may not be fair comparing Jeter, a shortstop, to other players at other positions, but he is overwhelmingly bad compared to everyone else. At the very least he’s among the worst defensive regulars in the game if not the very worst.
This is not meant to be the same old argument. Jeter was bad, but did a solid job improving himself as he aged. After seasons with UZR’s of -23 in 2000, -14.9 in 2005, and -17.9 in 2007, Jeter improved and posted three years where he actually had a positive 1.4 from 2008 through 2010. Unfortunately time catches up to everyone and for Jeter time has certainly caught up to him defensively.