Derek Jeter’s defense is among the worst in baseball

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.

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19 Responses to Derek Jeter’s defense is among the worst in baseball

  1. Hardcore Yankee Fan says:

    While I agree that Jeter's defense leaves something to be desired, it's never cost them any championships and it won't this year. What's more, I'm not sure what your point is to this article, which was a decent read BTW. Jeter is BY FAR the best SS in the organization for a combination of offense and defense so it's not like any imminent change is, or should be, in order.

    It would make no sense to move Jeter to DH considering they have good platoon there and it makes no sense to sit him on the bench, even if that were politically possible.

    To me, it's like if you told me that the sky was blue. All I can do is shrug my shoulders and say, "So what?"

    • Gonzalo says:

      What Hardcore YF said is the best. all this article about Jeter's defense is ridiculous.
      This is not positive criticism.
      Then Tanned Tom with numbers about old players, so what? Thanks to Mike for bringing reality and not something we were reading years ago haha.
      We don't have anything better than Jeter, the idea of somebody moving to the outfields sounds better for Nunez.

  2. dave b says:

    ever heard of intangibles???

    • Tanned Tom says:

      ever heard of lack of range? No team has EVER won a pennant with a SS older than 35, not EVER. Which, btw, was Jeter in 2009.

      • Mike Sommer says:

        The 1955 Dodgers won the WS with Pee Wee Reese, who turned 37 in the middle of that season. They won the pennant the next year. Phil Rizzuto had just turned 36 when the Yankees won the 1953 WS. Honus Wagner was 35 in 1909 for the WS-winning Pirates. Just saying.

        • Tanned Tom says:

          Then I stand corrected. I was repeating something I read a few years ago, serves me right for not checking it out myself.

  3. Tanned Tom says:

    I am a huge Jeter fan, and think he's a first ballot HOFer, but… Shortstop is a defenders position. Jeter has been a bad SS for years and the team is allowing a star's ego/prestige to get in the way of what's best for the team. Sound familiar? Same thing happened with Jeter's idol, Cal Ripken, who refused to take a day off when he was clearly hurting his team. The solution is fairly obvious with old shortstops, move them to 3B or the OF. Jeter's arm really isn't good enough for 3B, but is more than good enough for LF. So, follow the dominos here. after Swisher leaves as a free agent they move Jeter to LF, Gardner to CF and Granderson to RF (even though he too doesn't have the arm for it). The new SS is Pena, or Nunez if he sheds his iron glove and/or the piece of bone between his ears. Or even Mustelier, whose range has to be better than a 38 year old's.

    • uyf1950 says:

      God no not Pena. He can't hit worth a lick. And not Nunez. If anyone thinks Jeter's defense is bad what must they think of Nunez as the Yankees full time SS. Please no. I agree that Jeter's days at SS are or at the least should be numbered but right now the solution has to come from outside the organization. The Yankees have no viable candidates in house.

    • Mike Sommer says:

      So you are going to just put a 38 year old into a position he has NEVER professionally played in his life? It isn't that easy. Jeter has never played one inning at ANY position other than SS since before high school. Fact is, Jeter isn't playing any position other than SS.

  4. Hardcore Yankee Fan says:

    It really is that easy. That's why pitchers shag fly balls before games, because it isn't that difficult. I'm not suggesting that Jeter will be Gardner but he really is, and always has been well suited for the outfield. He's always had, and still has, good speed which is ideal for tracking down balls. He's always had a VERY SLOW first step which is why his range is so bad at SS. It would be ideal to think about getting Jeter in the OF as a cheap $8M player for 2014 (with the transition starting next year0, supplemented by another $2-3M type player as they try to get under the cap. And then if no internal options are available (Pena is NOT an option), then go on the market and gets $5-6M SS or maybe spend more and get a Hardy or something.

    • Mike Sommer says:

      Just my opinion, but I don't think Jeter makes the adjustment well. At 32, maybe. At 38 or beyond, no.

      • Tanned Tom says:

        Hey if Yogi Berra can play LF in his mid-30's when it had Death Valley, then Jeter certainly can manage in YS3. We're not talking about winning gold gloves, just being better than Ibanez. At any rate, he has to be better in left than he is at short. Baseball is filled with examples of players switching positions late in their careers: Ripken to 3B at 35, Torre to 3B, Musial to 1B, and recently Ramirez and Youklis to 3B. The point is not that these were stellar moves (although I seem to recall Stan the Man winning a GG) but that they were acceptable. A good athlete can handle LF.

        • Mike Sommer says:

          Yogi was a power hitter, as were the others. Gardner makes up for the lack of power with the speed and defense. I don't think Jeter, at his advanced age, helps at that position. The power wouldn't be there, nor the speed. As of now, his bat is still better than most SS in the league. Moving him to LF, he would no longer have the positional advantage he would have now, but probably rank among the bottom at that position. Not to mention that Jeter's replacement at SS may well rank at the bottom there too, depending on who takes over at SS. I'm fully aware of Berra, Howard, etc. playing LF in the old place. Not that I agree with that, but … I still do not want Jeter out there.

  5. Pee Wee Herman says:

    Jeter's bat and consistency at shortstop is why he will stay there for now. Nunez is terrible at SS and will not improve. Jeter's arm is not fit for the outfield, it is very weak, similar to an aging Johnny Damon and we all know how bad that was. I think Jeter will hang around for about two more years, stay at SS and likely retire. I doubt he will play into his mid 40s.

  6. John Martin says:

    The Yankees need Jeter's bat and intangibles. The only solution for this year is to take him out for defensive purposes when the situation dictates–for example in late innings when they are ahead.

  7. John says:

    Wow, so now that Jeter is batting over .300 this season and is one of the top SS offensively, you have to bash his defense. Give it a rest, and get a life and a real article.

  8. Viv says:

    The same argument can be made about A-Rod defensive capabilities. He will be 37 this year and his bat and defensive range has slowed down. If A-Rod hits 25 home runs this season the Yankees will be lucky. The difference between A-Rod and Jeter? A-Rod is costing the Yankees almost 30 million a year and his ego is as big as Yankee stadium. And most importantly A-Rod still fizzles as a clutch hitting. Yes Jeter is aging but he can still run fast, get hits, initiate DPs and most importantly motivate the team to win.

    • Funny you say that A-Rod fizzles as a clutch hitter the day after he hit a grand slam to lead the Yankees in an amazing come from behind victory.

      The same argument can't be made for A-Rod. He's not nearly as bad as Jeter by any measure defensively. He is on pace to hit more than 25 homers so technically the Yankees would be unlucky if he hit that few.