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October 14, 2003

Baseball Prospectus - Prospectus Today: The Politics of Glory
by Larry Mahnken

I've lost any ability to understand the Derek Jeter thing. For years, statheads who pointed out how Jeter ranked at or near the bottom of every defensive statistic every single year were derided for being critical of such a great player. I actually understood the difficulty in getting the idea across to people. Jeter is a smart, athletic player with excellent physical tools. He would often make good-looking plays, relying largely on his strong arm. It is hard to convince people that a player who looks very good isn't; the defensive metrics aren't easily explained and they come with many caveats, and there's an ingrained bias against evaluating defense with statistics.

Now, however, Jeter looks terrible. The Yankees give up hit after hit up the middle on balls that average shortstops handle easily, and it passes without mention. The standard line you hear is that Jeter's shoulder--the one he injured on Opening Day--is affecting his play. That may be so, but the fact is this is the same defense he played before the shoulder injury. He has had terrible footwork for his entire career, and I believe that his outsized defensive reputation has been a considerable barrier in getting him to improve that, actually.

That Tim McCarver can look at Derek Jeter and praise his defense is something I do not and cannot understand. This isn't about stats, it's about competence. If you can't look at Jeter and see that he's completely overmatched by the defensive demands of shortstop, then why should I believe anything you have to say about baseball? You've made up your mind based on a set of criteria that you believe is important, and which has little to do with how Derek Jeter plays shortstop.
And that's just a small part of a FANTASTIC article by Joe Sheehan. It's a free BP article, though the stuff behind the subscription is awesome as well. Make absolutely sure you read this.