Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jeter's Inconvenient Truth

Even lifelong Yankee fans (like me) have to admit that Jeter's defense, while sometimes "glamorous" (see: the jump-throws, "the Flip", "the Dive", etc.), is overrated. His range has been lacking for years and getting worse. Maybe we don't see it because we don't want to, but it's real.

We knew ARod was a superior SS when we got him in 2004, but we allowed and accepted ARod's deferral to 3B since "Cap'n Jetes", as you Neyer-ophiles will recognize him as, was the face of the team. How dare someone, anyone, infringe on Jeter's "territory"? Blasphemous.

With ARod at 3b, plus Garciaparra fading and injured, Tejada never really a gold glover either, and some-lesser know SS not gaining the cred fast enough, Jeter won 3 Gold Gloves, furthering the beliefs that he was a better SS than the numbers told us.

We've seen the discussions about Zone Rating, in fact, here's a 2006 review of the SS Zone Ratings. Jeter rarely fares well using these new-fangled statistical reviews. Tough to see it, but at what point do the Yanks have to face this and start considering a position shift? ARod's probably too big now and I am not sure Cano is a SS either. The politics behind moving Jeter are fierce. But, Mantle shifted to first base late his career, why not Jeter?

With a cap tip to Ballbug, we have yet another review of Jeter and SS's:

Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees shortstop who is often hailed for his defensive prowess and has won three Gold Gloves, ranks dead last in the majors, coughing up 13.81 runs per season. Before the 2004 season, the Yankees traded for A-Rod and shifted him to third base in deferrence of Jeter, but based on these numbers, that move could be costing them 23 runs per season. Would the Yankees be better off with A-Rod at SS? Probably, but I'm a Red Sox fan, so I'll keep quiet on this one.
What's interesting about this article is one of their conclusions after discussing how good Troy Tulowitzki is and how seemingly below average his 3B partner (Atkins) is. It's easy to bash Jeter but they give Atkins the pass this way:

Garret Atkins, the third baseman for the Rockies, recorded 41 fewer outs than was expected of him. But does that mean that Atkins is a bad fielder? The stats would say yes. But perhaps his coach is telling him to play near the line, putting him out of position of balls that are running through zones that third basemen are expected to cover and being gobbled up by Tulowitzki, who is being told to play a shade deeper to help cover Atkins' ground. Such a strategy would artificially drop Atkins' outs recorded while simultaneously increasing Tulowitzki's, but, looking at the stats alone makes it difficult to say if this is the case.

Seems convenient that they can create an excuse for Atkins but not Jeter, but I'll let it pass since the truth is Jeter's D is eroding faster Brian Cashman's hairline or Hank Steinbrenner's patience.

An inconvenient truth? At what point do the Yanks have to seriously consider replacing Jeter at SS and moving him to 2B or 1B? You tell me. If the answer is now or next year, then with whom? Making things tough is that Jeter is the Captain, the face of the organization, of success, of what's good about the game. We need to stop trying to hold onto the nostalgia when it's detrimental to the team's forward-looking success plans and make the moves that will prolong success. And that means developing a plan to reposition Jeter, with his support and blessing.

It's time to start.

UPDATE: The guys at Pride of the Yankees followed up with some more Jeterriffic fielding data and discussion. Worth a gander.

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