Friday, November 12, 2010

Another bogus Gold Glove for Jeter?

As a Yankees fan and (obviously) a Derek Jeter fan, it hurts me to sit here and write negative things about him. But as somebody who watches at least 120 Yankee games every year I know what I see on the field and what I don't see is a Gold Glove-caliber player at shortstop in New York.

Of the nine AL shortstops with enough chances to qualify, Jeter had the fewest errors (6), the best fielding percentage (.989) and the third-most double plays turned (94). Forget the fact that a good amount of those double plays would not have succeeded without fellow Gold Glover Robinson Cano, who turns a double play quicker than any second baseman I've ever seen.

Now before I go to the non-statistical analysis (which is more the basis of my argument), I will throw two more stats out. Jeter was second to last in range factor (3.76), which calculates his number of chances per game and consequently, his range. But Jeter was second in zone rating, which in some way calculates how many balls you field in a shortstop's "zone," which is any ball in play that is fielded at least 50 percent of the time.

Jeter was behind just Jason Bartlett in zone rating; coincidentally, Bartlett was the only AL shortstop with a lower range factor than Jeter. I may be misreading these statistics but it seems like it's easier to have a high zone rating when you don't get to the difficult balls; difficult plays lead to errors which lead to a decrease in your fielding rating within your "zone."

Also take into account that Cano, who definitely deserved his gold glove, had a negative zone rating. If anything, that fact disproves the legitimacy of using zone rating to determine whether a player is worth of a Gold Glove and makes Jeter's high zone rating more of a negative on his candidacy than a positive.

Maybe because Cano has great range but sometimes makes an error or throws a ball away on a ball that other second baseman wouldn't get to, his zone rating is lower? I ask that as a question because again, I don't really understand the statistic and don't really care, but this is how it looks to me.

Enough with the stats though because as always, they don't tell the whole story. As someone who watches the Yankees religiously throughout the regular season, I see how Jeter's advanced age affects his defense.

In his prime I saw Jeter as an above-average shortstop worthy of one or two Gold Gloves in seasons where he performed better than his standard. Baseball is funny like that; guys always have outlier seasons to their career numbers, either up or down.

To say Jeter is bad defensively now is wrong. He still does what you're taught to do when you're young, which is make the plays on the balls that are hit to you or within your "zone." But when you see a guy like Alexei Ramirez or Elvis Andrus play, you realize that maybe Jeter isn't a Gold Glover.

Yes, Ramirez had the third-most errors in the AL (20) and Andrus wasn't far behind with 16. But Ramirez had a ridiculous 213 more chances than Jeter, about 1.3 extra chances per game. And with 14 more errors, he made about 0.1 more errors per game than Jeter. Andrus had 106 more chances than Jeter, about 0.65 extra chances per game and only 0.06 more errors per game.

Is an out worth an error? Out of those 213 extra chances for Ramirez, he made 199 extra outs and 14 extra errors. Andrus made 96 extra outs and 10 extra errors in his chances. Would you rather have a shortstop that can get to more difficult balls, which have a higher chance of becoming an error anyway? Or a shortstop that doesn't have the range to get to difficult balls, in turn making the chances he does have easier?

Jeter's range just isn't what it used to be. On more than one occassion this season, I found myself saying "oh, he would've made that play in his prime." Balls in the hole that he used to get in front of and make routine plays on he now can't get to, has to backhand them and try his patented jump-throw across the diamond, which tends to result in a safe baserunner.

I'm a huge Derek Jeter fan, don't get me wrong. Watching a lot of games, while telling me his range isn't what it used to be and that's he's more of a liability at shortstop than an asset as a result, also allows me to see the intangibles he brings to the field every day.

I hate beating a dead horse because everybody else says the same thing, but I need to make it clear that I have nothing against Derek Jeter as a baseball player; he is everything you want in a leader. He's just not a Gold Glover anymore.

He wasn't last year and he isn't this year. Ramirez and Andrus make more errors, but they make a heck of a lot more plays as well. And as much as a handful of those errors inevitably lead to runs, wouldn't you think that at least a handful of those extra outs save just as many (and most likely more) runs?

This year's voting just proves that the Gold Glove is nothing more than a popularity contest. Sorry Derek, but people have a right to question your award this season, like they did last season. It's just how it is.

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