Monday, July 14, 2008

Scientists confirm: Derek Jeter Sucks

An interesting article up on Slate today that all non-Yankee fans will enjoy:
Articles in the "Jeter sucks" canon include: James Click's "Did Derek Jeter Deserve the Gold Glove?" from the book Baseball Between the Numbers, Tom Tango's "With or Without Derek Jeter" from the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008, Bill James' "Jeter vs. [Adam] Everett" from John Dewan's The Fielding Bible, and Mike Emeigh's "Derek Jeter and the State of Fielding Analysis in Sabermetrics, Parts 1 Through 8" (really). The gist of all these articles is that Jeter generally makes the plays he gets to (in fact, it turns out he's slightly better than most shortstops at charging slow ground balls and handling balls hit right at him), but he gets to many, many fewer than he should. As fielding-stat pioneer Michael Humphries explained it to me, "Basically, he's OK at easy plays and terrible on all others, in other words, all the plays that matter." That patented jumping, twisting throw to first? Probably just a byproduct of his limited range. As the Onion once declared, "Experts: Jeter Probably Didn't Need To Jump To Throw That Guy Out."

Despite my engineering background, I've never been much of a stat guy... I don't gamble and don't play Fantasy Football/Baseball so they don't really mean much to me. Arguments of the "You think player X is good, but stat Y shows that he is in fact terrible" can be fun of course, but they tend to go around in circles as it tends to depend on which stats you think are important(QB rating or yards per attempt for example). Here though, we seem to have a unified front on the matter of Derek Jeter being a terrible fielder, which is not something I had heard before (but I haven't been following baseball too closely these days). The author brings up some good points about how fielding percentage is a pretty awful way to gauge defense, since it doesn't really measure how many plays you actually make. It's an argument I remember people making about Cal Ripken Jr., that despite the fact that he hardly ever made errors he couldn't make "tough plays" because of his lack of range. The response to that was that he positioned himself to make everything look easy and acrobatic plays unnecessary, but to my knowledge there was no objective stat for any of that back in the 80's... which would be interesting to look at more along the lines described in the article.