Derek Jeter, Gold Glover: Will the Yankees Be Smarter Than Their Admirers Are?

Baseball’s statistical-analysis revolution has some made impressive gains. Ordinary fans care about on-base percentage; a great pitcher can now win the Cy Young Award despite

an unspectacular win-loss record


Then again, Derek Jeter was awarded the

American League Gold Glove at shortstop

yesterday. It was his fifth Gold Glove, which Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports noted is more Gold Gloves than

all but four other shortstops

: Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, Luis Aparicio, and Mark Belanger.

There are two notable differences between Jeter and those four. The first is that Jeter has been a great hitter, while the others were adequate-to-feeble hitters whose stardom was built mostly or entirely on their defensive brilliance. The second difference is that Derek Jeter is not a brilliant defensive player.

Baseball defense is a contentious and difficult-to-measure thing, but more or less everyone who tries to measure it finds that Jeter is not good at it. You don’t have to dig deeply into nerd-numbers. Click on any column in

Baseball Reference’s shortstop statistics

. Except for the oldest numbers, errors and fielding percentage—which reward players who don’t try hard—Jeter is bad wherever you look.

Yes, Jeter is down near the bottom of the list in “BIS Plus/Minus Fielding Runs Above Avg” and “Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Avg per 1,200 Inn.” But among the players who played a lot of innings at shortstop, there are some simpler stats he was not very good at. Putouts, for instance. Alexi Ramirez of the White Sox had 249, and Jeter had 182. Assists: Oakland’s Cliff Pennington had 496, and Jeter had 365.

There’s nothing abstruse about it. The reason people say Derek Jeter is a bad defensive shortstop is that when Derek Jeter plays shortstop, he doesn’t get as many people out as other shortstops do. The reasons people say Derek Jeter is a good defensive shortstop are that he has gotten a lot of hits, he has made some famous highlight-reel plays over the years, and he is the captain of a very good New York Yankees team.

But now he is 36 and a free agent, and the gap between his reputation and reality is the space into which the Yankees are supposed to pour millions of dollars, in the name of Tradition or Respect or Intangibles. The Yankees, as a franchise, can be both




about questions like this. Joe Posnanski

poked at the id of Yankees fans

with a thought experiment asking if they would be willing to trade the classy, aging Jeter for Florida’s Hanley Ramirez, a young superstar with a reputation for having bad attitude:

I’ll tell you the results of the poll, but you won’t believe them. More than 300 Yankees fans wrote in with an answer to that question: Would you trade Derek Jeter for Hanley Ramirez. Three hundred forty seven to be exact.

One hundred seventy three of them said yes.
One hundred seventy three of them said no.

And one, from Brilliant Reader Joey, who says simply: “As far as trading Derek Jeter for Hanley Ramirez, I answer wholeheartedly yes … and also no.”

And they’re not the ones who have to write the checks. The Yankees have been lucky with their aging heroes. Jorge Posada was still good this year as he turned 39; Mariano Rivera was still outstanding at 40. Jeter was not outstanding, either as a hitter or as a fielder, but now he is the reigning Gold Glove shortstop. How many more years does that buy him? Having Jeter in a Yankees uniform is good for the Yankees brand. So is winning.