“Past a diving Jeter” is so passé

At least Derek seems to be working toward making this statement true. From Pete Abe:

Jeter said that he changed his offseason workout program.

“I had done some different things this offseason to try and get
better and try and improve. Did a lot of speed (work), lot of agility,
lot of lateral movement, lot of explosive stuff to try and get quicker,
faster and move around a little bit better,” he said.

“My issue has always been putting weight on. I have a real tough
time gaining weight. In past offseasons I’d eat as much as I could to
try and gain weight because I knew once spring training came I would
lose weight. This year I basically just said this is the card I’ve been
dealt, I might as well not try to gain too much weight and just work
with what I have. Last year I had some problems with legs, so you do
whatever you can to try and strengthen your legs.”

It’s funny. I’ve been dealt a different card.  It’s the one where my awful eating habits actually result in love handles and lowered self-esteem.  But Derek must struggle with his lot in life, too. Good luck to him.

More than any time in Derek’s career, the sabermetricians’ dirty little secret about his fielding is becoming more mainstream. It’s like Denis Johnson’s recent ascension to literary household name–incidentally is that new book any good? The relatively obscure becomes well-known. Recent reports have Jeter directly addressing the metrics in an entirely predictable fashion ("Your system says I suck. I don’t suck. Your system sucks."). Yet I wonder if the chronically non-obese one is taking any of the criticism seriously. Might this new work-out regimen be, in part, a response to the work of people like Tom Tango or John Dewan? Jeter did actually deal with similar questions, based on sabermetricians’ work, about his fielding last  season as well. Could he actually have believed there might be some truth to what they were saying, and thought to himself, I need to work on my range?

Okay, the answer is probably not. He was injured last season, and he
wanted to his legs to be stronger to fight off that possibility this
season. But I still do wonder about players’ relationship with
statistics, especially during this period. In what ways do statistics
guide players’ approaches to the game? MLBtraderumors conducted a great interview with Kansas CIty Royals pitcher Brian Bannister a while back. In one part of the interview, Bannister discussed BABIP:

Bannister: I think a lot of fans underestimate how much time I spend
working with statistics to improve my performance on the field. For
those that don’t know, the typical BABIP for starting pitchers in Major
League Baseball is around .300 give or take a few points. The common
(and valid) argument is that over the course of a pitcher’s career, he
can not control his BABIP from year-to-year (because it is random), but
over a period of time it will settle into the median range of roughly
.300 (the peak of the bell curve). Therefore, pitchers that have a
BABIP of under .300 are due to regress in subsequent years and pitchers
with a BABIP above .300 should see some improvement (assuming they are
a Major League Average pitcher).

Because I don’t have enough of a sample size yet (service time), I
don’t claim to be able to beat the .300 average year in and year out at
the Major League level. However, I also don’t feel that every pitcher
is hopelessly bound to that .300 number for his career if he takes some
steps to improve his odds – which is what pitching is all about.

One thing that I work a lot with, and that is not factored into
common statistical analysis, is what counts a pitcher pitches in most
often – regardless of what type of "stuff" he has. Most stats only
measure results, not the situations in which those results occurred. In
the common box score, an RBI is an RBI, but it doesn’t show the count,
number of outs, and number of runners on base when it occurred. For me,
the area where pitchers have the most opportunity to improve or be
better than average is in their count leverage.

Bannister is probably not your typical major leaguer or person. He comes across as more cerebral than most. But I do wonder how many players, especially the younger ones, are aware of "new" statistics such as BABIP. And I wonder how this awareness is changing them as players.

24 comments… add one
  • to explain the length: the NYC public schools are on vacation this week.

    Nick-YF February 22, 2008, 1:40 pm
  • The topic of Jeter’s defense seems to be all the rage these days. Derek Jeter is no Ozzie Smith, wow groundbreaking revelation. Derek Jeter’s defense is also not what is holding the Yankees back. The emphasis being placed on how inferior he is at SS is ridiculous. From Buster Olney to Pete Abraham this topic is being blown way out of proportion. The fact that the Yankees haven’t won a championship since 2000 has nothing to do with Jeter’s defense, but rather the lack of clutch hitting and pitching in the playoffs as a team. This would be a much different story if the Yankees had a guy like Lowrie waiting in the wings, but they don’t. Jeter will be this teams SS until he decides to retire, he won’t move, nor will anyone ask him to. Like I said months ago when we beat this topic to death back then, the only positions he would move to would be SS and 2B and we seem to have both those positions locked up for a while. Yankee fans need to find another hot button issue that really is more important to the success of this team.
    Nick this is in no way a knock on your piece. It’s a knock on the amount of emphasis people who truly don’t understand the game have put on this topic.

    John - YF February 22, 2008, 2:08 pm
  • Jeter can fight off age with his speed workouts. He’s not going to get any quicker at 34, however.

    dan February 22, 2008, 2:18 pm
  • This would be a much different story if the Yankees had a guy like Lowrie waiting in the wings, but they don’t.
    Seeing as how Lowrie’s defense grades to be about ‘average’ at best at the minor league level, I don’t think he would be pushing Jeter for a job. If Lugo is relatively safe in his position even with Lowrie waiting in AAA, Jeter would be Fort Knox. It is going to take an above-average defender as well as a guy with plenty of pop to move Jeter out of the SS position. That only happens if the Attorney General miraculously takes his bat to another level (or like, three levels) this year.

    AndrewYF February 22, 2008, 2:34 pm
  • To address the last part of your article, for me it’s a constant battle of what do I believe. I love fantasy baseball. I run keeper league and I am also in a Scoresheet (the best form of fantasy baseball IMO) keeper league. I started off by reading Ron Shandler, the man is a genius. I then made the switch over to BP this year. So far so good, the detail they (BP) present is amazing. The difficult part comes into play when the coach side battles that sabermetrics side. On one hand I truly believe (to some degree) that you can predict outcome and performance based on past history. Where I struggle is with terms like “owning a skill set.” Shandler was a HUGE believer in “owning a skill set” and once you own a skill set, it’s yours. He is basically saying based on past performance you develop a track record and unless something out of the ordinary happens you can expect to produce along similar lines for your career. The data proves him to be correct in cases where (PED’s) are not a possibility. But then there are cases like David Ortiz. He was always a good hitter, but then pitchers realized where they could pitch him and he struggled. That eventually led to him getting released and rethinking his plan of attack at the plate. Since his jump to the Sox Ortiz has learned how to hit all areas of the plate and become a more complete hitter. Ortiz is the perfect example of being able to change a skill set. My coach side likes when that happens. Baseball is a game centered around such detail that it pains to me to some degree when people say players can’t make improvements. Combining knowledge of the game and sabermetrics should benefit the players. The problem is getting the players to believe in it’s legitimacy and usefullness. Bannister seems to be on the right track, maybe more will follow.

    John - YF February 22, 2008, 2:37 pm
  • Wow, I missed that interview at MLBTR. Given what usually passes for commentary from many sportswriters, and the players they get “reaction” from, Bannister’s answers are almost revelatory. Props to MLBTR, and bloggers in general, for making the most of their opportunities to interview players, and showing us what can happen when you don’t limit your questions to the typical boilerplate.
    (Man, I wish I had a guy like Bannister on one of my teams… What’s that, he was? And the guy we traded him for is bad and injured. I see. Now I know why I skipped that MLBTR piece.)
    I sort of agree with John, that the pendulum of opinion on Jeter’s defense might swing too far. This sort of over-correction is lamentably common though, in the echo chamber of the modern news cycle.
    However, I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Jeter is an SS for life. If Cal Ripken can change positions, I think pretty much anyone can be talked into moving in the last years of his career. The Yankees are geared to have Jeter at SS for the foreseeable future, of course, but who’s to say the team will look the same in 2012?

    FenSheaParkway February 22, 2008, 2:39 pm
  • “This would be a much different story if the Yankees had a guy like Lowrie waiting in the wings, but they don’t.”
    My point was that there will be nobody in the current Yankees org. pushing Jeter for his job in the near future. Not that Lowrie could change Jeter for his position.

    John - YF February 22, 2008, 2:42 pm
  • FSP, you are 100% correct he could change positions, but as the Yankees stand today the positions he could move to are filled. If that changes (Cano or Alex) then he certainly could make the switch.

    John - YF February 22, 2008, 2:44 pm
  • It is going to take an above-average defender as well as a guy with plenty of pop to move Jeter out of the SS position.
    a-rod says you’re a liar.

    sf rod February 22, 2008, 4:22 pm
  • I think the sudden emphasis on Jeter’s fielding arises from the fact that it’s challenging a conventional wisdom that has seemingly seared itself into the consciousness of every living breathing person on this planet.
    So it’s obviously getting a lot of press because to many sportswriters this is an amazing concept — even more amazing because it looks to be true.
    For those of us who have followed this debate for the past five years, this is old news and the coverage seems out of place, but I can see why the New York press especially is going crazy over this.
    I do love how Jeter responds to the system by saying “Situations change, how do you measure that?” when that’s EXACTLY what systems like Tom Tango’s have measured, and those systems are exactly why this has finally achieved mainstream prss. Obviously, Jeter’s got an interest in defending himself, but it amuses me anyway that his self-defense is to essentially ignore the data behind the accusation, then talk about how there’s no way to collect any data.

    Paul SF February 22, 2008, 4:59 pm
  • Anyone who thinks Jeter is the worst shortstop in MLB is crazy. Numbers, formulas, logarithms be damned…the guy is a winner. Has he slowed down some? Of course, who hasn’t as they go from 24-34? Can he still make plays in the field? Sure can. I don’t think there are too many Yankee fans that want to see anyone but #2 playing SS in the Bronx for at least another couple years…

    krueg February 22, 2008, 5:57 pm
  • You gotta feel for Jeter. First Sienna Miller rejects him. Now, sabermetricians are trashing his defense.
    I just hope that Jeter isn’t reduced to sobbing into his pillow at night. ;)

    SoxFan February 22, 2008, 6:11 pm
  • Jeter is a really bad SS. To any one who thinks otherwise: When is the last time he made a play going toward 2B?
    Another marker of how bad Jeter is: With an average SS they tie or win the AL East last year – ie his defense cost them at least two games.
    But of course, the problem is two-fold: who replaces him at SS and where does he go? I suppose if he’s worse this year, then he shifts to 1b next year (with Giambi gone) and they try to sign an Orlando Cabrera or Rafael Furcal. But if he holds the line this year, the best case scenario might be a shift to LF in 2010. Then Damon and Matsui are off the books, and then they might have the system producing 1B (Miranda, Montero) and a SS (Gonzalez, Angelini).
    The bottom line is all great players on the left side of the infield had to move eventually (Yount, Brett, Ripkin), and they were younger too when it happened. It’s going to be the case for Jeter too. Might as well get used to the idea and start thinking of alternatives. Hopefully Cashman is.

    A YF February 23, 2008, 9:09 am
  • From Goldman: “Pettitte received weak defensive support from the Yankees, with a batting average of balls in play of .329. Pettitte gives up a lot of grounders to the left side, and you-know-who plays there.”

    A YF February 23, 2008, 9:20 am
  • gee, does this mean no more gold gloves for the guy?

    dc February 23, 2008, 11:09 am
  • Paul Molitor is a different story. He played multiple positions throughout his entire career. He had a comfort level at 2B, 3B, SS and OF. He was also a much better athlete. The only other position Jeter has ever played is DH. It’s easy to say stick him here, stick him there but without having ever played there before it wont be an easy transition. George Brett and other 3Bman (Kevin Youkilis) making the move to 1B is a fairly smooth transition. Corner IF positions are fairly similar responsibility wise. Bunt rotations, cutoffs, positioning are all fairly similar. A SS moving to 2B is also not a terribly difficult transition because their responsibilities are almost identical, just change the throws and footwork. But to move a SS to 1B or even worse the OF will not be easy. 1B is far more difficult position to learn and master then anyone is giving it credit for. Yount was able to transition into the OF because he was much quicker then Jeter ever was (and he made the switch at 30). Playing the OF well comes with experience, it’s more then just catching flyballs. You can transition quick guys to the OF at a young age (BJ Upton) and have them learn on the fly. Their speed will help make up for their lack of experience. You would be asking an aging player who is slowing down to move to a position where quickness and 1st step can make or break you, not smart. The same people who want Matsui, a life long OF’r with years of experience fielding FB’s, out of the OF because he is slowing down want Jeter out there? As for Ripken moving to 3B, it’s not easy. Your whole plan of attack changes, as well as your role in the IF. 3B is a possible solution except for the fact that we have a 3Bman and Jeter’s arm may not be strong enough. 3B to 1B would be the easiest transition, SS to 2B next, SS to 3B, then finally IF to OF.
    Like I said earlier unless Cano or Alex are moved OR get a LT injury, Jeter will finish his career at SS. The Yankees had some legitimate issues last season, DJ’s SS play were the least of their worries. It’s simply over analyzing a hot button issue.

    John - YF February 23, 2008, 11:48 am
  • I’m willing to bet my house that, after what we saw last year, Jeter won’t finish his career as a SS, unless he’s willing to:
    a) Fall just short of 3000 hits and retire at the end of 2010.
    b) Switch teams at the end of 2010 while taking a huge pay cut.
    A team-first player will recognize how he can best help his team. If Jeter is truly all about winning, he’ll be ready to switch positions as soon as next year (even as he should have when A-Rod came aboard). My money’s still on 2010, when the team can turn the screws with him making $21 million to play the worst SS in the game. No amount of analyzing, over or otherwise, can miss the fact that he cost the team at least 10 runs last year. Do the math and that’s at least two wins.
    While I agree that a switch to 1B is potentially more difficult than commonly claimed, Jeter with his somewhat intact speed and his ability to track fly balls off the bat, could easily hold down LF, and only LF, for a few years. There his offense is still at least average (whereas at 1B he’d be below average).

    A YF February 23, 2008, 1:03 pm
  • “his ability to track fly balls off the bat”
    It’s a completely different skill to play the outfield. Tracking FB’s at SS well does not mean he can play the OF. Strong/quick first step and ability to read the ball of the bat takes time. Athletes in the prime of their career struggle with it. (See Chase Headley, BJ Upton, Mark Teahen)
    “could easily hold down LF”
    Really? At 35+ this would be an easy transition? I respect most of what you say but to say he “could easily” make the switch is ridiculous. He has never played the OF to think that suddenly at age 35+ he could just up and learn how to play LF. Read Ensbergs quotes on the transition to 1B, it’s not an easy thing and he is simply moving from corner to corner where the required skills are similar.
    “My money’s still on 2010, when the team can turn the screws with him making $21 million to play the worst SS in the game.”
    Turn the screws? On a man that is partially responsible for 4 WS titles and restoring excitement to baseball in the Bronx? It will never happen. Remember this team has so much respect for this young man that they moved Alex to 3B when most people though Alex was the best SS in the game. It didn’t happen then, it won’t happen now. As for him being the worst SS in the game, that’s your opinion, that’s simply not fact. You make him sound like a bumbling, stumbling, sloth out there. You can guess at how many games Jeter’s defense has cost, but I will focus on how many games he has won for us defensively and offensively. Again I will say the Yankees have far bigger fish to fry then DJ’s defense.

    John - YF February 23, 2008, 2:49 pm
  • “Strong/quick first step and ability to read the ball of the bat takes time.”
    Jete already has this skill in spades. That’s why the best play he makes is going back on a popup.
    “Really? At 35+ this would be an easy transition?”
    Of all the options, yes, yes he could. LF at Yankee Stadium is very manageable. Would he be spectacular? No, but his bat and glove would make him an average LF. That combination is better than what he would give anywhere else.
    “Turn the screws? On a man that is partially responsible for 4 WS titles and restoring excitement to baseball in the Bronx? It will never happen.”
    Not only will it happen, but it will have to. He ain’t leaving the position by choice. Just as Ripkin had to be cajoled, so will Jetes. And if the promise is a contract extension, that’s how I can see it going down and why in 2010.
    And of any fielding “fact”, Jete as the worst SS is as solid as they come (apart from Manny as the worst LF :) In this day and age, it’s far from a guess to see how much his defense has cost the team.
    Can you name one play in the last five years that Jete made going toward 2B? I know I can’t. But that’s a routine play for almost every SS.

    A YF February 23, 2008, 3:33 pm
  • Jeter has that at SS. Like I said above it’s a completely different skill in the OF. Reading a ball off the bat in the outfield is a different skill then reading the ball off the bat for a SS. Since you refuse to take my word for it ask someone else who has been around the game for a long time. (Brad would be a good person to ask since his is a Sox fan and has played college ball)
    As for Ripken we have been over this, he moved to 3B. That’s a heck of a lot easier move to sell to a player then to have him moving to the outfield. While the role of a 3Bman is different then that of a SS, it’s still the IF.
    You are stuck on Jeter’s ability to field balls gloveside, it’s simply not as important as you are making it out to be. Is it Jeter’s defense that put them in the 1st half hole they were in last season? Was it Jeter’s defense that has stopped them from advancing past the 1st round? Again there are much bigger fish to fry.
    PS – Count me out of this discussion going forward. People (including me) are spending far too much time on this issue. He is not Ozzie Smith and never was. But he also does things offensively that most players and teams would kill for. Enjoy what he does bring to this team and stop focusing on something small like he can’t go gloveside. Bigger fish (See: LaTroy Hawkins, Kyle Farnsworth, Innings Limitations, Mike Mussina)

    John - YF February 23, 2008, 3:55 pm
  • “Reading a ball off the bat in the outfield is a different skill then reading the ball off the bat for a SS.”
    Indeed. You have even less time than an OF to make that crucial first step. And Jeter’s one of the best infielders at that limited skill.
    “As for Ripken we have been over this, he moved to 3B.”
    My comp wasn’t about where but when and how. It was less his choice than the team’s. It will be the same with Jetes.
    “You are stuck on Jeter’s ability to field balls gloveside, it’s simply not as important as you are making it out to be.”
    Tell that to Andy Pettitte.
    “Is it Jeter’s defense that put them in the 1st half hole they were in last season? Was it Jeter’s defense that has stopped them from advancing past the 1st round?”
    No. And maybe. Had they had even an average defender at SS, they likely win the division. That’s one small change but it’s meaningful.
    Look, I love what Jeter has given the team as much as the next guy. But it’s getting close to necessary, if it isn’t already. One more step lost and he should be moved. Of course, other factors get involved (like where), that’s why I think it will be the 2010 season. But he sure as heck ain’t finishing his career at SS.

    A YF February 23, 2008, 4:53 pm
  • …off with his head!…the yanks should cut their losses and release his sorry butt when his contract expires…despite the gg’s and other accolades about his “intangibles”, he is obviously a poor excuse of a short stop…”no range”, “worst ss in the major leagues”…i’m not making it up…if the yanks want to make a move toward the future, they need to start by saying goodbye to this bum…his continued sub-standard performance is an embarrassment to such a proud franchise…

    dc February 23, 2008, 7:12 pm
  • Joel Sherman this morning:
    “This study has been done a zillion times and the same conclusion is reached every time,” an AL official said. “What do you think that means?”
    For Jeter devotees, it means assailing the geeks. But as an AL executive said, “this isn’t geeks vs. jocks. This is myth vs. reality.”
    “But this is not about intangibles or batting average. This is about defense and assessing it with our brains, not our hearts. And even the scouting community that bases judgments on eyeball appraisals, not numbers, used words like “slip” and “regression” to describe Jeter’s fielding. He is still sure-handed, and fine retreating on pops or charging grounders. However, his range is clearly among the majors’ worst. His lateral quickness on grounders, specifically to his left, was cited as deficient.”
    One AL official said, “You particularly notice with groundball guys like [Andy] Pettitte and [Chien-Ming] Wang how many grounders went through that shouldn’t have. Pettitte must have had a culture shock going from Adam Everett in Houston, who was the best [shortstop], to Jeter, who is not in that league.”
    Rodriguez’s new deal led to suspicion that at some point, the Yanks also will have to extend Jeter, who is signed through 2010. But as one AL executive said, “It already is a below-average range left side of the infield. I don’t know that they can live with it for a long term.”
    This is the elephant in the room. Will the Yanks move Jeter off of shortstop when the time comes – assuming that time is not here already – or will they be like the Orioles, who kowtowed well past Cal Ripken’s expiration date at short and hurt the organization? Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi avoided that bubbling cauldron by saying they won’t look beyond this season.

    A YF February 24, 2008, 9:58 am
  • Free agents after 2008:
    Orlando Cabrera
    Adam Everett
    Rafael Furcal
    Free agents after 2009:
    Khalil Greene
    Jack Wilson
    Julio Lugo! :)
    Makes you realize how special Jeter has been with his bat and even a barely passable glove. If his bat continues to mostly flourish, and his defense regresses no more, The problem is 2007 passed into borderline territory on both sides of the ball. 2008 is a big year for him. Furcal might be the best available SS in free agency until Rollins after the 2010 season.

    A YF February 24, 2008, 10:28 am

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