Who’s on Short Redux

I’m reminded of a scene in the film North Dallas Forty (okay, a football movie, but go with us here). We’re at a team meeting, and head coach B.A. Strothers, who runs every play and player through an IBM for analysis, is none too pleased with his charges. “No one of you is better than that computer,” he barks. We’re not supposed to like B.A., and we don’t: With his heartless mechanical analysis, he’s taken the humanity out of the game.

And so we come to the Yankees shortstop “dilemma,” such as it is. In today’s NYT–in the Week in Review section, of all places–Allen Barra argues that we don’t really have any good method for quantifying defensive ability, as we do for offensive play. We’re not so sure. There are, in fact, plenty of statistics that point to A-Rod’s defensive superiority. Some of these are readily comprehensible and available to the public, others are created by firms that sell their confidential and complex analyses at top dollar.

But the greater point is that to some degree, all statistics–offensive, defensive, otherwise–are subjective. Baseball is not played by the would-be automatons of North Dallas, but by humans with egos and emotions and all of that other stuff that makes people people. Which doesn’t mean we throw all of those stats out the window, because they are of course valid informational tools. But stats don’t necessarily tell the whole story. And this is why Joe Torre–never really a stat man–is such a wonderful manager.

So who should play shortstop? Let’s think back to another film, this one with Abbott & Costello. Who’s on first. What’s on second. At short: I Don’t Give a Darn.

4 comments… add one
  • I can’t do this anymore. First of all, Allan Barra is kind of a hack – he is on the record at Slate.com as backing up Rush Limbaugh’s take that Donovan McNabb IS overrated, which this season, McNabb’s career stats, and three consecutive NFC Championship games, would seem to disprove, so I can’t read anything he says without block of salt.
    You see, every time someone has to defend Jeter by posting something like “well, I don’t care what the stats say” or “there aren’t stats to back up the claims” (and Barra must know full well that there are plenty of statistical measures of defense, so that line of reasoning is basically intellectual dishonesty) then my empirical take on Jeter is proven again. When all we have to go on is “but he sure seems good” then there is no case to be made, we might as well not even discuss. This subject is a dead horse, so let’s leave it at this, or, at least, I will leave it at this:
    Jeter is a horrible statistical fielder.
    Jeter is the shortstop of choice for most Yankees fans.
    Jeter is the shortstop of choice for most Yankees fans, because they won titles with him at short, regardless of his statistics.
    A-Rod is a significantly better shortstop, statistically speaking, than Jeter.
    A-Rod isn’t the shortstop for the Yankees because he didn’t play here when they won their titles.
    Let’s not kid ourselves anymore, this is not about who’s better, it’s about who’s familiar, who’s been there. It’s not about what makes the Yankees better statistically (as that’s a no-brainer), but what makes people here feel fuzzy. The non-move of Jeter is all about emotion, it has nothing to do with science, and I wish that you could at least admit this. Leaving Jeter at shortstop is at odds with what should be done “by the book”, and if it makes everyone here feel better, then by all means go for it – I think it’s an emotional mistake.
    The best I can do is suggest you ask Grady Little how well these “gut” or “emotional” non-moves work out.

    SF February 22, 2004, 4:45 pm
  • The bile here, if I’m interpreting it correctly, seems misdirected. I had hoped my post would bring a little “healing” on this subject with some things about which we could all agree. So, in response to your post, I simply state that:
    1: I agree that there’s no question A-Rod is the superior defensive player. And there are plenty of reliable statistics that demonstrate said reality.
    2: Read again and you’ll find that my post takes issue with Barra, who, for the record, also acknowledged A-Rod’s superiority on defense.
    3: My point was that, yes, YOU’RE RIGHT, keeping Jeter at short is an “emotional” decision. Or at least a decision based on personality management. But personality management is part of the program. And you’ve already made your opinions clear regarding what you feel the appropriate action on the part of Jeter should be in this situation.
    As an aside, because it was not the key to my post, I–once again and for the last bloody time–restate that Derek is not a “horrible” fielder. He has poor range to his left. And the shoulder injury really didn’t help matters last year. The arm is good. Positioning is good. He’s great going back and to his right, especially into the stands.
    Can’t we all just get along? (Apparently not)

    YF February 22, 2004, 6:40 pm
  • Derek Jeter may not, to your naked eyes, be a horrible fielder, but as I note, he is, by all measurable science, a statistically horrible fielder.

    SF February 22, 2004, 7:20 pm
  • First off, this is an informed blog. Second, check out this post – finally a Yankees fan who tells it straight.

    SF February 23, 2004, 3:35 pm

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