Your Lyin’ Eyes

Zone Rating: 16th

UZR: 29th

PMR: 31st

That Manny!  He’s just pathetic.  Watching him patrol left field in Fenway is like watching Kevin Federline trying to rap.  Some things are simply unsafe for the naked eye.

But things aren’t quite what they seem. A bit of truth after the jump.

Now, replace “Manny” with “Derek” and “left field in Fenway” with “the hole in the Bronx” and the mythology would turn to fact.  This excellent article by John Weisman at sums up the new breed of defensive statistical analysis, using New York’s beloved (and oft-hagiographed) shortstop as his guinea pig.  The verdict?  Though he looks smooth to the naked eye, Derek measures out on the wrong side of average by most mathematical models.  More specifically, most of the newfangled statistical systems rank him as one of the weakest defenders in the entire majors. Dave Pinto’s Probablistic Model of Range puts DJ as the 8th worst among Major League starters.  Hardball Times’ “Range” measurement puts the Bronx Swordsman 25th.  The lauded “UZR” rating puts Jeets 29th.  Something called “plus/minus”, documented in “The Fielding Bible” by John Dewan has Derek at a pitiful 31st.   The proponents of each system admit that there is limitation in using any one of these methods as a holy grail (some consider park effect, others type of ball hit, etc., some neither). At the same time, most of the gearheads documenting defense believe that there useful information within all these systems, and that considered together they paint a richer picture of any given players’ defensive capabilities.  In this case, we are indebted to Mr. Weisman for leading us to the information that debunks one of our most peevish baseball myths, that of Derek Jeter as an accomplished fielder.  This is something we’ve been saying all along, and we’re proud to know that objective science backs up our subjective (and admittedly biased) field observations. 

Yankees fans, have at it in the comments.  Show us the truthiness.

34 comments… add one
  • In Jeter’s defense, there are some metrics where he does fairly well, or at least above average, and there are certain things he does defensively extremely well. What these metrics show, and what we freely acknowledge, is that his range is limited. Especially to his left. But we already knew that.

    YF February 4, 2006, 10:37 pm
  • Of course because he has A-Rod to his right he now cheats to his left.
    When Derek’s in the hall of fame, the math geeks will be long forgotten.

    john February 4, 2006, 11:24 pm
  • You’re displaying Colbertian truthiness, SF. Post Damon’s signing with the Yanks, you cited a thread at SoSH to defend your claim that most Sox fans were taking the reasonable long view of the loss. Don’t listen to EEI callers you said. They know not of what they speak. Fine. I agree. And likewise, Tim McCarver and WFAN callers are not typical of reasonable Yanks fans. I think the posters at Bronx Banter are analgous to those at SoSH. Banter posters on the whole acknowledge Jeter’s limits as a player. It’s not a revelation that Jeter seems to have limited range.
    He’s a beloved Yankee anyway because he’s still one of the most important parts of the team, one of the best overall SS’s in mlb, and he’s got that charisma (on the field) that can’t be denied. If we fault on the side of arguing that he’s a great player, it’s because, well, we’re fans. We’re not cannibals.

    Nick February 5, 2006, 1:19 am
  • that would be “analogous”.

    Nick February 5, 2006, 1:25 am
  • there are some metrics where he does fairly well, or at least above average
    Now there’s the spin I was looking for. Weisman cites 10 statistical measures, and Jeter does “average or above average” in two of them, one being Zone Factor, which has basically been supplanted by UZR or UZR and PMR combined, to be more sophisticated about it. By these systems, Jeter doesn’t just have limited range, he’s also not good at making the plays on the balls he has range to get to. Dismissively saying “we’ve always known Jeter to have poor range”, as if that shuts down the criticism is oversimplificaton, denial, or both.How YF can reduce the data to such simplistic terms (and inaccurate ones at that) is beyond me, particularly considering how fondly he regards statistics when looking at the MVP races. The stats are the key factor for him there for evaluative purposes; when it comes to evaluating his beloved Jeter as a defender they just aren’t so important.
    When Derek’s in the hall of fame, the math geeks will be long forgotten
    Partially true, but irrelevant. Derek will most likely end up in the Hall, but how that has anything to do with a discussion of whether statistical data shows him to be a crappy fielder I don’t know. It’s about getting a full picture of a player, John, not just doing the hagiographic thing, which seems more up your alley. This seems like more of a misdirection ploy than anything.
    And as for Nick’s claim on my blanket generalization of Yankees fans, you got me. I should have been a bit more specific – I was really poking at YF, as we’ve had a long-running feud about Derek’s capabilities with the glove. I should have said “YF, show me the truthiness”. My bad.
    (one more thing – the most vital link in this entire thread is the one you click through to watch K-Fed rap. It’s comedy gold)

    SF February 5, 2006, 7:37 am
  • HERE‘s from the best reporter at the Herald — and SF’s favorite — Tony Masarotti. I’d forgotten that Derek won a Gold Glove in 2004: pretty good for someone who was only 31st at his position.
    Jeter the best: More to Yankees shortstop than big numbers

    The best player in baseball.
    You can have anyone you want.
    I’ll take Derek Jeter.

    Monday, April 4, 2005
    NEW YORK – The best player in baseball never has led his league in home runs or RBI, stolen bases or batting average. But he does everything well – especially win – and he does it here, in New York, the grandest stage in all of professional sports.
    If there is a better baseball player in the world than Derek Jeter, let him come forth.
    “I’ve used this before, but if you drop somebody off from planet Mars down here and showed him (Miguel) Tejada’s numbers, (Alex) Rodriguez’ numbers or (Nomar) Garciaparra’s numbers, Jeter may not end up in the top two or three,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said recently, leading up to his team’s 9-2 win over the Red Sox [stats, schedule] last night in the season opener at Yankee Stadium. “But if you’ve watched what he means to a ballclub, you know how special he is.”
    The New York Yankees [stats, schedule] have undergone some significant personnel changes in recent years, but remember this above all else: Jeter is still to be feared most. Randy Johnson changes the Yankees considerably and Alex Rodriguez may be the most talented player in the game, but Jeter is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink when it comes to baseball in New York.
    A winner? Please. That term alone is an insult to Jeter’s abilities on the playing field. Name the skill and Jeter can perform it, from the sacrifice bunt to the hit-and-run to the stolen base to the three-run double. He is not a power hitter, but he can hit home runs. He steals bases. He hits in the clutch. Last season, he won his first Gold Glove.
    Name one thing he can’t do.
    “With our club, I think he has that opportunity – because he’s surrounded by a lot of talent – to highlight what he does,” Torre said. “Derek is a guy you trust. I don’t know any better way to describe it.”
    Baseball is a game of debates, of course, the most common of which may be this: Who is the best player in the game? That question was posed to a handful of Sox players recently, and the answers were what you would expect.
    Barry Bonds. Ichiro Suzuki. Even Manny Ramirez [stats, news], whose abilities in the batter’s box cannot be questioned.
    Jeter, who went 2-for-5 last night with two runs scored, is rarely included in this kind of argument, most notably because he lacks the kind of numbers that win over those who have not seen him play. Entering this seaon, Jeter had 1,734 career hits in nine major league seasons, but he has led the league in hits just once. He had scored 1,037 runs, again leading the league only once. He has never stolen more than 32 bases in a season, never hit more than 24 home runs, once finished with more than 84 RBI.
    As a result, in explaining Jeter’s greatness, most people use catch-all terms like intangibles. It is the easiest way to explain the true breadth of Jeter’s abilities without getting into the specifics.
    But really, it is so much more than that. Jeter batted leadoff last night for Torre’s Yankees, but he just as easily could have batted second, third, sixth, seventh or ninth. Each of those positions in the batting order requires its own unique set of skills, but the simple truth is that Derek Jeter possesses them all.
    And that does not even begin to address issues of leadership and poise.
    “They talk about him like we talk about (Jason) Varitek,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Jeter. “And that’s a pretty big compliment.”
    The best player in baseball.
    You can have anyone you want.
    I’ll take Derek Jeter.
    ESPN also called him “the best baserunner in baseball.” I guess SF’s just jealous.

    john February 5, 2006, 8:10 am
  • SF, are you crazy? You question the holiness of the King? How dare you ever sink so low with jealousy? How has your pathetic life come to the point that you question the capabilities of the greatest, and not to mention best looking, person to ever don a baseball uniform (and more importantly, the fabled Pinstripes)?
    YF be damned. You have awoken a sleeping giant, and now you must pay the price for your immaturity and statistical lies!

    Brad February 5, 2006, 8:15 am
  • PS, John –
    Way to come up with a counter argument to SF’s accusations by citing, um, Jeter’s coach. I bet if you ask my Mom, I’m the best to ever play too. Also, SF said nothing of King Jeter’s ability at the plate or on the basepath, but rather his ability to get to certain balls on the infield. There is no need to highlight his ability to cover up what the guy does not do great – we all know where he’s good.

    Brad February 5, 2006, 8:21 am
  • Also, John –
    If the unseen characteristics that you say are the cause of Jeter’s greatness are measured using wins, it’s my estimation that he actually has to win. It’s been a long time, and a whole host of good pitchers ago that Jeter won anything. If a guy doesn’t lead the leauge in anything, and isn’t in the top five in a lot of categories, and doesn’t win in the playoffs every year consistently, can’t we put that argument to rest?
    If was fine to use the intangible argument when the Yanks were actually winning (and not to mention the great pitching that did actually win it), but now that they are not, is that argument valid? Without the winning, what do the intangibles bring? Maddux has a whole host of intangibles as well, and I love him as a player, but he will never be Clemens or Pedro.
    Intangibles mean nothing when you’re eliminated from the playoffs in the first round.
    When the Yankees won, it was Jeter’s intangibles, but when they lose on a yearly basis, who’s fault is it then?

    Brad February 5, 2006, 8:56 am
  • I assume the “Tony Masarotti – SF’s favorite” quip was a joke?
    The Gold Glove award is no indication of fielding skill. We’ve been through this before. Varitek won this year, which should tell you a lot about the prize. He can’t catch a knuckleball. And Raffy won it a few years back after playing something like 120 games at DH. It’s a bonus clause, the Gold Glove, not a measure of fielding prowess. But enough about that.
    The more I thought about John’s dodge (“When Derek’s in the Hall of Fame, the math geeks will be long forgotten”) the more I realize it’s more than just a dodge; it’s almost criminally short-sighted. The discussions we had here over the induction of Sutter and not Gossage, the exclusion of Rice, etc., are all based on how we re-assess precedent. And whether we think the voters do a good job (YF and I agree that for the most part they don’t) there is still this issue of the evolving standards for induction, and for our own debates over historical placement. So when Jeter makes the Hall, which he surely will, he will be contributing to a continually developing set of criteria, his defense included within that set. History won’t end with Jeter’s induction – shortstops will come along with great skill, and at some point (maybe long after we are all gone), there will be a player maybe just a bit like Jeter, with great fielding skills but lesser baserunning skills, and maybe a ring or two less. And he will be measured against Jeter (and others) on all levels. Was he as great a leader? Was he clutch? Could he get more balls in the hole (not just Jessica Alba’s)?
    To assert that these specific stats will be forgotten because Jeter is great is simple-minded.

    SF February 5, 2006, 9:34 am
  • As much as I hate it:
    Spidey – Elway is on Center Access with the idiot on the YES network.

    Brad February 5, 2006, 9:42 am
  • Johnny Damon is interviewing Elway?

    SF February 5, 2006, 9:43 am
  • ha. Not too far from it.

    Brad February 5, 2006, 9:47 am
  • I meant the other idiot; the radio show guy.

    Brad February 5, 2006, 9:47 am
  • I meant Centerstage…

    Brad February 5, 2006, 9:51 am
  • Brad SF –
    Tony Massorotti is neither a Yankee coach nor me.
    I didn’t cite a Yankee coach. The opinions aren’t mine.

    john February 5, 2006, 10:04 am
  • SF –
    You’re trying to get a rise out of Yankee fans but failing miserably. We know what Captain Jeter offers and we’re happy. We’re very happy.

    john February 5, 2006, 10:05 am
  • SF, correction:
    The post-modernists say that History will end with Derek Jeter’s induction.

    Nick February 5, 2006, 10:12 am
  • edit
    Post-modernist Yankee fans, you meant.

    Brad February 5, 2006, 10:22 am
  • Sorry John, I must have imagined reading the article above that you posted which includes a quote from Torre. I should have worded it differently, but the fact remains – if asked by a reporter, my Mom would say I’m great.
    Also, if why try so hard to disprove SF if you are so happy and not worried about his substace?

    Brad February 5, 2006, 10:24 am
  • Type too fast. Sorry.

    Brad February 5, 2006, 10:25 am
  • You’re trying to get a rise out of Yankee fans but failing miserably
    I think we have a winner in the “lack of self-awareness” category.
    The crux of this post was to point out the vast quantity of defensive data now compiled and analyzed, the limitations of those systems, and how the data can give us a much clearer (and objective) picture of any given player’s skills. The systems tend to show Manny Ramirez (usually considered as an all-time horrible fielder) to be below average but not nearly as abjectly incompetent as everyone thinks, and Jeter (generally considered to have improved to the point where he sits among the better shortstops) to be nothing like average (defensively, just to be crystal clear), even with his supposed “improvement”. Weisman, the writer whose story I link to, used Jeter as the focus of his article, and for good reason. Subjective observation has created a myth of quality around the Captain, while scientific analysis by several systems proves otherwise – this Weisman shows to be true. Happily, he corroborates what I have thought for many years, but that’s neither here nor there, just collateral benefit from my standpoint and it makes his article even more linkable due to the theme of this site. So fault Weisman for using Jeter, if you will. But you are just shooting the messenger and missing the bigger picture, John, which isn’t about Jeter at all, but rather sabermetrics and their limitations and utility.

    SF February 5, 2006, 10:47 am
  • SF: Those defensive stats can be a bit misleading, in that they’re almost entirely geared to measure how many outs a player converts at his position above or below norm. This is a good, essentialist way of measuring defensive ability, because one of the fundamental laws of sabermetrics is that the most valuable thing is an out, and therefore the guy who creates the most defensive ones is the best defender. What these metrics, as far as I know, do not balance, is consistency (error rate, double-play performance, etc.). And even still it’s interesting how wide a discrepancy there is between the metrics: some say he’s the worst in the league, others that he’s mediocre. Obviously he’s know magician out there. But he is rather machine like. He plays every day, etc. Last year, Renteria came into the AL with far better defensive metrics than Jeter (and a better defensive rep, among cognoscenti, at least). And clearly some of the above-referenced metrics place him above Jeter, even in 2005. The numbers don’t always tell a complete story, at least when it comes to defense.

    YF February 5, 2006, 11:08 am
  • The numbers don’t always tell a complete story, at least when it comes to defense.
    True – nothing counter to that statement has ever been asserted. But the preponderance of statistical evidence gets us a great distance to understanding abilities, and all these newfangled calculations tell us some things we might not expect. The title of the thread sums it all up – our eyes sometimes deceive us, whether they tell us we are seeing mastery at work, competence, or utter failure. The numbers don’t lie, but they also aren’t complete. We agree on that.
    Regarding each different type of statistic, what seems most interesting to me is that there is almost universal agreement from the gearheads at SoSH (this thread, which I read through in full after I posted here, is extremely interesting, though not for the sabermetrically disinclined), from some of the other posters around the Hardball Times, and elsewhere, that there is still no holy grail of defensive measurement — there is no way to quantify every element of playing the field (location, range, type of ball hit). So just because Jeter (or Ramirez, or Millar, or whoever) is generally bad doesn’t make him bad at everything, that’s not the argument. Stats like UZR and PMR take into play-by-play defense, and the consensus is that this is a more sophisticated method of giving us a better hold on players’ unique capabilities, but as YF says they still exclude certain pertinent data that complete the picture.

    SF February 5, 2006, 12:27 pm
  • I roll with Steve Lombardi on Jeter’s defense. He asks the question, if a ground ball is hit towards Jeter, do I cringe and say “why does it have to be hit to him?” or am I pretty confident we will get an out. I am the in the latter category.
    Oh, and as someone who actually has a Ph.D. in Mathematics (from M.I.T. no less) I can certainly appreciate numbers. But when they don’t jive with practical experience there is something wrong with them.
    In all my years of watching Jeter I have to say, I am very glad he is our SS, and bitter/jealous Red Sux fans be damned.
    Now, where the fuck are my chicken wings and can we please just get this whole “superbowl” thing over with so I can go back to reading about baseball everyday? Thank you.
    Go Steelers.

    Joe February 5, 2006, 2:44 pm
  • Thank you, Joe, for proving SF’s point. What you see isn’t always the way things are. You can be quite happy that Jeter is your shortstop, and thats fine and good, but it has NOTHING to do with statistical analysis of his defensive abilities.
    On a side note, do people with PhD’s from MIT really use lame-ass terms like “Red Sux”? Maybe I should start calling yr team the “Yuckees.” Ha ha, pretty funn, right? I always thought that MIT was a good school, but I only go to Penn, so what do I know…

    mattymatty February 5, 2006, 3:18 pm
  • As a kid who spent exactly one semester at MIT out of High school as a Chemistry major, please let me inform you that MIT is NOT anything it’s cracked up to be.
    It only took one Star-Trek themed party, which the entire dorm floor participated in with elation for me to realize that I might not be fitting in.
    Also, and I don’t mean to put a feather in YF’s hat on the argumnet, but:
    Einstein once said that as far as the laws of Mathematics are concerned they have absolutely nothing to do with reality.
    On another note, didn’t Steve Lombardi just announce that he was thinking the Yanks would just trade Pavano for Pettite straight up? Yeah, I bet you do roll with him.

    Brad February 5, 2006, 5:53 pm
  • Oh, as long as we are listing them, I went to UCONN. The horror of it all!

    Brad February 5, 2006, 5:55 pm
  • I thought this was relevant to the discussion of defensive metrics and Jeter. It’s an exchange between Baseball Prospectus and Mark Newman, VP of Baseball Operations for the Yanks. My apologies to BP for stealing this bit from my premium subscription. Anyone interested in baseball should subscribe to BP (my plug):
    BP: You said how measuring defense gives you a “double headache.” What steps are the Yankees taking to identify whether a player is a plus or minus on defense? What’s your take on Derek Jeter’s defense specifically, which has caused some big debates on both ends?
    Newman: We’re trying to find metrics that lead us to the truth. We still believe that a lot of the truth about defense is best evaluated in the traditional sense. We still haven’t seen a metric that’s better than traditional scouting. Looking at skills–hands, arm strength, positioning relative to the opposition–those will always be cornerstones. The statistical data about Derek suggest he’s not a good defensive shortstop, but we believe he is. When you watch him, see him every day, he has the hands, the range, the arm. But at the same time, we need to–and are–working on ways to more objectively evaluate defense. The fact that it’s difficult to know doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We’ve had a bunch of smart people working on it in a lot of places. We had a guy come in this summer named Victor Hu, who’s graduating from Harvard, studying math and statistics. We had him work on defense, how many runs a player saves over course of season defensively. We talk to him every 10 days or so. We’ve got (former Manhattan actuary) Michael Fishman in New York, and a few other guys working on it too.
    The whole BABIP business, how pitchers can’t impact BABIP, that’s an area we’re trying to explore. We’re doing a lot of work on who those few plus-BABIP guys are. One of the interesting things is cross-referencing statistical analysis with scouting reports–finding out which combinations of BABIP and scouting-related pitching factors yield particular results. We want to apply this analysis to the type of pitchers we select at all levels. If anything, one result of this research is that I think we have a better handle on what we don’t know. That’s valuable–frustrating, but valuable.

    Nick February 6, 2006, 11:43 am
  • Please note the title of this thread. Also consider the source, Nick. VP of baseball operations for the Yankees? Why not just ask Derek’s mom? I very much appreciate the fact that the Yankees are collecting data, but whether they are paying attention to it is another question. I almost get the sense from this interview that they are looking for different data that tells them what they want to hear.
    Had they listened to the data in hand, they would have moved Jeter to third when A-Rod was acquired. We’ll never know how that would have worked out (and certainly A-Rod is strong at third defensively), but my own opinion, both then and now, is that moving DJ was the smart, though unpopular, move. All those things that Newman says Jeter is good at would have translated brilliantly to third (except for the range part, which assessment calls his credibility into some question), and A-Rod (especially his offense) would be positively otherworldly at the shortstop position.

    SF February 6, 2006, 12:07 pm
  • I’m not sure I buy your vorp argument for moving Jeets, SF. At third, Jeets’ offensive production is not that big a bump over the rest of the league. At short it is. So this way the Yanks get a huge advantage at two positions. (Though it doesn’t really matter, if both guys play at the same time.)

    YF February 6, 2006, 12:18 pm
  • Certainly I wasn’t trying to defend Newman’s position, or even point out that the Yanks rely on statistical analysis when evaluating talent (Imagine that! The Sox and A’s front offices aren’t the only two teams that use advanced metrics when constructing their teams.). And your point that Newman might be less than forthcoming is a valid one. I’m going to take the leap of faith though, and take him at his word.
    One of the points I gleaned from Weismann’s article was that defensive metrics are evolving, that the creators of these systems recognize their limits, and are working on developing even better systems of measure. It’s interesting to me that a front office which is clearly devoted to fielding the best team every year feels that these systems are close to inadequate in certain cases. You point out that the Newman has a vested interest in underming defensive metrics, but isn’t that the case for the stat heads in Weismann’s article? They’ve created these systems and of course they’re going to argue their utility.

    Nick February 6, 2006, 12:31 pm
  • But YF, wouldn’t A-Rod be almost unfathomably superior at short, once you combine his defense and offense? It all hinges on whether you think that Jeter could have adapted to third; by reputation (or observation), his best skills – arm and hands – would make him, in theory, a spectacular third baseman. His defense (again, speculative) would therefore compensate for the lesser offense out of the position, to some extent, while A-Rod would just be off the charts.
    But the bottom line is that the Yankees might have been a better team these last two years, which is what matters.

    SF February 6, 2006, 12:54 pm
  • matty, way to not-smoothly fit into your comment that you are a patron of the retarded step-brother of the ivy league. let me guess: you partied too much in high school so your dad had to donate a lot of money for a school riding on reputation to babysit you? and brad, cool cover story for getting kicked out of mit becuase you couldn’t cut it. chicks must dig the “too cool for mit” schtick.

    sucka February 6, 2006, 10:38 pm

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