Sunday, February 24, 2008

Joel Sherman Discusses Jeter's Defense

With the recent release of the UPenn study, Derek Jeter's defense has become a hot-button issue around the world of Yankee-baseball. Today Joel Sheman gives us his take on the situation:

What is being missed here is the preponderance of evidence against Jeter's defensive game. This is not just one set of Ivy League academics calling Jeter the majors' worst fielding shortstop. Just about every respected baseball statistician who has publicized results reveals Jeter is, at best, among the poorest defensive shortstops in the game.

You can attack methodology; you can say no perfect formula has yet been devised to encapsulate all the elements - positioning, speed of the hit ball, field conditions - into a single defensive statistic. However, these metrics keep evolving in sophistication. And Jeter keeps faring poorly in nearly every study year after year. Do you think there is a conspiracy? Do you think statisticians en masse have covertly met and made their quest to soil Jeter's glovely reputation?

"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." In reality, most baseball officials laugh off the three Gold Gloves Jeter won from 2004-06 in the way they do the four Bernie Williams won as having more to do with offense, fame and winning than with actual defense.

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."

Perhaps the strongest condemnation came from Jeter, who said, "Last year, I didn't have a good year defensively."

It doesn't sound like much, especially since Jeter limited a serial inadequacy to just 2007. Except Jeter is not one to ever publicly apologize for, or criticize, his own game. But this is more than words with Jeter. He rededicated himself in the offseason with exercises designed to improve his lateral quickness and first-step explosiveness. One Yankee official saw this version of Jeter and said, "He set the clock back five years."

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?
Sherman also tells us that the Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman aren't worried about where Jeter is going to play next, they're too focused on the present. "I am comfortable with the left side of the infield at this moment in time. Do I have concerns in future years? Let me get to future years." said Cashman.