This week is dedicated to remembering New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter. Call me a party pooper, but it’s time to pay tribute to his only fault.For starters, this piece is not dedicated to troll or besmirch the living New York Yankees legend that is Derek Jeter.
He is the Yankees’ all-time leader in hits (3,465), doubles (544), games played (2,747), stolen bases (358), plate appearances (12,602) and at-bats (11,195).
Jeter has also been named to 14 All-Star teams, has taken home five Silver Slugger Awards, two Hank Aaron Awards and even a Roberto Clemente Award in 2009. In 2011, he became the 28th player to reach the 3,000 hit mark and finished his career with the sixth-most hits in major league history including the most by any shortstop.
That’s not even getting into what he did as a leader in the clubhouse, role model for everyone around him and the impact he had on the city of New York. His iconic legacy to the sport is undisputed by every degree of the term.
However, while we celebrate the moments that defined his playing career, it’s kind of naive to simply ignore just how much of a defensive liability he was at the shortstop position. Sure, he may have taken home five Gold Glove awards throughout his 20 years in the sport, but the most significant defensive metrics shows us that Derek Jeter was perhaps one of the worst shortstops of his generation.
First off, many would and have played the “but he has won five Gold Gloves” card on me plenty of times when I discuss Jeter’s defense at shortstop. Interestingly enough, the Captain won five gold gloves from his age 30 season to age 36 season (2004-2010). It’s interesting because his defensive rating (7.7), per FanGraphs, was 18th out of the 24 qualified shortstops in that span.
Golden glove? Sure, Jeter didn’t make many errors (fourth-highest fielding percentage on that same list), but judging a fielder’s defensive abilities based on a number of errors he didn’t make is basically like saying a basketball player is a good defender because he didn’t commit a ton of fouls. That’s simply wrong. Stealing, denying penetration, playing tight and blocking shots are all considered attributes that form a solid defender on the court.
Defense, in every sport, is all about preventing the other team from scoring. It’s simple. Yet, how well did Jeter prevent runs from scoring? Let’s take a look.
Since defensive runs saved (DRS) — indicates how many runs a player saved or hurt his team in the field compared to the average player at his position — became a statistic in 2003 until his retirement in 2014, Derek Jeter posted the worst rating among qualified shortstops with a staggering -152 DRS.
For some context brought to you by FanGraphs, DRS tells you how many runs better or worse that player has been relative to the average player at his position. The example they give is that a +5 DRS at third base would mean the fielder is five runs better than the average third baseman. For Jeter’s sake, he was 152 runs worse than the average shortstop — far worse than the second-worst shortstop in that time frame (’02-’14), Hanley Ramirez, who registered -73 DRS.
Per, FanGraphs, here’s an overall list of fielders who cost their teams the most runs on defense from 2003-2014:
- Derek Jeter (-152)
- Prince Fielder (-95)
- Hanley Ramirez (-73)
- Yuniesky Betancourt (-66)
- Dan Uggla (-66)
Throughout his “Gold Glove” years, his DRS stood at -92, 204 runs worse than Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson, who registered the most DRS (112) from 2004 to 2010.
Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) — the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games — also joins DRS in the fight against the general notion that Jeter was a solid defensive shortstop.
Since 2003 (again, when these advanced metrics were brought into the picture), Jeter’s rating of -76.1 ranks dead last among qualified shortstops and is second-worst to only right fielder Jermaine Dye (-103.4) when compared to every position.
Then, there was his range. We won’t get too far into this one but his poor DRS and UZR were severely influenced by his range runs — the number of runs above or below average a fielder is determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity — rating of -99.9.
Ask any expert or player/coach that has been around the game and they’ll likely tell you that the shortstop position demands the utmost range of the four infield positions. Jeter’s range was, of course, dead last among qualified shortstops trailing the second-worst by a whopping 54.6 runs.
Does an average shortstop with average range get to that ball off the bat of Trot Nixon in shallow left field against the Boston Red Sox without his momentum carrying him into the seats? Maybe.
Was Alex Rodriguez, who posted the third-best DRS at shortstop before being traded to New York on February 16, 2004, better off manning the shortstop position in the Bronx rather than the hot corner? There is a substantial argument there.
Like I said in the beginning, this isn’t meant to troll the legacy of Derek Jeter. What these defensive metrics don’t account for is the fact that Jeter spent the entirety of his career at one of the sport’s most physically demanding positions.
At shortstop, Jeter is easily one of the game’s worst defenders of his time and the point is: while he’ll still be a first ballot Hall Of Famer, one should take into account that defense is essential when it comes time to assess a player’s overall value.
Yes, he will be immortalized in Monument Park on Sunday, but just like we address his greatest moments, his greatest shortcomings must be considered as well.
*SOMETHING NOT MENTIONED: Jeter’s flip play is the definition of a heads up play and his ability to race across the diamond to make an accurate flip to Jorge Posada is arguably one of the greatest plays by a shortstop in baseball history. It wasn’t all bad.*