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Passed a Diving Jeter

It’s the story that won’t go away: Derek Jeter’s fielding. Jeter’s glove work has been a topic of conversation for the better part of five years now. He is getting older so we can reasonably assume that his fielding will continue to slip. This is no great crime, of course. Unless, the guy playing next to you is, or at least, was, better suited to the position The main bone of contention has been that while some have viewed Jeter as a great defensive player, others, looking at the numbers, say, “You have got to be kidding me.”

In today’s paper, Joel Sherman gets tot he heart of the matter:

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.

I understand why Jeter did not move from shortstop to second or third when Alex Rodriguez arrived in New York. It is Jeter’s will and his ego that made him into a great player. I don’t even blame him for not wanting to move. However, it would have clearly been the best move for the team, so I take Jeter’s reputation as the ultimate team player with a grain of salt. Jeter’s fielding is an old story around these parts, but it is one that likely won’t go away until the time comes when he finally moves to another position.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver