So close, yet so far. (Image: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

Derek Jeter and Range


Often when talking about Derek Jeter we’re discussing his performance at the plate. Whether he’ll eventually catch Pete Rose for the most hits All-Time or just how super duper clutch he is. Many of my Derek Jeter posts come off as if I’m bashing him. In no way do I mean to do that. It’s just at times Derek Jeter’s persona needs to be toned down. Some Yankee fan has to do it, right? For me perhaps the most annoying thing a Yankee fan does it talk about how well Derek Jeter plays defense. I’ve had this discussion with my friend countless of times. “Yo, c’mon! Derek Jeter man. IT’S DEREK JETAH. The greatest shortstop to ever play the game and he’s not a great defensive shortstop? He’s a five time Gold Glove Award winner! You’re crazy man.” I’ve had this discussion many times and those statements are always thrown out there. It’s time to reveal the truth about Derek Jeter and his defense.

For one, him being Derek Jeter is not the greatest argument.

Me : “Why is he the greatest?”

Friend : “He’s Derek Jeter. That’s why!”

This is just one of the annoying things about Derek Jeter. To be fair it’s not even Jeter’s fault. His fans just go over the top. Another thing that gets me is the use of the Gold Glove Award. I thought the Gold Glove Award argument was tossed away years ago. The people who are voting for these end of the year awards never seem to get them right. If they do it shocks us all for five minutes and then we go onto complain about which ones they were wrong about. I find it to be the worst award to give a player. Making a web gem doesn’t mean someone is a great defensive player. It means they made a great play.

I’ll admit the jump throw is an amazing play. However, how many times does Jeter actually complete that in season? It doesn’t seem often anymore. Actually it seems that when he does the jump throw the runner is safe by a mile. At least in today’s age. I actually feel that Jeter would have a better shot of planting and then fire across his body to thrown the runner out. I mean they both could have similar results, but the latter could make the play closer. Making that play three times a year doesn’t justify a Gold Glove.

The final thing that makes absolutely no sense is that Derek Jeter wins Gold Gloves because he’s the best hitting shortstop. Yea go figure. I mean that’s just ridiculous, right?

Before I go further I want to express my feelings on UZR. UZR is probably the worst SABR stat. It takes three years worth of data to be somewhat reliable. So basically I never look at it. However, I like the eye test for defense. The routes players take to the ball and how much ground they can cover. So if I don’t watch their games, I really can’t judge their defense.

I do watch Jeter’s games though. Jeter isn’t a bad defender. He’ll make every play that’s in front of him. Yet, there are guys who will make plays on balls hit that Jeter can’t reach. He lacks range. For those who think I’m saying Jeter is bad at defense again, no, I’m not saying that at all.

What’s the definition of range?

Range – verb: Vary or extend between specified limits

Well these limits in this case are the amount of space and area that Jeter covers. He can’t get to balls like Elvis Andrus. I’m not even sure he can get to balls that Eduardo Nunez can. It’s just that simple. Jeter lacks range, but fields every ball that comes within a few feet of him. Any further and it’s a difficult play.

Conclusion? Derek Jeter isn’t a bad fielder, but he’s not an elite fielder.

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  • Bill B

    Mr. Joe F. I read your article and you communicated well that you were not Jeter bashing. That comes through loud and clear. I did ask myself though who was a great shortstop. The first person I thought of was Ozzie Smith. Hall of Fame. I looked at his stats. Fielding pct. Jeter .976 Smith .978. Granted smith played on carpet but the stats are very similar which leads me to believe you may be wrong in your evaluation of Jeter. Smith’s numbers are better but not much better. You make good points about range. Smith playing on carpet with sliding boxes may support your argument about range, carpet being faster than grass. I think Jeter is an elite shortstop by the numbers. Speaking strictly defensively. We all know Jeter’s offense dwarfed Ozzie.

    • Joe

      Strictly talking about defense here. But fielding % isn’t the greatest stat either. That only shows the batted balls that were basically misplayed. You can misplay a ball that you never touch and it’s not an error, yet a player can still take an incorrect route to the ball.

      • Bill B

        After a 1/2 century +, I realize a player can take an incorrect route. There is no documentation of this incorrect route. Look at the Wizard of Oz’s Defensive stats (yes I realize we are talking defense here) tell me jeter is not an elite shortstop please sir.

        • Joe

          I’ll simply say he cannot cover as much ground as the elite shortstops defensively. Offensively he’s elite and Hall of Fame worthy.

    • Jimmy Kraft

      Fielding percentage is only one part of the equation, Bill. Consider using UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating) where Jeter is -6.5 over his career. He’s also cost his team 142 runs with his defense (-142 Defensive Runs Saved or DRS) over the years.

      If you want to compare Ozzie Smith, neither UZR and DRS go back that far. HOWEVER, there’s something called Total Zone (TZ) which Jeter is -129 and Smith is 239, which is a difference of 368. Sorry Bill, Jeter IS NOT an elite defensive shortstop any way you slice it.

      Want somebody more contemporary to compare numbers with? How about Omar Vizquel? He’s a pretty slick fielder, right? He has a great TZ (137), a decent UZR/150 (8.7) and saved his teams 48 runs. All of those ratings come from using only innings he played at shortstop (all 22,960.2 of them vs. Jeter’s 21,977.2) since 2002, which doesn’t even cover his best seasons in Cleveland.

      I have a difficult time with people defending Jeter’s defense. The Yankees don’t pay him the big bucks for his defense, they pay him for his offense, leadership, and marketing appeal. Simply put, he’s serviceable defensively but has good upside with the bat. It’s been his scouting report since the mid 90′s.

      • Bill B

        You guys keep me on my toes. You make a good case again. I intend to keep you guys on your toes in the future. I enjoy your writing as well as other staff. Left unchallenged though you may become dull. 142 runs more allowed by Jeter over a course of 2000 plus games though? Drop in the bucket. Never the less using your stats (which I am learning slowly) make a good case. I am reading you guys. You need an old man’s perspective.

  • Bill B

    I just read your profile Joe f. I hope you do well in college. I will not withdraw the sir since you are doing a man’s job. I would like to offer to some counsel to make you a better writer. You must know your audience. don’t write on whims and know your facts thoroughly. You made good points in your article but please continue to expand your thinking. Realize humbly you know little in comparison to people who have been studying baseball decades before you were born. Don’t end up like journalists today who are narrow and view life and sports through a prism of “recently”.

    • Joe

      I feel I do as good a job as the journalists who are older than I. Sure, I have a lot to learn, but I know little? Why? My age? That’s not a fair assessment of my writing or knowledge of the game. You’re entitled to your opinion and I respect that, but don’t use age as a reason.