Oh, Derek Jeter, what ever will the Yanks do with you in 20 months when you’re long-awaited and long-dreaded free agency rolls around? The Yanks will be saddled with a popular player past his prime and not very good at defense coming off of a contract in which he was overpaid. Someone has the upper hand in that bargaining session. I’m just not sure which side.
But that is a conversation for next season. For now, we get to talk about Derek the short stop, also one of everyone’s favorite topics. Christina Kahrl got the party started with a Baseball Prospectus piece (hosted on ESPN.com) about how Derek should move to center field. Her argument:
Crying over last year’s spilled Melky won’t help them catch up to the Rays and Red Sox, but signing Orlando Cabrera would provide the team with a useful-enough hitter, and a slick-fielding asset at short could make a small but important difference to a bad defensive ballclub. Last season’s Yankees ranked 25th in the major leagues in defensive efficiency (their ability to convert balls in play into outs) and park-adjusted defensive efficiency, and no positions see more chances than the middle infield. For all his defensive warts, Jeter has a strong arm and has always earned praise for his ability to track bloopers and pop-ups. These skills should both translate in center field. And simply by providing his usual dose of high OBP, he’d be a much better option than running Melky Cabrera out to center for 117 games, which the Yankees did last year.
Swapping Jeter out at short to address the team’s need for a center fielder would be the sort of win-win move that can let the Yankees return to the top of the standings while breaking in their new stadium, and it does nothing to damage the Captain’s place in franchise history. If Yount or Ripken, MVP winners and top stars in their day, could agree to help their teams and themselves to make these switches, you need to ask yourself why Jeter should be any different, especially when the need has gone from debatable to obvious.
Okay. So that’s a pretty convincing argument on its face. Kahrl, however, opted against using any metrics to evaluate how Jeter might do in center field and how the Yanks would fare with Orlando Cabrera at short. Enter Driveline Mechanics.
David Golebiewski analyzed Kahrl’s proposal and came up with a statistical answer to my questions. The analysis is rigorous. The conclusion:
We have little idea of how good or bad of a center fielder Derek Jeter would be, but even if we assume that Jeter would be lousy (costing his team -12.5 runs with the leather), the projected WAR of an Orlando Cabrera/Derek Jeter duo (4.79 WAR) trumps that of a Jeter/Melky Cabrera alignment (3.89 WAR) by nearly a win. If Jeter isn’t quite so bad, that advantage grows even further, perhaps nearer 2 wins if Jeter is only kind of bad in center.
Rob Neyer had a take on this as well. He hears what Kahrl and Golebiewski had to say and doesn’t feel that the two-win differential is worth the experiment. Neyer wants to see Brett Gardner win the job, get on base enough and steal. Whether he can do it is anyone’s guess.
Neyer, by no stretch of the imagination a Yankee fan, suggests that the Yanks should cut Jeter loose after 2010. I doubt that they will, and I sentimentally hope they don’t. But for now, just like his defense, it is just an issue lurking around the corner, and it won’t go away until the Yanks have to confront it head on.