Appreciating Derek Jeter’s defense

Just say no to Bronson Arroyo
Game 100: Rock the Kazmir

In the 2009 Derek Jeter appreciation thread, Ben noted an uptick in Cap’n Jetes’s defensive numbers. While his UZR has been mostly negative since they started tracking the stat in 2002, he’s actually in the positive this year. Not only that, but I don’t remember hearing many instances of “past a diving Jeter” from the broadcast booth. So what gives? How can a 35-year-old improve his defense, something we usually associate with youth and vigor?

At Fack Youk, Jay elaborates on a Bryan Hoch article on this very subject. He asks the same question: “So how is it that Jeter is enjoying this renaissance now?” It sounds like three factors play a major role, with two standing out as major difference makers.

First, and least important, is the Yankees training regimen. Jeter, in his perpetual desire to improve, has followed it and has seen an uptick in his agility — at least anecdotally. Surely he worked out earlier in his career — Jeter doesn’t seem like the type to skimp on exercise and rest on just his natural talent. Still, perhaps a new workout routine has something to do with his increased range. Even so, it shouldn’t affect it that much.

Second is his health. Jeter’s defense seemingly hit a low point in 2007, a year in which he battled leg injuries. Simply avoiding similar injuries in the past two years must have contributed to his range. Yet that can’t be all. There has to be another factor.

The third, and what I think is the most important, factor is Jeter’s positioning. He’s playing deeper, and it’s noticeable. This gives him more time to react, and therefore more lateral range. Jeter’s scouting report in The Fielding Bible noted his shallow play because of poor arm strength. I don’t know where that last bit came from, because by all appearances Jeter’s arm is just fine. He’s definitely been playing further back this year, which allows him to get to more balls up the middle. His arm has been able to handle the throws just fine.

Maybe we’ve been harping on the wrong thing over the past few years. Maybe Jeter was never bad on defense. Maybe it was just the way he positioned himself that led to more balls getting past him. We can’t be sure, of course; the relationship between Jeter’s positioning and his improved UZR are are anecdotal. They also represent a correlation, not a causation. Still, it’s hard to ignore. And it’s certainly for the better, as Jay so perfectly says in his conclusion: “defensive positioning is much easier to control than health or lateral agility.” Damn straight.

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Just say no to Bronson Arroyo
Game 100: Rock the Kazmir
  • Simon B.

    Just when you think Jeter’s star is fading, he comes back and is likely the best overall shortstop in the league, and maybe only second to Hanley in the majors.

    Let’s hope he keep that star bright for a few years longer.

    • Simon B.

      Yeah, I know Bartlett has slightly better offensive numbers, but he’s missed time and it’s a fluke year if I ever saw it.

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

      Top 5 SS via FanGraph’s WAR:

      Hanley: 4.6
      Jeet: 4.4
      Scutaro: 4.1
      Bartlett: 3.2
      Tejada/Yunel: 2.5

      • Mike Pop

        WAR is a funny stat to me. I mean, ya, I use it all the time in convos. Especially when comparing starters and relievers(then I get told by people that they have a life, that is the reason they never heard of it. Or BBTN doesn’t use it.), but it’s hard to understand for me sometimes.

        As in Arroyo’s case – good for 2.2 wins last year. I don’t understand once in a while, doesn’t mean I write it off though. Like some people.

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        Thank you. Jeet over Bartlett.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

    Derek is second in the AL in WAR ahead of Joe Mauer (by 0.1) and trailing only…Ben Zobrist.

    But, yeah, it’s been great watching Derek be able to range up the middle this year. He still seems to have issues going to his right, but as long as there’s improvement, I’m happy. His hot hitting has also been a welcome treat. On that note, it’s great to see that rumor’s of Derek’s decline at the plate have been exaggerated.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      “it’s great to see that rumor’s of Derek’s decline…”

      Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

  • Frank1979

    Also, I forget if it was Singleton or one of the other announcers, but they noted that Mick Kelleher (don’t know if I spelled his name right) has been working with Jeter a lot on his positioning. So maybe he deserves a little credit for Jeter’s improved defense as well.

    • Salty Buggah

      Yea, I’ve heard the same thing.

  • Salty Buggah

    “I don’t remember hearing many instances of “past a diving Jeter”

    Maybe he just stopped diving because he’s lazy like Robbie?

    Just kidding!

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Derek Jeter is half white. You take that back.

      /Sheffield’d

  • thebusiness

    “Maybe we’ve been harping on the wrong thing over the past few years. Maybe Jeter was never bad on defense. Maybe it was just the way he positioned himself that led to more balls getting past him.”

    I’ve been screaming this off rooftops for years. It was very noticeable that Jeter played more shallow and even sometimes too close to the hole on the left. Jeter isn’t slow and doesn’t have poor reaction time, so for a somewhat fast player to have poor range didn’t add up. Better positioning is the key.

    • Salty Buggah

      Who screams about defensive positioning in baseball off of rooftops? And if you had to scream, you should screamed it at Yankee Stadium so some of the Yanks could hear you. ;)

  • YankeeScribe

    Mark Teixera is probably the biggest reason for Jeter’s defensive improvement. I’m surprised he didn’t get mentioned in the article

    • Simon B.

      His errors haven’t improved. His range has.

      • YankeeScribe

        Teixera’s range helps Jeter and Cano’s range. This is probably the best Yankee infield in years

        • Simon B.

          Teixeira has average range.

          • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

            That’s a load of crap. Texeira has remarkable range. Even Steve Goldman, the biggest stathead I know, has had to admit that UZR is wrong about that one.

            • Simon B.

              I don’t know who Steve Goldman is and I don’t care. UZR or no, his range is average.

              • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

                RRR(FRP),

                please. have YOU seen it with your own eyes?

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          No.

          ARod, Cano, and Teixeira’s range don’t impact Jeter’s range. It doesn’t work like that.

          • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

            That’s what I hear. Tex gets to more balls to his left, allowing Cano to move over, allowing Jeet to move over. Tex gets to balls that Cano would have to try to, Cano gets balls Jeet would have to try and get, and Jeet gets balls A-Rod would have to try and get.

            Not saying if it’s true or not true, but that’s the theory.

          • Tank Foster

            I’m not sure that statement is correct. Range/zone stats try to control for the effect of other fielders, but they can’t do it entirely.

        • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

          How…? I fail to see how a rangy first baseman helps a shortstop. Yeah, Tex helps on Jeter’s throws but Tex cannot and should not be sited as reason for Jeter’s improved range.

          • jim p

            Tex threatened to beat the heck out of Jeter unless he moved faster. The TbT (Threat by Teammates) number is off the charts! You can’t overlook that.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              Ty Cobb stabbed a guy.

              • jim p

                And that guy played better after! See?

              • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

                So did Scotty Bro, didn’t he?

      • Mikebk

        well considering he has the best fielding percentage of his career and only 4 errors his errors have improved as well as his range.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Jay addresses the issue at Fack Youk. Check the link.

    • Salty Buggah

      Tex helped Jeter range to his left better? How so?

      Oh and Tex was mentioned in the Hoch article that was linked.

      • YankeeScribe

        Tex allows Jeter to position himself deeper

        • Salty Buggah

          But why?

          • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

            After a second, I think I get where he’s going with it. Jeter can position himself deeper to get to more balls but with a good throw-picker like Tex over at first, he doesn’t have to worry about throwing from too far away. It’s sort of roundabout but makes a little sense. However, if Jeter was playing shallow at short because of Giambi at first, that would be pretty unintelligent by Jeter, IMO.

            • Salty Buggah

              I mean I that’s the only way I could think that makes sense but Giambi wasn’t all that bad at scooping up balls thrown at him.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      From the FackYouk article:

      <blockquoteTeixeria’s glove probably helps, but Jeter has never made many throwing errors. He is on pace for 5 this year and has averaged 6.5 per season since 2001. His arm isn’t the issue.

      • Ed

        A bad glove at first doesn’t necessarily result in throwing errors.

        If you’ve got a close play at first and the first baseman has to come off the bag to catch the ball, that’s almost always getting scored as a hit. A better first baseman stays on the bag and gets the out. That’s where the difference comes in, and it happens a lot more than you’d think.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    Maybe we’ve been harping on the wrong thing over the past few years. Maybe Jeter was never bad on defense. Maybe it was just the way he positioned himself that led to more balls getting past him.

    So you’re saying he wasn’t bad, just dumb.

    Great, that makes me feel better… Wait, what?

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      Nah, his coaches were dumb.

  • http://anewfrontier.wordpress.com Pablo Zevallos

    No. When I’ve been to games this year, I see how freaking deep he is from the upper deck, especially compared to the other shortstop. In other words, he’s farther back than normal.

  • Charlie

    good article, but we just had a dj appreciation thread, i wasn’t feelin another one. rumors are flyin everywhere, i just can’t wait for the big moves to start happening

    • Salty Buggah

      You can never appreciate Jeter too much though. Once he’s gone, you’ll miss his consistent offensive prowess, unless of course we get Hanley or someone like that.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        And like that… [blows puff of air through fingers]
        … He’s gone.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_6SenP4DDg (safe)

        • cult of basebaal

          like tears … in rain???

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

          …And as Salty Buggah says we could care less because hey, we have Hanley!

          Seriously, I hope we can keep him for a few more years.

  • Ivan

    So the yankee D on the field has been the best since in a while considering DJ much improve D this season.

  • Mikebk

    not only is he further back but he is also shaded up the middle more this year because his range to the right was not the problem.

  • K.B.D.

    “Maybe Jeter was never bad on defense.”

    If bad positioning leads to bad defense, isn’t it still bad defense? I understand that the that the potential was there, but that doesn’t make his dismal defensive performance good.

  • Ed

    Bill James hit on the positioning when touching the issue of Jeter’s defense. Always found it an odd thing…

    link

  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    I hope Jeet wins the gold glove.

    Tex will. Cano has an outside shot(although he deserves more than that the way he’s played second base).

    • Don

      Teix has been amazing at 1B and a huge upgrade over Giambi as expected, however without watching him everyday I must say Konerko deserves the GG thus far at 1B. Polanco deserves it at 2B and I believe Jeter will win the GG at SS, and perhaps for the first time deservedly so.

      Begrudgingly, I admit Longoria (cant stand him as a player) will win the GG at 3B.

      On a side note, based off of the way he looks/carries himself as a player, his hitting approach, and what I predict will be a trend in nagging injuries throughout his career – I am predicting Longoria to be a Troy Glaus clone. This is far from the all-world predictions of the easily fooled msm going back to April and May.

  • JS

    I think the key this year is having Teixeira at 1B over Jason Giambi and having a more reliable Cano at 2B. From what I have seen, this allows him to play deeper as Teixeira’s defensive abilities allow him to grab balls that Giambi couldn’t. But then again what do I know.

  • Mr. Max

    “Surely he worked out earlier in his career — Jeter doesn’t seem like the type to skimp on exercise and rest on just his natural talent.”

    Jeter’s own words, and I can’t find the article, said in an interview a couple years back that he normally puts on a lot of weight in the offseason in anticipation of losing 15 pounds over the course of the season. The remark was in response to a question about his new training regimen…

  • Jefe

    This site has trashed his D since it started. Welcome to the party.

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