In 1997, during his age 36 season, Cal Ripken, a far superior defensive short stop than Derek Jeter, moved over to the Hot Corner. He knew he couldn’t man short, and for the good of the team, he shifted to his right. In 2009, Derek Jeter will play his age 35 season, and the debate over his defense has raged for years. This weekend, Dugout Central chimed in on the issue and wondered when and to where the captain would shift positions. Jeter has been vocal in insisting that he’s not going to move off short, but at some point soon, he should.
Let’s be clear: I’m not trying to bury Melky Cabrera. I simply think he’s vastly overrated (and, incidentally, think that if any GM overrates him so, we should see what we can get for him). His arm is valuable in center, but as I’ve continually noted, he often takes poor routes to balls, resulting in him making fewer plays than he should given his range. Dave Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range agrees with me. It actually rates Melky below Johnny Damon in center.
Now, this clearly isn’t a flawed metric. I think we can all see, on the whole, that Melky is better defensively in center than Damon at this point in his career. However, that’s heavily considering Melky’s arm. When it comes to ability to get to batted balls, they’re on more even ground. If there’s a gap shot to right center, I’d actually feel more comfortable with Damon running it down than Melky (though that’s just one man’s opinion). But on a medium fly ball with a runner on third and less than two outs, you and I would both rather have Melky there.
Anyway, I just wanted to use PMR to illustrate that point. Johnny Damon is by no means a poor center fielder. He just has Berniearm. And yes, in many ways that can hurt us over the course of a season. But if we were to get a quality offer for Melky, I would be totally comfortable with Damon starting the year in center field. Check that: as long as Matsui isn’t in left. I understand how poor that would make our outfield defense.
In his yearly tradition, Dave Pinto has posted his Probabilistic Model of Range for the 2007 season. Over the next week or so he’ll post the results for each player by position. Today, though, he goes over teams as a whole. I’ll point to Pinto’s brief explanation of PMR:
Basically, for each fieldable (non inside the park home runs) ball put in play, six parameters are used to determine how difficult it was to field the ball. A probability of turning the ball into an out is calculated, and those probabilities are summed. That gives us expected batted balls turned into outs. We turn that into a predicted DER (defensive efficiency record), compare that to the actual DER and calculate a ranking.
The model is based primarily on visiting player data, smoothed, distance on fly balls. Only 2007 data was used to construct the model.
Now, the Yankees were far from the top spot in DER. However, the difficulty of balls put in play against them moved them to the top spot. What does this tell us about the team?
Well, for one, they don’t strike out a ton of guys, ranking 12th in the American League in 2007. Hopefully this changes with Joba and Hughes in the rotation next year.
The question this poses to me: Did the Yankees pitching get lucky last year? PMR would suggest yes. A lot of the “difficult” plays the Yankees made over the course of the year could just as easily have gone for hits. Such is the nature of baseball. Sometimes the ball has eyes, sometimes it goes right to a fielder. All you can do is hit the ball hard, and it appears that’s what happened against Yankee pitching last year.
Thankfully we’re heading into 2008 with an altered rotation.