Derek Jeter Wins 2009 Gold Glove Award: Not as Crazy as You Think

Tommy FelicianoContributor INovember 26, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 04:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees turns a successful double play over Shane Victorino #8 of the Philadelphia Phillies in the top of the first inning of Game Six of the 2009 MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium on November 4, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees won 7-3 to win the series 4 games to 2. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

I realize that Derek Jeter won the 2009 Gold Glove award for shortstops a few weeks ago, and this article may seem dated. Honestly, I admit that I've just been a little lazy. But part of it stems from the fact that I didn't want to get into this mess just yet. 

I think I'm ready now, however, and before you comment on this article, please read it. I did put some thought into this, and the least you could do is respond with something intelligent. That having been said...

The Gold Glove award is a joke. An absolute joke. Getting upset about just means that you like getting upset about things. Hardly any thought is put into it, nobody cares, it really is not that serious.

However, some people do like to care about it anyway. One of those people is Rob Neyer. Neyer recently wrote, "And with Jeter and Hunter and Polanco and especially Jones, they just flat blew it, overlooking true excellence in favor of gaudy hitting stats or superficially impressive defensive performances."

Flat blew it? Really, Rob? I understand that Jeter may not have been the best shortstop in the American League this year, but I think that if the voters "flat blew it," they would have selected someone closer to the worst shortstop this year. And Jeter was far from the worst shortstop this year, actually coming close to being the best, believe it or not (and I'm sure most of the readers are going to side with the latter).

Grading, or rating defense is extremely difficult to do. I understand the usefulness of some new statistics, such as the ever-popular Ultimate Zone Rating (or UZR/150, which I see used more often than just standard UZR).

But fielding is so much more than numbers can possibly say. Using numbers like UZR to grade a fielder's range (although it is supposed to measure a combination of factors, it is most reliable for general range) is extremely useful, especially from a scouting point of view. And even just errors and fielding percentage have their merits in the right situations, because you can have great range and still fumble the ball frequently.

But there are mental factors too. Players who are in the right place at the right time, or exceed expectations with heads up plays. It might sound a little preachy, but it's true. Just knowing what to do in a given situation is an extremely valuable asset.

To draw upon an example using our subject, there was Derek Jeter's "flip play" in the 2001 ALCS. There is no way you can quantify something like that, but it really was a great play. I know lots of people probably think it was overrated, but it turned a poor play into an out (and an important one at that). 

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However, we do have to go on something. And Jeter's range lately has been so damning that it would have been unreasonable to really call him a great shortstop in, say, 2008.

While UZR is less appropriate for a position such as first base, it's very relevant at shortstop, where range is a major factor in what plays you're going to make, and what plays you're not going to make. Jeter's UZR/150 in 2008 was -0.7, and an awful -16.7 in 2007. For the record, if you're below 0, you're considered below average.

Yet Jeter improved in 2009, bringing his UZR/150 to 8.4, the highest its been since the stat has been recorded (since 2002), and possibly for his career. So while we know that that gave Jeter above-average range at short this season, how does it compare to other shortstops?

  1. Jack Wilson - 20.4
  2. Cesar Izturis - 14.1
  3. Adam Everett - 13.6
  4. Elvis Andrus - 11.7
  5. Alex Gonzalez - 10.5
  6. J.J. Hardy - 8.8
  7. Rafael Furcal - 8.5
  8. Derek Jeter - 8.4

So while Jeter clearly didn't have the best UZR/150 of the shortstops in the MLB, he still ranked very high in comparison to the rest of the pack. And we can't forget that we are talking about the American League Gold Glove award.

So we knock off Furcal and Hardy, who both spent the season in the National League, and then Gonzalez and Wilson, who spent less than half a season in the American League. That leaves us with Jeter placing fourth among AL shortstops in UZR/150, trailing Andrus, Everett, and Izturis.

For the record, Neyer selected Elvis Andrus as his choice for the best defensive shortstop of the year. This might seem like a good choice to some people, but to me it seems that he was arbitrarily selecting a shortstop with a good UZR not named Derek Jeter.

The fact of the matter is that Andrus committed 22 errors at shortstop. Twenty-two . I don't care how good your range is, you're not the best defender at your position if you mess up 20+ times. People over-relied on FP to describe how good a fielder a given player was, so for some reason, this meant that we no longer cared about it or errors accumulated.

However, it is still very important to be able to record the outs on balls that you get to.

So with that in mind, we know that Andrus was far from the slickest fielder on the list. And comparing errors between Jeter, Everett, and Izturis, we find that Everett was also in the double-digits with 14, and Jeter and Izturis tied with eight apiece.

Yet Jeter had a better fielding percentage than Izturis (albeit by a point), because he played in 40 more games than Izturis, and more specifically 326 more innings. Jeter played more innings at short than any of the aforementioned shortstops in the AL, and made the fewest mistakes, which must count for something .

He did tie for least errors with Izturis, however, and using their FP (.986 versus .985), there's nothing to suggest that extrapolating that would give Izturis more than another error over Jeter in the same amount of innings. However, like I said, something has to be said about a player who can commit so few errors while being a horse at their position. 

I do want to make it clear that I don't necessarily think that Jeter should have won the award. Like I said, it's extremely hard to judge fielding. But Jeter was at least a good pick for the award. It is completely arguable that he was the best shortstop this year, although I may give a slight edge to Izturis.

And on a slightly related note: Another one of Neyer's selections was Kevin Youkilis for first base. Although first base is an even tougher subject that I don't want to get into, for a guy who is arguing the validity of an award, he just picked a player to win a Gold Glove at a position which he logged 647 innings in 78 games.

I don't know about you guys, but I think playing less than half a season at a position should disqualify you from being the best at it. I do have to give Neyer credit though, because Rafael Palmeiro won the award one year while only appearing at first base in 28 games.

Thanks for hearing me out, now rip me apart for claiming that Derek Jeter definitely should've won the award, even though that's something I didn't say. Happy Thanksgiving!