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).
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?
- Jack Wilson - 20.4
- Cesar Izturis - 14.1
- Adam Everett - 13.6
- Elvis Andrus - 11.7
- Alex Gonzalez - 10.5
- J.J. Hardy - 8.8
- Rafael Furcal - 8.5
- Derek Jeter - 8.4