The national media’s love affair with the New York Yankees knows no bounds. They get the headlines, they get the national broadcasts, and they get the end-of-season awards.
This last handout is most topical the day after the announcement of the American League Gold Gloves. The gilded webbing is notorious for being based more on reputation and sheer name recognition than actual defensive skill—how else could Torii Hunter and Matt Kemp have been honored last year while Franklin Gutierrez and Nyjer Morgan’s mantles remained unadorned?
But I digress. Due to baseball’s sycophantic infatuation with everyone who suits up in pinstripes and (probably) a general apathy among the voters, three Yankees were named among the Junior Circuit’s top fielders—and none of them deserved them.
The first, Mark Teixeira, has parlayed one great defensive season, when he posted 15.3 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating—a measure of how many runs a player saves with his fielding) in 2008 into a reputation as a master glovesman. Since then, he has been average at best; he posted just a 0.6 UZR in 2009, and that dropped to -2.9 last year.
The second, Robinson Cano, was almost as bad of a choice. His defense was worth -0.6 UZR, thanks to the worst range (-7.5 Range Runs) of any second baseman in the game. The Gold Glove would have fit the A’s' Mark Ellis or the Twins' Orlando Hudson much better.
But by far the most undeserving winner was the Captain himself. For the fifth time in his career, Derek Jeter was named the AL’s best defensive shortstop. And for the fifth time, he didn’t deserve it.
Jeter’s -4.7 UZR wasn’t anywhere near the top—in fact, it was third-worst among AL shortstops. That’s a full 15.5 runs—the equivalent of nearly two wins—behind the rightful Gold Glove winner, the White Sox' Alexei Ramirez.
Yes, Jeter’s .989 fielding percentage was the best of all Major League shortstops. But that number is misleading, as it reflects only the balls he got to, and the biggest flaw in Jeter’s game is his abysmal range. A brick wall will stop any ball that’s hit right to it, but it wouldn’t be an effective fielder because it couldn’t get to anything else (also because brick walls can’t throw).
Jeter committed only six errors, compared to Ramirez’s 20. But for every extra error Ramirez made, he also completed five more putouts and got 10 more assists. The plays Ramirez flubbed may have been more obvious than the mistakes Jeter made, but the fact of the matter is that Ramirez was a more effective defender.
Jeter’s -11.8 Range Runs ranked second-worst in the league. Keep in mind that he’s a shortstop, meaning his primary job is to cover a lot of ground. How can a fielder win a Gold Glove when he’s one of the worst in the business at getting to the ball?
You could try to argue that Jeter was unlucky in terms of balls hit near him. But even if you don’t accept that those things tend to even out over 162 games, this isn’t a new trend.
Only twice since tracking began in 2002 has Jeter posted a positive UZR; over that time, he’s been worth -42.5 runs on defense—and that’s being generous. Total Zone has him at -60 runs over that stretch and an absolutely awful -131 runs in his career.
This isn't just anti-Yankee bias—I think one snubbed Bomber, Brett Gardner, actually deserved a Gold Glove. I'm not complaining because they're Yankees. I'm complaining because they're inferior defenders.
Teixeira, Cano and Jeter didn’t deserve their honors, and if they were on any other team, they wouldn’t have had a chance. Any defense of these choices would make Jeter’s glove look good by comparison.
For more from Lewie, visit WahooBlues.com.