Derek Jeter is one of the best Defensive shortstops that ever played the game — evidenced by the ‘eye test’ of Major League Managers and former players who watched him play on a nightly basis, his 5 (five) Gold Gloves, and what the fans who watched every game, saw.
But there is a legion of propeller-hat stat nerds who use ‘modern statistics’ to label him the Worst defensive shortstop ever. What gives?
Here’s what gives:
Human Brain > Simplistic Statistical Formulas
The Computer Software industry has been trying to mimic the data processing and analytical capabilities of the human brain since its inception. Even today with Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, it is still admittedly light years away.
Yet the baseball world is skewered with analytic nerds who do not understand this. Instead they use latest statistical analytics as a weapon to judge players. These analytics are NOT Big Data, and are one-dimensional and rudimentary compared to what the human brain can process.
Latest defensive stats such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) are Filled with MASSIVE holes. They don’t, for example, take into account:
- Time — the 4th element. The time in the game when the defensive play occurred — how important it was to the inning, how important it was to the game, how important the game was to the season; essentially the pressure of the play.
- Conditions — was it a brilliant sunny day? Heavy winds? Rain falling? Wet turf? Freezing cold? What ballpark was it in — Coors Field? Tampa’s stadium with the roof?
- Who the pitcher was, and how the pitcher was performing, and how the hitter does against that pitcher — which would effect how the defensive player was positioned. How important the play was to the pitcher — was he on the ropes? What was the score? How many runners on base? What Inning? How many pitches had the pitcher thrown that inning and in the game? Did the defensive play save your ace pitcher out of a jam enabling him to settle down and cruise from that point forward? See Graig Nettles saving Ron Guidry multiple times in the 1978 World Series. And again all of that combined with the various aspects of time (pressure) and conditions.
- Who the batter was, how fast he is getting down the line, again in combination with time (pressure), conditions, and how well the pitcher was doing.
And on and on — literally hundreds of variables. To take all of that in, you would need to capture the video of all players a defensive player ever made but it goes beyond video — with time and pressure factored in.
To take all that in and process it is ultimate Big Data. Computers are LIGHT YEARS away from taking this information in (which would be a Massive data collection effort) and processing it.
But the Human Brain can.
McCarver & Girardi > UZR and DRS
When an educated Human Brain like Tim McCarver becomes broadcaster of the Yankees, and comes in admittedly not thinking much of Derek Jeter — that he had probably been NY-Hyped up — but then watches him every game for several years — and goes out of his way many times to say Derek Jeter is the best defensive shortstops he’s ever seen — that speaks volumes. McCarver is one of the great defensive catchers who spent his career watching multi-time Gold Glover Larry Bowa play shortstop, and watched all the other great big league defensive shortstops.
McCarver’s human brain processed all of the data above, and came to the same conclusion that Joe Girardi — another great defensive catcher who watched Jeter every day — did.
If your formula disagrees with the educated Human Brain analysis of Tim McCarver and Joe Girardi — then Change your formula! Don’t say your formula is right and they’re wrong — especially when your formula is one-dimensional and elementary.
Gold Glove = Educated Human Brain Analysis
The Gold Glove is a voting of educated Human Brains — major league managers — FAR more comprehensive an analysis than any rudimentary stat like Ulitmate Zone Rating (UZR) or Defensive Runs Scored (DRS).
What the Gold Glove is, is an incredibly massive data capture and sophisticated analysis of an educated Human Brain — the ‘eye test’ — then multiplied by the voting of Major League Managers with a Consensus algorithm applied.
Yes politics could come into play, as a manager might vote for his ballplayer. Or maybe a player is having an off year and a particular manager hasn’t seen it in the games he’s played against that player. But that is normalized by stats that the manager can look at (including the very basic stat of errors made and fielding pct, as well as DRS and UZR, etc) as well as their ‘eye test’, and then the normalization of the overall vote that creates a consensus.
It Was Jeter’s Defense that Excited Fans
My eye test was this: having watched the Yankees fanatically since I was 11 yrs old in 1973, I watched a series of shortstops — some good defensively, some bad. From Fred Stanley (good) and Jim Mason (ok) thru Bucky Dent (considered excellent) to Roy Smalley (bad), Bobby Meacham (ugh), Alvaro Espinosa (pedestrian), Mike Gallego (ok), and finally an aging Tony Fernandez (good) — a young hot shot named Derek Jeter arrived on the scene in 1996.
I had seen my fair share of Yankee top prospects who didn’t pan out — in fact most didn’t. So I wasn’t expecting much from this Jeter kid.
Until the first game I saw him make this Phenomenal diving catch on a full sprint out to the outfield — the toughest play for an infielder. It was an early game in Jeter’s first season — one of his first games. I figuratively fell off my couch. Just the way he made the play you knew the Yanks had a Phenomenal defensive shortstop on their hands.
And Jeter didn’t disappoint. He spent his career showing:
- Phenomenal range to his right — the patented snare-jump-throw to nail the runner from Deep in the hole;
- Phenomenal range into the outfield — the full sprint into the outfield with back to the plate to catch a hard popup was also patented by him;
- Excellent range coming in on the ball;
- An INCREDIBLE ability to always be in the right place at the right time on the field. As evidenced by the famous relay to home play in the playoffs against Oakland.
Jeter’s range to his left, over 2nd base, was average. That was probably due to his 6’3″ height which made it more difficult to get down on grounders like shorter 5’11 infielders can. And that range to his left is what hurts his defensive stats.
But Major League Managers — using the advanced analysis capabilities of the educated Human Brain — saw what I saw, and voted Jeter 5 (FIVE) Gold Gloves during his career.
Jeter’s offense was also excellent — but I, like most fans, always reveled in Jeter’s Defense.
Viewpoint Influenced by Time — the 4th Element
Derek Jeter played shortstop through the age of 40. That in itself is herculean. Most great defensive shortstops have been moved out of the position to the outfield or elsewhere as they age. For example, Robin Yount. Not Jeter — Yankee management felt he was still good enough in the field at age 38 to 40 to keep him there.
There are some Yankee fans who only watched Jeter in his later years, age 37 on, when his range diminished. And so they will have a different view to all I’ve written above.
It’s like seeing an 83-year-old man raking leaves, and you think to yourself that poor bastard has always been 83 years old even though you know he hasn’t been. And in his mind he’s 35 years old while he’s raking.
With all of the above said, let’s look at the algorithm to calculate Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).
From MLB.com: “UZR uses Baseball Info Solutions data to chart where each ball is hit. Say, for instance, a center fielder sprints to make a nice catch on a fly ball. Then, say data from BIS tells us that similar fly balls get caught 60 percent of the time. That center fielder gains, essentially, 0.4 bonus points for difficulty. If he can’t make the play, he loses 0.6 points. At the end of the day, that player’s overall score gets adjusted to the league average — and then that score gets adjusted for how many runs the once-adjusted score is worth.”
How full of MASSIVE holes does that all sound? Why .4 bonus points for difficulty for example? Why not .375 or .2? I’m sure if you dug into the calculation you’d see why .4 but do you think there’s a Massive assumption and Hole there? And that’s just tip of iceberg let alone not even considering Time, Pressure, or Conditions mentioned above.
Defensive Runs Saved is a similar infantile formula riddled with Holes.
From Wikipedia: “To calculate Defensive Runs Saved, for each ball hit, points are either added or subtracted to the fielder’s rating depending on whether or not they make the play. For example, if a ball hit to the center fielder is expected to be caught 30 percent of the time, and it is caught, the fielder gains 0.7 points. If the center fielder does not catch the ball, he loses 0.3 points.”
.3 points. That’s their Big Data.