05 September 2013

Derek Jeter, Metrics and Development Lessons

What does New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter’s ability to play shortstop have to do with development? Turns out plenty.

Jeter is regard as among the best shortstops in the history of baseball. The captain of the New York Yankees has the wins (5 World Series titles), the stats (more than 3,000 hits) and the awards (five Gold Gloves, Rookie of the Year, World Series MVP). The signature jump-throw from a ground ball to his right side was held up as evidence of his skill as a fielder.

Jeter is by most accounts among the greats in the history of professional baseball (that is not purely the bias of a Yankee fan). He is also not a very good shortstop.

Despite winning awards that confer Jeter as the best fielder at his position, it turns out that he is one of the worst. It is not necessarily news at this point. The part of the game that was once believed to be the hardest to measure, aside from errors, is now quantifiable. By comparing players against each other, calculating distance covered for a play and so on, there is now a way to determine who is best.
Jeter’s jump-throw is a result of his poor range. 
The story of Jeter’s defense was recently chronicled by Ben Lindbergh for ESPN’s Grandland.
According to two historical play-by-play-based systems, Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average and Baseball-Reference’s Total Zone, Jeter has cost his team more in the field than any other player in history, with both methods assessing the damage at 230 to 260 runs.
By all appearances Jeter excelled in every aspect of the game. Without more sophisticated analysis of his fielding, the myth of Jeter the great fielder would have continued.

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