Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jeter's Defense Improving?

One of the last things a Tigers fan wants to hear right now is something good about Derek Jeter but it probably beats reading a recap of today's frustrating loss. Anyway, Jeter's defensive talents or lack thereof have been well publicized and widely debated. He won three consecutive Gold Gloves between 2004-2006 but ranked no better than average defensively in 2004 and was among the worst defenders in the game according to every advanced defense metric between 2005-2007. His Ultimate Zone Ratings are shown below:

2005 -14.3 runs saved belowaverage
2006 -6.8 runs saved below average
2007 -15.3 runs saved below average

Other metrics such as the Fielding Bible +/- and the Probabilistic Model of Range had him ranked as bad or worse all three years.

However, something seems to be happening now that Jeter has reached his middle thirties. At the age when most shortstops are in rapid defensive decline, the 35 year old Jeter actually seems to be improving. His Ultimate Zone Rating was right about average (-0.5) last year and again this year (+0.5).

It if was just this year or just one metric, I might pass this off as a small sample size fluke but The +/- system is showing similar advancement for 2008 and 2009. Thus, it appears that Jeter's late career improvement is real. New York Post writer Joel Sherman says that Jeter admitted to his sub-par 2007 season and has made a point of doing exercises to step up his defensive game:

Perhaps the strongest condemnation came from Jeter, who said, "Last year (2007), I didn't have a good year defensively."

It doesn't sound like much, especially since Jeter limited a serial inadequacy to just 2007. Except Jeter is not one to ever publicly apologize for, or criticize, his own game. But this is more than words with Jeter. He rededicated himself in the offseason with exercises designed to improve his lateral quickness and first-step explosiveness. One Yankee official saw this version of Jeter and said, "He set the clock back five years."

Others observers say that the notoriously shallow positioned shortstop is playing deeper, thus giving him a little more time to make plays. My theory is that information from advanced fielding metrics has convinced the Yankees and Jeter that changes were needed in order to make him a decent defensive shortstop again. If that's the case, then I give them a lot of credit.


  1. Tell you what Lee, he's made some really nice plays in this series that I don't think he would have made in past years. I am quite impressed with the turnaround.

  2. AnonymousJuly 19, 2009

    Hi Lee:

    I don't know about this Jeter improved defense business. I'm gonna just take your word :)

    Everybody's talking since the All Star break about how the Tiger's haven't done too well in the second half during Leyland's tenure. But I haven't heard any compelling explanations - if there is one - for why this should be the case. What's your take? The only thing that comes to mind personally is the wrap against Leyland for "pitcher abuse" and maybe this might explain to some extent a slow down in the second half, at least so far as pitching goes. Anyway, here's keeping fingers crossed.


  3. AnonymousJuly 20, 2009

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  4. Kevin, the second half collapses go back a long time, way before Leyland became the manager. Even before Trammell. I don't really have an explanation for it though. I don't see what the 2006, 2007 and 2008 second half swoons have to do with this year.

    I don't know that Leyland abuses pitchers much. They have had a lot of young pitchers and I think young pitchers tend to tire late in the season so that could be part of it.


  5. AnonymousJuly 21, 2009

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