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Friday, June 20, 2003

Derek Jeter Revisited

How is Jeter’s defense this year?

On Opening Day 2003, Derek Jeter suffered a shoulder separation in a collision with Toronto catcher Ken Huckaby. Jeter missed the next 36 games, as the shortstop position was divided between rookie Erick Almonte and veteran backup Enrique Wilson. On May 13, Jeter returned to the lineup against Anaheim, and has played in every game but one since then. Some analysts have noted that Jeter, again, has a relatively low total of chances handled compared to his backups:

Player

G

Inn

PO

A

E

FP

RF9

Jeter D

31

277.7

39

60

5

0.952

3.21

Almonte E

28

232.3

43

64

9

0.922

4.14

Wilson E

19

104.0

19

27

0

1.000

3.98

 

Because these SS have played behind the same group of pitchers, and (in theory) should not be significantly affected by variations in opportunity, the speculation yet again is that Jeter?s defense is hurting the Yankees, especially since the Bronx Bombers have not performed particularly well defensively since Jeter?s return:

Without Jeter (through 12-May-2003): 26-11, 3.86 RA/game

With Jeter (since 13-May-2003): 14-17, 5.06 RA/game

So yet again, the question arises: Why are Jeter?s successful chances so low compared to his backups? And what effect (if any) is this having on the Yankee?s overall defensive picture?

MLB.com maintains play-by-play data files for each game on its Web site in the basic event format used by Retrosheet. I have been able to convert those files into the Retrosheet event file format and have all of the Yankee games in my database. While the MLB data isn?t as complete as I would like ? detailed ball location information is not available ? nonetheless there is enough information there for a deeper look at the Yankee shortstops.

Before looking at the PBP data, I want to note that the basic zone ratings suggests that the advantage in the raw stats is likely due to extra opportunities for the backups:

Player

G

Inn

PO

A

E

FP

RF9

ZR

Jeter D

31

277.7

39

60

5

0.952

3.21

0.698

Almonte E

28

232.3

43

64

9

0.922

4.14

0.663

Wilson E

19

104.0

19

27

0

1.000

3.98

0.674

 

None of those ZRs are particularly good ? the average SS ZR is in the .850 range - but Jeter?s is the best of the bad. So if the other SS are making more plays, but handling a lower percentage of the balls that are close to them, that would suggest that they are also seeing more total opportunities than Jeter.

The biggest problem with zone rating, in my opinion, is that it narrows the field too much. I don?t think ZR tells the entire story, and therefore I went to the play-by-play files. In looking at the play-by-play data, since I didn?t have specific ball location data for every play, I counted the following balls as opportunities for the shortstops:

 

  • Ground balls actually fielded by the shortstop
  • Ground ball singles fielded by the left fielder
  • All ground balls fielded by the center fielder

 

Ground ball extra base hits to left are usually down the line, so I excluded those. I went over my scoresheets for the past couple of years, and on balance the SS has more chances to get to ground balls to center than does the 2B and therefore I decided not to exclude any of those.

Looking at the numbers this way yields the following results for the Yankee SS:

Player

G

Inn

Opp

PM

Pct

Opp9

Jeter

31

277.7

120

52

0.433

3.89

Almonte

28

232.3

114

55

0.482

4.42

Wilson

19

104.0

49

25

0.510

4.24

 

Jeter did, in fact, have fewer opportunities to make plays than did his backups. He also made fewer of them, on a percentage basis. The difference is on the order of 6 plays at Almonte?s rate and 9 plays at Wilson?s rate ? somewhere around an extra hit every 3-4 games.

But Jeter?s overall lower rate of making plays is only a part of the story. The rest of the story is that the Yankee defense, as a whole, wasn?t significantly worse at making plays with Jeter in the lineup than with Jeter out of the lineup, even given Jeter?s markedly lower rate of converting balls into outs:

SS

G

Inn

BIP

PM

DER

BIP9

Jeter

31

277.7

864

586

0.678

28.0

Almonte

28

232.3

699

474

0.678

27.1

Wilson

19

104.0

317

205

0.647

27.4

 

Whatever Jeter?s failure to make plays was costing the Yankees, they were making up with improved defense elsewhere. In the series of articles I wrote last fall and winter, I suggested that the Yankee defense was positioned in such a way as to reduce Jeter?s opportunities. It seems as though that is still the case; the Yankees don?t appear to have been hurt in terms of the team?s ability to convert balls into outs even if one accepts that Jeter?s backups are doing a better job of getting to balls in the SS area, and that almost has to be because the other fielders are positioned to get to more balls.

Although I certainly don?t think one can draw a definitive conclusion from half a season?s worth of data, and there are likely biases in the data for which I haven?t tried to account (quality of opposition, for one), I think the evidence so far suggests that Jeter?s defense has slipped a notch. It might be, as one Yankee fan on a discussion list that I frequent has suggested, that Jeter has become tentative in the field in an effort to prevent reinjury to the shoulder. Or it might really be that he?s starting to slide to the point to which his defensive performance will indeed match the reputation for terrible fielding that he has achieved among the statistical analytical community. Regardless of the reason, though, it looks as though the rest of the Yankee defense has adjusted for the moment to counter whatever problems Jeter is having.

So why are the Yankees allowing more RPG with Jeter at SS? Well, the table below might offer a clue:

G

TTO

K

WH

HR

%K

%WH

%HR

K/G

WH/G

HR/G

Without Jeter

37

393

278

92

23

70.7%

23.4%

5.9%

7.51

2.49

0.62

With Jeter

31

342

225

86

31

65.8%

25.1%

9.1%

7.26

2.77

1.00

 

“TTO” is shorthand for Three True Outcomes, which is used by statistical analysts to refer to walks, strikeouts, and home runs ?the events that the defense does not directly affect in any way. I also include HBP with walks ? thus the categories are K, WH, and HR.

Note that in the games prior to Jeter?s return, Yankee pitchers walked fewer hitters, struck out more hitters, and allowed fewer HRs. I would suggest that it is those pitcher-specific events that are at the root of the Yankee problems since Jeter came back.

 

Mike Emeigh Posted: June 20, 2003 at 06:00 AM | 16 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Ned Garvin: Male Prostitute Posted: June 20, 2003 at 02:20 AM (#611770)
You might be able to see if the IF is being positioned differently to make up for Jeter. If Ventura is giving up more 2B down the line than he would be expected to, or if Soriano gets to more ground balls up the middle (and/or less ground balls into the hole) than he would be expected to. I suspect Ventura would be the easier and more likely candidate.
   2. Old Matt Posted: June 20, 2003 at 02:20 AM (#611772)
Why not look at extra base hits to left? If there are more of them since Jeter's return, it may be an indication that Ventura isn't playing as close to the line as he was with one of the backups there and so more balls are scooting down the line.
   3. MGL Posted: June 21, 2003 at 02:20 AM (#611778)
Good work as always Mike! A couple of things...

1) It's not like we need to validate what we already know - that Jeter is a terrible defensive SS. Whatever you find in 2003 simply adds to the mix. Given that Jeter has had atrocious defensive stats (UZR, ZR, etc.) for as long as I can remember, one, he is extremely likely to have bad stats this year, given his likely woeful defensive ability, his advancing age (for a SS), and his injuries, and even if he had average or better defensive stats this year, like any recent sample of stats, that would merely tell us that he was probably not quite as bad as we thought.

2) It is almost impossible that repositioning other infielders can "make up for" another IF'er's bad defensive ability! If other infielders are "repositoned" then their defense must suffer, otherwise they would position themselves that way ALL the time. PERHAPS repositioning other IF'ers can make up, say, 2 runs for a -15 run infielder, or something like that. But to think that it can make up any more than that just doesn't make sense.
   4. tangotiger Posted: June 21, 2003 at 02:20 AM (#611779)
Based on the UZR/162 and DP/162 that MGL provided at the above location, here's Jeter from 1999 to 2002

1999: -15, -6 = -21

2000: -8, -5 = -13

2001: -21, -2 = -23

2002: -32, -2 = -34

Overall: -19, -4 = -23

In terms of "translating" a SS's fielding value into a "neutral" position, you'd probably do something like

UZR(neutralPos) = UZR(SS)/2 + 10

(I'm working on doing the translation for all positions, so look for this in a few weeks.)

Jeter, over the last 4 years a bad SS, would probably be an average fielder at a neutral position. (Of course, it depends on his exact skill set).

However, as Jeter ages, he'll become a liability at SS that cannot be supported. I would not be surprised if he has reached this point right now. A shift to 3b or LF should be close at hand.
   5. Mike Emeigh Posted: June 21, 2003 at 02:20 AM (#611781)
I have a feeling that I just posted a comment unintentionally. I'm on an unfamiliar computer away from home.

The evidence from 2003 suggests that even though there are more balls in the SS vicinity that get through when Jeter is playing there, the Yankee infield as a whole allowed about the same percentage of balls to go through with and without Jeter. Furthermore, the evidence suggests - as it has in prior years - that there are fewer balls hit in the vicinity of the SS when Jeter is playing there than there are when his backups are there. That suggests that the Yankees are doing "something" when Jeter is playing to reduce his opportunities - whether that be the positioning of the fielders, the pitching patterns of the pitchers, or both. I don't think that infield positioning can have a significant effect "on the team", for the reasons that MGL suggests - but it can affect the type and quality of opportunities that an individual fielder gets.

I'm only going to be able to respond sporadically to comments for the next week or so, since I am on a trip. Please feel free to make them, though, and I'll try to hit the high points when I get back.

-- MWE
   6. tangotiger Posted: June 21, 2003 at 02:20 AM (#611782)
Given that Jeter has had atrocious defensive stats (UZR, ZR, etc.) for as long as I can remember

MGL, you're memory needs some help. Check out how Jeter did in your first version of UZR (look at your inaugural sLWTS article). He was actually a plus in the beginning!

Your updated version of UZR cut his numbers down big time...
   7. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: June 21, 2003 at 02:20 AM (#611783)
The Three True Outcomes aren't totally devoid of defensive variability. Walks, strikeouts, and homers are not (usually, in the case of homers) produced on the first pitch. Therefore, there is a chance that during the pitch sequence, there's a foul ball that a better defensive player might get to. Instead of an out, the batter might strike out on the next pitch, or might hit a home run, or might walk. These are negligible, but the Three True Outcomes aren't tautologies, and it would be a mistake to label it as such.
   8. theberle Posted: June 22, 2003 at 02:20 AM (#611786)
You suggest the pitching patterns of the pitchers may be one of the reasons fewer balls are hit to SS when Jeter's playing there. Although I think it would be surprising that a pitcher would pitch to the other half of the plate, to encourage batters to hit more balls to Soriano and Giambi, I think this could be evident in the higher HR rate seen when Jeter is at SS. Is the flyball/groundball ratio different when Jeter's at SS?
   9. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: June 23, 2003 at 02:21 AM (#611794)
Joe -- your explanation seems right on the money to me. Matsui generally had a good defensive reputation in Japan, and despite what appeared to be early struggles, it wouldn't surprise me at all that he'd cover more ground in CF than Bernie. Rivera is also a decent OF despite a couple of misplays that made the highlight shows.

Also, FWIW, Diamond-Mind had Nick Johnson and Jason Giambi rated the same defensively (average) in 2002, so there's probably not as much slippage there as most people would think initially.
   10. Walt Davis Posted: June 23, 2003 at 02:21 AM (#611796)
It seems folks may need to go back and re-read Mike's series of articles on this subject. The link to the summary is below the article and here's one quote from it:

In the case of the Yankees from 1998-2000, the ball-in-play distribution and the probable alignment of the fielders in the face of that distribution combine to limit the number of opportunities that Derek Jeter has to make plays

For whatever reason, Jeter gets fewer opportunities than other SS, even after controlling for the BIP distribution (if I remember right). What Mike is saying is that this has been true so far this year as well. However, this year, we have the added oddity that when Jeter's not in there, the other Yankees' SS see more opportunities than Jeter -- though that could just be random chance.

I fail to see what Matsui, Rivera, and Giambi have to do with it ... especially since this has been going on for years according to Mike's article.
   11. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: June 23, 2003 at 02:21 AM (#611798)
Walt -- the effect of Matsui, Rivera, Bernie, Johnson, Giambi wasn't meant as an excuse for Jeter. It was just a reason for why the team defense may appear to be equal this year with Jeter in or out, when really it isn't. I think the theory holds water.

How much time has Jeter missed in the past for that to really have much weight? I think he missed 2 weeks in 1998 and other than that he's been pretty durable, so you've got sample size issues with the findings from previous years (when comparing Jeter to teammates who also played SS).
   12. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: June 23, 2003 at 02:21 AM (#611799)
As far as moving him goes, until the Yankees come up with a SS that can hit as well as Juan Rivera or Raul Mondesi, I don't see it as being an issue. A lot of his defensive value comes just from being able to play the position, allowing another bat in the lineup.

It's one thing to say he's one of the worst defensive SS's in the league (a statement I agree with), it's another thing entirely to say he should be moved any time soon.
   13. Charles Saeger Posted: June 23, 2003 at 02:21 AM (#611800)
As a Yankee hater, I'm disappointed. The Yankees may finally understand that Jeter isn't a good fielder, and move him.

:P
   14. mike green Posted: June 23, 2003 at 02:21 AM (#611801)
Mike E,

Jeter has participated in very few double plays since he returned, both relative to league and to his replacements. Do the explanations for this differ from the decline in range, or are they the same?

   15. Combat Wombat Posted: June 23, 2003 at 02:21 AM (#611806)
I think the Yankee fiedling pattern anomaly has a lot to do with the thirdbaseman's position and glove.

It seems to me that traditionally speaking, the Yankees have liked having a strong glove man at the hot corner. vis a vis, Ventura, Brosius, and even further back you see they had Nettles and Boyer.

I think if you looked at what Brosius and Ventura have done in the last 6-7 years you might find that they have made significantly more plays than the average AL 3B in that time.
I know it's a flawed tool but I looked up Wins Shares and found that their fielding WS/1000 innings were respectively:

Brosius: 4.40
Ventura: 4.31

and just for comparison, straight out of a mixed bag:
Nettles: 4.40
Boyer: 4.97
Brooks Robinson: 4.24
Wade Boggs: 3.82
Mike Pagliarulo: 3.75
George Brett: 3.73
(it's oall on page 612)

So my guess is that the thirdbasemen have made their own assessment about Jeter's glove and they just go for it, agressivly cutting off balls that other Shortstops might field. So the thirdbasemen Jeter has played with probably field a little shallower and this pushes Jeter further back & towards the middle, and that makes it harder to cover plays that the Thirdbasemen miss at the edge of their ability.

I haven't checked for Secondbasemen and the big hole up the middle, but I'd imagine something similar. Perhaps Soriano is not as bad as we think he is?
Knobluach is listed as 4.30 WS/1000.
Jeter himself: 4.11 which is not good at all for a SS.
   16. Mike Emeigh Posted: June 30, 2003 at 02:23 AM (#611950)
The URL linked above will point you to the main directory of games for June 29 (change the "month" and "day" parameters to get games for a different day). If you click on the link for a specific game, the directory for that game will include a file named "playbyplay.html". If you click on that file name, you'll get the play-by-play data. I have used those PBP files to create event files in Retrosheet format.

I wanted to reiterate what seems to me to be the most important thing to come out of this analysis - that even though Jeter's replacements made more plays than did Jeter, and handled a higher percentage of balls in the SS vicinity than did Jeter, the Yankee defense as a whole was no better without Jeter than it has been with Jeter. There are other factors that might be affecting this - for example, the loss of Bernie Williams, whose defense has been deteriorating over the past few years, has probably helped the OF defense - but I think that it's pretty clear that the Yankees do make defensive adjustments when Jeter is playing that reduce the percentage of balls on which he has a chance to make plays, and that don't appear to have a net impact on the team's ability to convert balls into outs.

Nelson Briles tells a (possibly apocryphal) story about Bill Mazeroski, dating to the time when both played for the Pirates. Briles was pitching with a runner on 2B and noted that Mazeroski was cheating up the middle. Given Briles's normal pitching tendencies to the hitter, he would have expected the hitter to hit a grounder to the right side. Briles motioned to Mazeroski to move back toward the hole, and Maz moved a couple of steps back in that direction. After the first pitch, Briles looked around again and saw that Mazeroski had moved back toward the middle of the diamond. This time, when Briles pitched, the hitter hit a ground ball to the spot where Briles had expected Mazeroski to be positioned, which went through the infield into right - and Roberto Clemente threw the runner from 2B out at the plate trying to score. After the game, Briles asked Mazeroski why he had moved, and Maz indicated that he didn't want a ground ball to get through the middle, since the Bucs' CF had a weak arm and was unlikely to make a play at the plate. He had no such concerns about Clemente. Thus, even though it might have been "likely" for the hitter to hit the ball toward the 1B/2B hole, in Mazeroski's judgment, based on the abilities of his teammates, he took a position that reduced the likelihood that he would make a play but increased the likelihood that whatever play was made would be to the team's benefit.

I have my doubts as to whether the specific story is true, but I think the underlying principle is valid; optimal defensive positioning does depend on the capabilities of one's teammates as well as one's own skill set.

-- MWE

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