A lot of ground to cover for this week, here are the headlines:
The Golden Child
A year ago, this would have been a Hell-Freezing-Over event: Derek Jeter, of "past a diving Jeter" fame, is the 2004 AL Gold Glove winner at shortstop.
Jeter's defense has been one of the most contentious issues of the past 10 years. Sabermetricians -- you might call them stat-heads, Moneyball-types, or reality-based baseball analysts -- have held that if you look at the number of plays Jeter doesn't make on the field, (rather than just looking at his errors, or his highlight-reel plays) Jeter sucks as a shortstop.
Some numbers. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) a stat that measures the number of balls hit into Jeter's defensive zone, and what he did with those balls, lists Jeter as worst among qualifying shortstops for the years 2000-2003. Bill James' stat, Win Shares, had Jeter at 1.36 Win Shares for 2003, 14th out of 14 players who had 600 innings played at short that year. Baseball Prospectus' Davenport translations put it this way:
Year/Rate(100 is average)/Runs Above Average
Looks bad, doesn't it? I can't do rankings for each year, but those negative numbers are pretty bad -- they mean he was allowing about 20 runs per year more than a regular shortstop. However, something interesting happens when you look at the numbers for this year:
Now, 102 isn't usually Gold Glove material, but it is a big improvement. The improvement could be seen in other figures. Jeter registered 7.2 defensive win shares in 2004, tied for 3rd in the league with Miguel Tejada, behind only Bobby Crosby (7.5 dWS) and Cristian Guzman (9.6 dWS). As reported by Aaron Gleeman and Brother Joe, UZR has Jeter as the 7th best shortstop in the league, at -4 UZR runs.
Part of the reason that defensive metrics don't get the respect they deserve is the type of disagreement we see here. One metric lists Jeter as the 7th best in the league and slightly below average in absolute terms; another lists him as the fifth best, and slightly above average; yet another has him as the league's third best shorstop, and well above-average defensively.
Yet all three measures agree on two things: 1) Jeter improved a lot from 2003 to 2004, and 2) Jeter was not, by any measure, the best defensive shortstop in the AL this year. My highly-unscientific eyeball perception of Jeter said the same thing -- you saw less "past a diving Jeter" this year than ever before. Jeter looked more comfortable working with Miguel Cairo than he had with his dance partners of the past few years -- Alfonso Soriano, Chuck Knowblauch, and Enrique Wilson.
But at the same time, you knew you weren't looking at Ozzie Smith, circa 1982 here. Except for one day, with one play that (I believe) won Jeter this Gold Glove. When they woke up the morning of July 2, 2004, just about everyone in America saw Jeter make an incredible running catch of a pop up down the line in left field, and then do a faceplant into the stands. Heck, if you're the one person in America that didn't see it, click the header -- MLB links to it in the article about Jetes winning the gold glove.
It is unfair that Jeter won the award when he wasn't the best fielder in the league, and when the voters probably placed inordinate weight in one hype-filled play.
Based upon the numbers, it looks like Miguel Tejada should have won the Gold Glove. Clay Davenport has Tejada as BP's gold glove vote, and Tejada tops the list in UZR. Other candidates with better or equal claims to Jeter's include Guzman, Crosby, Jose Valentin, Carlos Guillen, and Julio Lugo.
Still, I'm happy for Jeter, but somewhat sad for the Yankees. Defense tends to get worse as players age, and if Jeter continued on his career trend -- that is, if this year was just a fluke -- then Jeter will be a horrific shortstop in four or five years.
And no matter how horrible he is, he will remain a shortstop, because he now has "2004 Gold Glove Shortstop" on his resume. Even when he has all of the range of one of the monuments behind center field.
After years of being every organization's favorite diversity interviewee, Willie Randolph has finally put his hands to the helm of a major league club. Omar Minaya signed Willie on as Art Howe's replacement this week, meaning that not only does the Yankees' bench coach fulfill his dream of becoming a manager, he doesn't even have to move his family to take the new job.
Still, Mets' clubhouse can be a treaturous place, full of high expectations and low blows. Here's some unsolicited advice to Willie on how to survive in Flushing, by way of Mario Puzo:
1. Keep Your Friends Close, but Keep the Media Closer
The key to Torre's success as Yankees manager might not lie in his prior managing jobs with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals, but in his experience as a broadcaster. The media can kill managers who they view as insufficiently forthright (Howe) or manipulative (Bobby Valentine).
2. Get Yourself a Wartime Consiglieri
Randolph's biggest perceived failing is his lack of actual managing experience. This is the kind of thing that's likely to bring his in-game strategy into question early and often this season.
One way to defuse this criticism is by hiring an old crusty baseball guy to be his bench coach. Requirements are big-league managing experience, a willingness to play second banana, and a guy personable enough you'd want to sit next to him every inning for the next 162 games. If you answered Don Zimmer, you're on the right track.
3. Make Sure John Franco Sleeps with the Fishes
The Mets are a veteran team, where many of the players might have better relationships with the media, and with ownership, than their manager. Finding and eliminating anyone who undermines his authority is a must for Willie's survival in Flushing.
Two of the biggest clubhouse lawyers on the Mets were in the news this week. John Franco, who has some unsavory friends to go with his poor performance, has been told he won't be pitching for the Mets in 2005. Good riddance, fromWillie's point of view. Junior GM Al Leiter is now a free agent, the Mets will likely buy out his 2005 $10 Million option this coming week. He might be back at a discount rate, but there's more hope of Al getting along with Randolph: after all, the two were teammates on the 1988 Yanks.
4. Be a Good Godfather to the Mets' Kids
The Mets stand to have a great left side of the infield with phenom thirdbaseman David Wright and shortstop Jose Reyes. While most reports on Wright's makeup are extremely positive, Reyes has frustrated many by failing to follow a running program that the team established in hopes of preventing further leg injuries to the fragile shortstop.
Reyes will likely be the key to the Mets hopes in 2005, and Willie's most important job will be to make major leaguers out of Reyes, Wright, Victor Diaz and Craig Brazell.
(And Willie, if you need some help keeping Reyes' legs healthy, I have a friend who swears he could fix Jose right up. So give Will a call. Maybe you'll help get him out of the post-election blues.)
5. Don't Be a Fool For Those Big Shots
Fred and Jeff Wilpon, the Lord of Met Manor and his heir, have an identity problem. They want to be hands-on with their ballclub, like Steinbrenner. They want to have a corps of "baseball guys" in the front office, like George has. They want a winning ball team.
But the way it's worked out, they're closer to the Dolans than to the Boss. Willie's going to have to earn their respect in order to be effective -- remind them that he knows a thing or two about winning, and that this is why they hired him. A bad, early sign: the Wilpons apparently want to hire the runner-up in their managerial search, Rudy Jaramillo, as Willie's hitting coach. That's a bright idea, along the lines of making the runner-up in the Presidential election the Vice President.
To Mel, or Not To Mel
Some say he's gone for sure, and that Neil Allen's on the way from Columbus to take over as Torre's pitching coach. Others say that Mel Stottlemyre still doesn't know whether he wants to retire or keep coaching.
Either way, the result will be somewhat disappointing. I wish that the Yanks would approach the hiring of coaches the same way they do other personnel decisions -- pay top dollar to recruit the best. If Mel's gone, you'd think it would be worthwhile to try to lure Larry Dierker out of retirement, or some other reknowned pitching coach, to try to get Javy Vazquez back on track.
Now, maybe Neil will be a great coach. As Jay Jaffe points out (2nd half of the post) he's had some success with the Clippers. Maybe Mel will return, in which case the 2005 season might be a wash for some pitchers. Either way, folks should make their decisions sooner, rather than later.
Odd spectacle this week, with the Diamondbacks hiring, and then firing, Wally Backman. Backman's managing future seems permanently imperiled by his history of domestic abuse, alcohol-related arrests, and financial instability. Worse was that the team that hired him didn't think to do a thorough backround check before putting the man in charge of a multimillion dollar roster.
Jon Lieber's option was dropped this week. The Yanks hope to re-sign him for less dough.
Fred Hickman is the first casualty of budget cuts over at the YES Network. Suddenly, the Yanks' TV and radio broadcasts are taking the look of a soap opera.
Nomar at second? Pass, I think.
So far this off-season Rocco Baldelli and Lance Berkman have both blown out their knees playing backyard games. You'd think that people would learn, after Aaron Boone's contract was scotched...
Yes, I know that some non-baseball related stuff happened last week. Maybe I'll be ready to talk about it next week.