Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Golden Child, Part II

Well, it happened again. The Gold Gloves were announced this week, and once again, Derek Jeter is the American League's Gold Glove shortstop.

There is, of course, much gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes that's been going on over this. Like anyone who becomes popular, Jeter has a dedicated contrarian anti-following--you know, folks who think he was just showboating when he made The Catch last year, or who believed that Joe Torre should have chewed him out after the 2001 ALDS Flip Play because he had abandoned his position.

We talked about this last year, the first time the Captain took home the hardware
. Here's a quote:
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.
I still think--and just about every measure of defense in the world agrees--that Jeter isn't the best shortstop in the AL. This isn't just the numbers speaking, but the naked eye. My observation is that Jetes makes a lot of highlight reel catches to his right, and going back on pop flies. But a lot of grounders to Jeter go for singles, particularly grounders up the middle. The singles he saves in the hole and going back on Texas leaguers probably don't completely balance out the singles he allows on relatively routine grounders which are out of his reach.

However, there are a few reasons that I can't get too riled up about this award:

1. It's the Gold Gloves, fer Chrissakes! GG voting has long been a joke, riddled with double-standards and faulty thinking. Sometimes players get the GG after having a banner offensive season, on the logic that if so-and-so was at the peak of his game with the bat, he must have had a good season with the glove (this year, for example, Bobby Abreu seems to have won a Gold Glove on the basis of his stellar performance in the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game). Some voters tend to take the stance that the Glove is the incumbent's to lose, and barring a defensive breakdown, a guy with a good defensive rep can keep winning the award a year or three after he's lost a step in the field.

2. The Field Hasn't Been Overwhelming. The high-profile defensive shortstops this year--guys like Rafael Furcal, Jack Wilson, and Neifi Perez--are in the National League. That leaves some lesser-known guys in a wider, shallower pool of AL talent. Jose Uribe gets a lot of lip service right now because of the amazing plays he made in the World Series--plays the GG voters didn't see before casting their ballots. Jhonny Peralta, who had a breakout season for the Indians, is another candidate who comes up high in some of the stat leaderboards (said leaderboards seldom agree, which is one of the challenges performance analysis faces going forward). Still, there is no Ozzie Smith, or even an in-his-prime Omar Vizquel, in this crowd.

3. Jeter Has Improved to the Point Where This Isn't An Embarassment. As I remarked over BP's internal mailing list, by most measures, Derek Jeter is a vastly improved defensive player over the past two years. Over Jeter's career, "PADJ"--Past A Diving Jeter--has been a recurring notation in my scorecards. This year, not only did I write (and think) this less often, but Jeter actually seemed better positioned and to make plays more easily. By Prospectus' ratings, he's gone from being 21 runs worse than an average fielder in 2003, to two runs worse in 2004, and now five runs better than an average shortstop in 2005. Someone who was overrated defensively when he sucked will obviously look like a champion if they make that kind of improvement.

Overall, congratulations to the Captain, and to all the other winners, deserving or not.


Speaking of Derek Jeter, I've been reading BP's new book, Mind Game. Haven't finished it yet, so no review, yet--you can find a couple of nice reviews at Hardball Times and Management By Baseball.

But reading through the mid-summer chapters of Mind Game--which deal heavily with Nomar Garciaparra--brought to mind Derek Jeter's complete destruction of the Holy Trinity of Shortstops in 2004.

You remember the Trinity, right? Back in the late 90's Garciaparra, Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez were the vanguard of a new generation of shortstops, raised up in the image of Cal Ripken--big kids with big bats. All three players were American leaguers, making shortstop the AL's glamor position. Folks argued intensely about how the three shortstops ranked against each other, and whether outsiders such as Miguel Tejada or Edgar Renteria might someday join the group.

In 2004, over the course of about six months, Jeter was the only member of the Trinity left. In February, the Yanks acquired Alex Rodriguez, under the condition that he uncomplainingly move to third base, in favor of the lesser offensive and defensive player. Then, in July, Jeter effectively ended Garciaparra's run in Boston, by showing him up, making the big catch into the stands while Nomar conspicuously sat in the dugout, sulking. By the end of the month, Nomar was a Cub. By early this season, he was suffering from another huge injury. If his career continues, it will likely be in one of the infield corners.

And while other shortstops have risen in prominence since then--Miguel Tejada had a monster season last year, and Peralta has joined the party in a big way--that mystique of the Trinity is probably gone forever. The only one left is Jeter.

It's as if he announced "I am Derek Jeter of the clan Jeter. I am a shortstop. There can be only one."

No comments: