I just finished reading Tom Tango's excellent article, "With or Without ... Derek Jeter", in which the author attempts to account for a variety of factors which may be biasing analysis of Jeter's defense against him. I read the article, and I saw Tom saying, I tried, Derek. I really, really tried. You said we need to account for who is on the mound. So I did that. The analysis still says you can't field. You said we need to account for the batter. So I did that. You still look bad. I tried accounting for the baserunner. No good. You're still near the bottom. I even accounted for park, which is something you didn't suggest, just to be as fair as possible. A little better this time, but still well below average. Oh yes, Derek Jeter, I tried to make you look good. But the fact is, you aren't.
Tom used Mitchel Lichtman's fielding analysis UZR, which is about as good as they come. And then he adjusted out any of the biases that might work against Jeter. We're at the point where we just have to accept it. Derek Jeter is a bad defensive shortstop.
Has there ever been a player like Derek Jeter in the history of baseball, in this regard? Some of you will be quick to mention George Sisler and Hal Chase, two first basemen who were regarded as defensive superstars in their day. But there are circumstances which explain the disparity between the statistical record and their reputation. Sisler is seen as at least a decent defensive first baseman by such historical defensive analysis as Defensive Win Shares, FRAA/FRAR, and PCA up until the sinus problems affected his vision and changed the course of his career. Chase's fielding prowess is victimized by his own corruption. Unfortunately, we will never know how good he would show up statistically if he were playing the game clean. Jeter is different. He has no circumstances that are affecting his play at shortstop, and yet he has won three straight gold gloves while consistently being regarded as a notably below average shortstop. Gold gloves are supposed to be awarded to the most outstanding player with the glove at each position, not to someone who is one of the worst.
I can think of four reasons, which, working in combination with one another, may be causing the difference in what sportswriters are seeing and what hard analysis is telling us.
1) The Yankee hype effect. Jeter is the leader of the most storied franchise in baseball in the media capital of the world, and has led that franchise to four World Series titles. He's going to get a little hype.
2) The SportsCenter effect. We can't help it. We are affected by highlight reel plays. When Derek Jeter goes diving into the stands to make a spectacular play, we think Gold Glove. Never mind that overall, Jeter is letting balls get by that the average shortstop would get. The highlights are what are spectacular, and spectacular is what wins Gold Gloves. A player only needs a few of those to turn an average fielding season into a Gold Glove.
3) Status as a player. Jeter has likely gotten a few votes from people who just couldn't think of anyone, and went with the superstar. It happens.
4) Clutch play. Jeter is widely regarded as a clutch player in all facets of the game. Apparently the sportswriters are seeing something the statistics aren't, ways in which Jeter shows his character by making the plays that really count. Maybe Jeter does make fewer plays than the average shortstop, but he makes the plays that matter, and that's why he's a winner.
You can probably think of other reasons that may explain why a player that so roundly shows up as a statistically poor fielder could win three straight gold gloves. But has that sort of combination ever showed up for another player in baseball, someone who is seen by the sportswriters as one of the best, if not the best, fielders in the league, and seen by statistical analysis as one of the worst? That kind of disparity is pretty hard to come by.