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Followup to Jeter Article at yankees.lhblogs.com

Columns — By Scott Ham on January 14, 2009 4:04 am

Here’s a few notes in followup to my Jeter article Peter Abraham was nice enough to post today:

  • Only seven shortstops have had average to above league average years offensively at the age of 37 or older: Honus Wagner, Luke Appling, Ozzie Smith, Eddie Joost, Jimmy Austin, Jeff Reboulet, and Barry Larkin.  Of those 14 seasons, only four of them happened in the last fifty years.  Larkin didn’t play enough games to qualify for rankings in either of his two seasons, but if he had, using Range Factor he would have ranked 13th out of 24 defensively in 2004 and tied for 8th out of 24 in 2001.  Ozzie Smith ranked 1st out of 15 in 1992.
  • Cal Ripken ranked defensively as the 18th best shortstop out of 24 in 1996 using Range Factor, his last year at the position.  In 1997, his first year at third base, he ranked 12th out of 20.
  • Since 2002, Jeter has had exactly one season with a positive UZR/150 fielding rating (FanGraphs defines UZR/150 as “The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games.”)  His average since 2002 is -6, with the extremes being -20 and +0.8.  2008 was his second best season since 2002 at -0.5.
  • Averaging out Jeter’s placement in defensive rankings over the course of his career, Jeter places 19th out of an average of 23 qualifiers.  These rankings use Range Factor unless UZR/150 is available.
  • Baseball Reference lists ten players with similar careers to Jeter through the age of 34.  Looking at those ten players at the age of 37 (Jeter’s first year of his next contract): 2 were retired, 5 had OPS+ below 100 (or below average), 2 had above average years at 37: Roberto Clemente in 1972 and Charlie Gehringer in 1940.  Gehringer’s next two seasons were below average and then he retired.

All of this looks like I’m picking on Jeter and I’m not.  Jeter will follow a natural decline in his performance as he gets older, just like every other ballplayer.  It’s not a knock, it’s a fact of life.  The Yankees need to determine whether they will pay Derek Jeter like a 37 year old shortstop in decline or like a 25 year old shortstop in the prime of his career.  The chances of Jeter being close to league average both defensively and offensively at age 37 and beyond are low.  A high salaried contract could quickly become a terrible contract if he doesn’t perform.

There will be a lot more light shed on this as we see how Jeter performs over the next two seasons, but we can be sure he will not be a good defensive shortstop.  With few options open defensively for Jeter to play besides shortstop, the Yankees will probably need to hide his bat in a corner outfield spot or suck it up at short.  In either case, they will be sacrificing defense and, in the case of the outfield, might have a below average offensive outfielder.

Tags: average offensive outfielder, Barry Larkin, baseball, Cal Ripken, Charlie Gehringer, Derek Jeter, Eddie Joost, fielder, good defensive shortstop, Jeff Reboulet, Jimmy Austin, Luke Appling, New York Yankees, New York Yankees players, Ozzie Smith, Peter Abraham, Roberto Clemente, shortstop, Ultimate zone rating


  1. I hear ya. It’s been a wonderful run for Jeter, but this decision is going to be UGLY unless Jeter gets in front of it and makes himself available to a position change.

  2. Peter Lacock says:

    This is ridiculous and misleading the children. Jeter has never played anywhere other than SS and he never will. He has stated repeatedly that when he can no longer play SS he will retire. Case closed. It’s exasperating that some still choose to speculate about this. Keep him around at SS or let him go. Pick one.
    As far as how much money he’ll make 2 or more years from now, who the F gives a S?

  3. David says:

    In short, in 2011, whether Jeter plays SS or OF, he will probably be a below-average hitter, a below-average fielder, and greatly overpaid. Sounds to me like an outright release is the best answer. If he stays with the Yanks, he might qualify only as a backup, but the Yanks obviously wouldn’t pay him like a utility infielder.

    I thought the Yanks’ bad decision not to sign Beltran was caused by their effort to hold a spot for a declining Bernie. I hope they don’t make a similar mistake with Jeter.

  4. Scott Ham says:

    Thanks for checking out the site.

    It doesn’t project well but you hope Jeter can defy the norm. It would be good if Jeter could maintain his career OBP of .387 because then he would still be a real asset at the top of the lineup. Left field would probably be a decent option at that stage. My only fear is that Chuck Knoblauch had a similar defensive history before the throwing yips kicked in and he had a really hard time in the outfield. I think Jeter is a better athlete than Knoblauch and has always shown a good ability with balls in the air.

    The Yankees will have to let Jeter play as long as he wants. You just have to hope that Jeter isn’t going to try and hang on for as long as possible and demand the Yankees respect through money. It doesn’t seem in character for him but who knows.

  5. Slapnuts Johnny says:

    Very well considered, as usual. They will need to keep Jeter for marketing purposes, as he’s the face of the franchise to a generation of fans. I suspect they will park (literally) him at SS for as long as they can possibly endure it, and then he’ll go to LF, where we’ve set the bar so low for defense between Knoblauch, Damon and Matsui that he’ll be fine so long as he can still compile the hits.

  6. Beaurez says:

    The fact that Texiera plays defense so well should help hide some of Jeter’s slippage. HIs range will allow Cano to shift a bit and cover a little more up the middle, giving Jeter a “smaller” area to cover, nothing huge but it will make a difference and the fact that Texiera actually catch a ball thrown at him, who knows, we may just see one of Jeter’s best years defensively in 2009.

    slapnuts once again keeps it real. “where we’ve set the bar so low for defense between Knoblauch, Damon and Matsui that he’ll be fine so long as he can still compile the hits.”

  7. Donna says:

    Well, do you feel like the tool you are yet? This post is comical.

    • Scott Ham says:

      Charming. Insults are always a good conversation starter.

      I’m glad Jeter is having a good season, although his performance still doesn’t justify his salary. I would love to be wrong and have Jeter post MVP seasons for the next five years. That’s not a realistic expectation, though, and can’t be expected when determining his next contract.

      I laid out the history of shortstops at his age. If he defies that history, more power to him. He can’t do it forever, though, and he’ll be fortunate to do it beyond his current contract.

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