Michael Hoban, Ph.D
Best Hitter of the Past Decade
The Win Shares System
Derek Jeter and the Gold Glove
Michael Hoban, Ph.D.
In 2003, I presented an analysis of the fielding ability of the active major league shortstops in my book entitled FIELDERS CHOICE: BASEBALLS BEST SHORTSTOPS. The fielding assessment system outlined in the book concluded that through 2002 Derek Jeter was one of the poorest fielding shortstops in the major leagues (of those who were active at that time and had played at least five full seasons at shortstop through 2002). (See the table below regarding Jeters fielding for some insight into that conclusion.)
I also wrote some articles adapted from the book for the website called baseballtruth.com. For more information regarding the analytical system used in the book, the reader can check the archives at baseballtruth.com under Fielders Choice for these articles:
1. A-ROD AND JETER (March 23, 2004).
2. THE TOP DEFENSIVE SHORTSTOPS PART 1(August 3, 2004)
Over the past few months, I have received a number of notes from readers of the website asking when I was going to update my fielding research for the shortstops. Specifically, some of the notes suggested that I might want to re-think my conclusions regarding Derek Jeters fielding based on the fact that he was awarded the Gold Glove at shortstop in the American League in 2004.
Lest anyone think that I have anything personal against Derek Jeter, let me state for the record that I believe that he is a great player and (assuming his career continues as in the past) almost certainly will make it to the Hall of Fame. Not to mention the fact that he appears to be a model citizen, a born leader and (it is rumored) can leap tall buildings in a single bound.
On August 8, 2003, reporter Eli Saslow of the STAR-LEDGER (NJs largest circulation newspaper) wrote an article about the book. In it, he pointed out that I had concluded that Derek Jeter was one of the poorest fielding shortstops playing at the time among those shortstops who had played at least five full seasons at the position.
According to the article, Derek Jeter responded to the news as follows.
By 2002, Jeters range had fallen to a disastrous 75 points below the league average the worst in the major leagues. And the Yankee pitchers struck out 1135 batters almost the same as in 1997. So, it would appear that the number of strikeouts was not the answer to Derek Jeters decline in range factor.
Apparently, some readers of my articles felt that because Jeter was awarded the Gold Glove in 2004 this means that my assessment of his fielding skills through 2002 must be faulty. Or perhaps they feel that Jeter may have improved his fielding in order to have received the award.
Well, as we will see, the second conclusion is accurate. That is, Derek did indeed improve his fielding in 2004. In fact, it was his best fielding season in his nine years in the major leagues. However, that does not mean the he was the best fielding shortstop in the American League and deserved to win the Gold Glove.
Anyone who studies the history of the Gold Glove awards will notice that the best fielders at each position each season do not necessarily win the award. The awards are often unduly influenced by the following trends:
1. A player who has a very good offensive season is often favored.
2. A player who has a good fielding percentage often wins the award over a player with a lesser fielding percentage but a much better all-around defensive season.
3. A player who has won the award a number of times is favored even though his fielding may be in decline.
Perhaps the best recent example of how silly the Gold Glove award can get is when Raphael Palmeiro won the award at first base in the American League in 1999. Palmeiro, of course, is a good offensive player and he had a good fielding percentage that year (.996). He had also won the Gold Glove in 1997 and 1998 when he did field his position well. So, all the pieces were in place for him to win again. However, Palmeiro played first base in 1999 for ONLY 28 GAMES (he was a DH for the other games) thus illustrating how meaningless (at times) the Gold Glove award can actually be!
Derek Jeter was awarded the Gold Glove in 2004 (even though he was not the best defensive shortstop in the American League) because
1. The winners of the Gold Glove at shortstop over the previous eleven years were no longer in the running so the competition was open.
2. He is a good offensive player.
3. His fielding did improve and he had a good fielding percentage.
4. The voters are either too lazy or not knowledgeable enough to examine all the fielding data.
Regarding #1 above, Omar Vizquel (one of the truly great defensive shortstops) had won the Gold Glove for nine straight seasons in the American League from 1993 to 2001 and Alex Rodriguez had won it in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, Vizquel, at the age of 37, was but a shadow of the defensive player that he had been and, of course, ARod was playing third base.
Lets look at Jeters 2004 season compared to his previous seasons and examine why I say that he had his best fielding season in 2004. Here are the numbers for his full seasons (more than 120 games at shortstop).
Derek Jeters Eight Full Seasons at Shortstop
Pct G PO A DP E PAL RAL SDS
1996 .969 157 244 444 83 22 -2 19 736
1997 .975 159 244 457 87 18 1 39 793
1998 .986 148 223 393 82 9 14 -10 740
1999 .978 158 230 391 87 14 8 -26 694
2000 .961 148 236 349 77 24 -12 -59 495
2001 .974 150 211 344 68 15 1 -68 530
2002 .977 156 219 367 69 14 2 -75 562
2004 .981 154 273 392 96 13 9 20 800
In the book, FIELDERS CHOICE, I devised a formula for assessing fielding performance at shortstop for the season. It is called the SDS (season defensive score). (For a rationale for the formula, please see the articles at BBT.com referred to above.)
SDS = DT + 5PAL + RAL where DT = PO + A + DP - 2E and PAL is
the fielding percentage above the league and RAL is the range factor above the league.
An analysis of all the good fielding shortstops of the 20th century resulted in the conclusion that a score of 800 or better denotes a very good defensive season while 600 or less indicates a poor fielding season. As you can see, Jeter had his first and only 800 season in 2004. To put this fact into some sort of perspective, consider that Alex Rodriguez was awarded the Gold Glove for shortstop in the American League in 2002 and 2003. For those two seasons, he had an SDS score of 896 and 900, respectively considerably higher than Dereks 2004 score. In fact, during his eight full seasons at shortstop, Alex had five 800 seasons.
For an even broader perspective, consider that Ozzie Smith and Rabbit Maranville, the two greatest fielding shortstops of all time, each had at least ten seasons when they had a score of 900 or better. Ozzie had five seasons over 1000 with two of them over 1100 while Rabbit had three seasons over 1000 with one over 1100.
As you can see from the table above, from 1998 through 2002, Jeters fielding range was in a freefall pattern culminating in 2002 when his range factor was 75 points below the league average (the worst of any shortstop in the majors). But in 2004, he dramatically reversed that trend and had his best fielding season to date.
OK, so Derek did have a good fielding season in 2004 and he did deserve to be considered for the Gold Glove. But was his score of 800 the best in the American League among the shortstops? Here is a table showing the numbers for Jeter and seven other A.L. shortstops who played the position for a significant number of games in 2004.
Pct G PO A DP E PAL RAL SDS
Tejada .971 162 264 526 118 24 -1 76 931
Crosby .975 151 242 505 107 19 3 83 914
Guzman .983 145 234 440 103 12 11 53 861
Jeter .981 154 273 392 96 13 9 20 800
Vizquel .982 147 200 396 91 11 10 -7 708
Young .972 158 225 423 98 19 0 -2 706
Lugo .963 143 236 422 91 25 -9 48 702
Eckstein .988 138 198 309 75 6 16 -45 605
Some fans like to consider the per game SDS (SDS divided by games played) so here are those numbers.
Bobby Crosby 6.05
Christian Guzman 5.94
Miguel Tejada 5.75
Derek Jeter 5.19
Julio Lugo 4.91
Omar Vizquel 4.82
Michael Young 4.47
David Eckstein 4.38
In each of these lists, three other shortstops could be considered to have had a better fielding season than Derek Jeter. According to these numbers, Bobby Crosby seems to have had the best fielding season at shortstop in the American league in 2004 (note that his range factor of 83 points above the league average is the best of anyone on this list). But, of course, Crosby and Miguel Tejada did not have as good a fielding percentage as Derek and could have been dismissed by some voters for this dubious reason (when you have great range at shortstop, you do risk making more errors).
However, despite that, it is hard to understand how anyone could vote to award Derek Jeter the Gold Glove over Christian Guzman. You will note that Guzman had better numbers in all the significant categories. Of course, that is assuming that the voters (managers and coaches) even bothered to look at the numbers.
Given the history of the voting for the Gold Glove award, it is certainly not surprising that Derek Jeter won the award in 2004. He did improve his fielding from previous seasons to the point where he had his first 800 season. And the repeat winner from the previous two seasons (Alex Rodriguez) was no longer playing shortstop. And with a fielding percentage of .981 (probably the only statistic that some voters look at) plus his reputation for leadership as well as a .292 batting average and 23 home runs, the award becomes even easier to understand.
So, congratulations to Derek Jeter for improving his fielding significantly in 2004 and for being the popular choice for the Gold Glove. It will be interesting to see if his improved fielding continues through 2005.
Michael Hoban, Ph.D is Professor Emeritus of mathematics at the City University of N.Y. He has been an avid baseball fan for over 60 years and has become a serious baseball analyst for the past 10. He is the author of two baseball books: BASEBALL'S COMPLETE PLAYERS (McFarland: 2000) and FIELDER'S CHOICE (Booklocker: 2003).