Jeter’s Seven-Win Season

Back in late July, R.J. noted that Derek Jeter was having a resurgent offensive season and on his way to an excellent year. Jeter did not let up after that, either. He finished the season with a wRC+ of 142, his best since 2006 and second best since 1999. Combine that with excellent defense at short and Jeter had a 7.5-win season, his best year in the Fangraphs-WAR era and fifth-best among position players in 2009.

Jeter’s game at the plate combines excellent contact skills, a good number of walks, and a high BABIP. The 2009 performance increase was driven by more walks, a handful more HRs and a jump in BABIP. Here I wanted to look at that increase in BABIP in a spatially explicit batted-ball manner. Jeter’s hits are mostly GBs and LDs where the angle of the hit is more important than the distance. So I dissected the field into slices, rather than zone as I did in earlier posts. The number in each slice is the percentage of Jeter’s GBs and LDs in that slice, and the color shows the slugging percentage for those hits, ranging from 0.250ish for gray to 0.800ish for dark blue.

The worst places to hit a grounder are straight at the second basemen or shortstop. Those are the grayest slices, and in 2009 Jeter, cut down the the percentage of his hits to those two slices by 4% (2B) and 2% (SS). He had more hits right up the middle (25% versus 21%), which are singles and doubles more often than outs. I don’t think this is a shift in true talent: I don’t think Jeter is any better at “aiming” his grounders. My guess is he was just on the right side of luck more often in 2009.

That is not to say Jeter is not a wildly talented baseball player. After an average defensive season in 2008 and great one in 2009, we should reevaluate our perception of him from two years ago (in 2007 he was coming off three horrible defensive season) to being probably just -5 runs at short rather than the worst defensive shortstop ever. Add that to his good offense — although not as good as 2009 — and a safe projection is 3.5 to 4 wins in 2010. After that the Yankees have a tricky negotiation, as they will probably look to re-sign the aging, (although his skills should age gracefully) face of their franchise.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


38 Responses to “Jeter’s Seven-Win Season”

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  1. Mike Ketchen says:

    Dave,

    With regards to the batted ball spray charts (which are friggin sweet) do you know of anywhere to see something like this for pitchers with regards to locations of there batted balls against? Specifically I was looking for something on Sox SP’s as I thought it could really illustrate the gain of the defensive additions. Thanks in advance if you have any help to offer and as always I appreciate you guys and your work.

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  2. TCQ says:

    I think in the summary you mean that 3.5 to 4 wins is a safe projections for 2010, rather than 2009.

    These graphs are way-cool, by the way…

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  3. Tom B says:

    i hate UZR, is lets you make a statement like “worst defensive shortstop ever” even he never actually was.

    it’s amazing what jeter can do when he is healthy for a whole season…

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      Don’t hate UZR, it doesn’t rank Jeter the “worst defensive shortstop ever.” Michael Young on the other hand…

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    • GZ says:

      This is an odd way to approach things. It’s like saying you hate hammers because they let you smash your finger.

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    • alskor says:

      I hate people who oversimplify complex concepts and are dismissive of UZR when it unfavorably rates their favorite players.

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      • wobatus says:

        To be fair, a lot of people did take his UZR from 2005-2007 and continued this year to say he was a terrible fielder, even though his UZR improved the last 2 years and this year was quite good. Which may just be random. You need more than 1 year of data, but Jeter, even as he gets on in baseball years, did seem to improve his fielding. he was one of the top fielders this year per UZR, even if he doesn’t deserve a gold glove over a guy like Elvis Andrus.

        I say this as a Mets fan with no love for ther Yankees. Jeter gets so slammed by saber-minded fans for being overrated that I think they underrate him. Which is why I liked seeing this article from fangraphs pointing out the improved UZR numbers. Although it is interesting that the article says he is a solid bet for 3.5-4 wins, when he has averaged over 5 wins over the last 8 years and even in his 2 worst years was better than 3.5 (his worst year was 3.7), and that includes 2003 when he missed 40 games. And he did play through injuries the last couple of years until this year.

        Maybe due to injuries, and as article suggests some reversion from a bit of luck this year, one can say 3.5-4, but that seems like a worst case absent missed time almost. His abiltiy to play almost every day year after year also being an impressive attribute.

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    • Jud says:

      I’m as big of a Yankee and Jeter fan as anybody. But as someone who has watched many many games over the years, it is clear that Jeter was horrible at getting to balls on his left. I was always upset that the opposing SS got to balls that Derek would futily lunge and dive at.
      However, I did see a marked improvement this year and I believe that it is due to some adjustments that he made.

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  4. JayCee says:

    Now I see why the site is called “FanGraphs” :)

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  5. R y a n says:

    Nice post. I’ve been debating with people starting the middle of this year that Jeter isn’t nearly as bad as he was at SS in previous years, and might even now be a plus defensive shortstop.

    I agree, Jeter was probably a bit lucky – but I still see him having a (around) 5.5 WAR season in 2010, even if we take a slight decline in hitting and defense.

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  6. pfisher518 says:

    Another thing to look at with Jeter’s 2009 is that his his infield fly rate (a ridiculous 0.8%) is his lowest since the data start and 2% lower than his career mark(2.8%). Is this luck, a result of being more selective, or what?

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  7. Sal Paradise says:

    Can I make a suggestion on this chart?

    Rather than putting the percentage just as a number, could you extend the wedge to be proportional in length to the % of balls hit there?

    That way, you just frequency by length, and power by color, and the volume of color will be representative of how often the batter hit it.

    Right now a 9% dark blue looks “bigger” than a 19% light grey (or at least more noticeable).

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  8. crix says:

    Nobody tries to debate Derek Jeter’s offense as to why he is overrated, obviously he’s awesome at the plate, for a shortstop especially. Jeter’s defense is the problem, more specifically his range. 2002 and 2009 were the only seasons he posted a positive RNG rating, and 2002’s was still bad. (0.1) His two worst was ’05, (-17.1) and ’07 (-16.0). He’s also a bit overpaid, again since the ’02 season he’s only been worth more than he received in two seasons. (’06 & ’09) In 2006 Jeter’s worth was $23.3 million while receiving $20.6 million, and ’09 when his worth was $33.4 million and received $21.6 million. 2002 through 2005 and ’07 & ’08 Derek Jeter was paid $111.6 million and his worth was $88.9 million. So overall, in my opinion Derek Jeter is a bit overrated due to bad defense and being overpaid.

    I do not beleive his defense is getting better, it was simply flukish in 2009. Look for 2010 to be a typical defensive year from D.J.

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    • wobatus says:

      Overpaid and overrated are not necessarily the same. And his UZR wasn’t positive in 2008 but was essentially flat, and was posotive in 2009. After awful numbers in 2005-2007, some improvement seems likely to be “real” even if 2009’s uzr may be flukishly high, he seems to at least have been a decent fielder last couple of years.

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  9. Longhwa says:

    The reduction of sports to statistics is popular for many, touted as a “science” by some, and proposed by others as a replacement for baseball instincts, human nature, human endeavor and human frailty, for “intangibles”, such as heroism, rising to the occasion, leadership and other important but incalculable characteristics, and in some respects as a replacement for common sense. In some ways, these “metrics” are meant to replace scouting, purporting to be “objective” and “neutral”, maybe even “cold”, but truthfully, metrics are as unreliable as any over the hill scout.

    As every professional in almost every field knows, statistics can be made to say anything the statistician wants to say, especially talented statisticians.

    The analysis here often seems to me to represent support for various predisposed positions as opposed to the development of original thinking or the discovery of new theories or facts. Anyone can find any set of facts to support what they want to conclude. This article is an excellent example of an author having to explain why the stats as originally conceived didn’t support his predisposed position.

    Since Mr. Allen, and his colleagues have taken the time and great pains to present this site as quasi-scientific, I was struck by the following telling comment, which unfortunately says more about the author’s “position” vis-a-vis Jeter than all of the numbers so beautifully presented in pretty grids and graphs:

    “I don’t think Jeter is any better at “aiming” his grounders. My guess is he was just on the right side of luck more often in 2009.”

    Luck? Luck? I can’t believe with all the metrics stuffed into this website, the best Mr. Allen’s conclusion can do is boil down to his opinion about “luck”.

    Why would anyone stick a totally subjective skewed statement like this in a purportedly professional presentation? It casts doubt on all of the conclusions.

    It just shows the stats are BS, because when the stats don’t even support Mr. Allen’s loathing of Jeter, he just tosses the stats, and just reverts back to a good old-fashioned gut reaction like “he’s just lucky!”. Real professional. Jeez.

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    • MsFanDustin says:

      Oh the irony. He posts a drawn out statistical argument of his premise, which he backs up, and you call it subjective, without offering any objective standpoint? How does that work?

      You call his objective work, subjective, but offer absolutely no objectivity of your own?

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      • Longhwa says:

        I’m a fan. I don’t pretend to be objective, and I don’t pass myself off as a statistician. The argument offered by Mr. Allen is obviously a statistical attempt to use numbers to support a particular position…but when the numbers don’t support the contention, we see “he was lucky.” I regard that as unprofessional.

        Many sites such as this pretend to be objective, but in fact are simply arguments in support of particular preferences, be they Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, whatever. It is no surprise then that ESPN has a Boston page, but not a New York page.

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      • alskor says:

        “I don’t pretend to be objective…”

        It’s working.

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    • wobatus says:

      The statistical anlysis doesn’t preclude there being luck involved in some of the numbers. That’s kind of the point of a lot of this stuff, that luck plays a far bigger roll in stats like batting average and era than people realize. I understand where you are coming from in that there can be a wide chasm between the saber-fans and non-saber fans, and there is enmity on both sides. But the article does point out improvement in his fielding. he also points to his contact skills, and refers to him as “wildly talented”. Which doesn’t mean it’s all luck. Take a great player, give him a little luck, and voila. Great season

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  10. William says:

    When McGuire said he only did it to stay healthy, and writers still consider him Hall-worthy irregardless his much-changed physique (challenging Mac’s contention that it didn’t help homers), I think immediately of Jeter. Do you think he’d have passed Gehrig without his incredible ability to play day-in day-out? Only once has he played fewer than 90% of a season in 14 years!

    So I guess I’m saying that even if we let McGuire say steriods doesn’t make you stronger … and that that doesn’t allow you to hit more homers (?????), his saying that taking them was required to play regularly means that Jeter’s constant active status makes him particulraly worthy of praise, and gives one more reason to keep Mac out.

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  11. Peter Jensen says:

    Dave – My BZM fielding metric has Jeter as 3 runs better than average in 2008 and 1 run worse than average in 2009 so go figure. Taking 2008 and 2009 together both UZR and BZM have Jeter as being a slightly better than average shortstop, although both systems would project him as slightly worse than average for 2010 because of his horrible 2007 and applying an aging adjustment. Neither BZM nor UZR has ever seen Jeter as “the worst shortstop ever”. In fact BZM has never even ranked him as the worst shortstop in any given year. Both that statement and calling 2009 “a great fielding year” are hyperbole unworthy of your usually insightful analysis. Whether Jeter has actually improved to a slightly above average shortstop remains to be seen.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Peter thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      I think that you are correct that both statements ‘worst shortstop ever’ and ‘great fielding year’ were unfortunate hyperbole. The former was meant to be facetious: a joke about how some people over stated his defensive problems as a reaction to how popular he was in the mainstream media. It looks like that was not clear, so I apologize. The latter comment, ‘great fielding year’, was laziness of just looking at UZR and not consulting other fielding metrics.

      Is BZM your GameDay-based fielding metric? Do you plan, or have you already, released the 2009 results? What about the 2009 GameDay pixel to feet translantion factors? It was great of you to calculate those for past years and I use them often.

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      • wobatus says:

        His rTOT was 3.8 in 2009 and -4.9 in 2008. So likely he has been ok and not “the worst” the last 2 years. Certainly acceptable from a ss who hits like he does. Liked the article specifically because it tried to bridge the gap between these opposing views of Jeter, God/annoying media fiction.

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  12. crix says:

    Don’t open the McGwire can of worms. It’s to late, now you gone and done it. Derek Jeter is better than Mark McGwire because he played longer and didn’t take steroids, is that what you’re saying?

    Nobody knows everyone who took steroids, and who didn’t. Only doctors and physicians knows what steroids truly do. Okay, Big Mac may have been fibbing in the interveiw, big deal. Most fat asses or skinny guys don’t have the work ethics to bust your butt day in and day out like McGwire and Bonds. Those guys still had to kill themselves in the weight room to get the results, otherwise everyone would take them.

    Some people call them cheaters, well if they are cheaters, than what do you say about guys that used methamphetamines in the sixties and seventies like Hank Aaron for example to be more alert? What about pitchers that threw spitballs and scuffed the ball with sandpaper to get more movement like Phil Niekro or Charlie Hough? Doesn’t that give them an advantage?

    Look, the fact is that Derek Jeter is a great OFFENSIVE player, and most likely will be in the Hall. Guys like McGwire and Bonds should be in the Hall because they still put up those numbers. True fans don’t care about steroids or amphetamines. To me the sandpaper and spitballs are cheating but, nobody ever says anything about that.

    You should have just stuck with the topic. However if a writer poses more questions about steroids then go for it, but keep your thoughts on it to yourself until then. As far as his physique goes, What the hell does that have to do with it? I’m way bigger than I was when I was 19 or 20, and I’m only 27 now. I,ve never done anything but eat right and lift weights along with running. PEOPLE DO GET MORE DEFINED THE MORE THEY EXERCISE, I guess people like you, and sportswriters that slam the subject wouldn’t know anything about it. You just go with what someone else said. The same uneducated argument each time. I would love to read anyones response whether you agree or not. It’s one of my favorite topics to debate. Thanx

    Oh, and I just want to say “I really love fangraphs and the writers who pose these types of questions, please keep up the good work.”

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    • William says:

      Wow … ‘roid rage?

      Seriously, though, I should just be charitable and express my deepest apologies for having offending you as I apparently have very much.

      As for getting off-topic, the article prompted a thought and I shared it. You’re right, I should be eviscerated for it.

      Let me add, though, that I never said other cheaters should be in the HOF. If I am not mistaken, “integrity” is part of the requirement.

      In terms of what I was saying, though, is that Jeter’s outright consistency is just amazing; that yes, he had a great year, but in so many ways it was reminiscent of most that preceded it, and, um, the stark contrast with a person recently in the news who followed a handful of career years then just as suddenly had a dropoff before vanishing struck me.

      150+ games and 180 + hits every year (less a single 119 game/156 hit season). Double digit homers and double digit steals (including that season) every year. An average over .290 every year.

      Oh, and I teach students who say they should get A’s because they work hard, and some other students don’t. Are they right? And when some of them cheat, do they get credit for the results because others have cheated throughout all of time? What really burns me about McGwire is that he insists on getting exactly this kind of treatment even as he feigns a mea culpa. Some integrity.

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  13. Mike R. says:

    Thank you very much for making a post about Jeter where you do not bash him relentlesly. While I expect around 5+ Wins for him, a good article regardless.

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  14. House in a valley says:

    I think the argument about Mac vis a vi Jeter was that Jeter will be a hall
    of faker because his durability has allowed him to have a 7 win season at 35 where guys like Nomar are breaking/broken down. The argument s that had guys like Mac not taken steroids his body may not have been able to stay healthy enough to put together his legendary seasons. Staying healthy is a hallmark of hall of famers, sure guys lik the Mick got hurt, but he was healthy enough to have great seasons. Mac had to take steroids to be that healthy, and it is almost certainly the reason he was able to hit as many as 70 HRs. It’s up to the voters to determine if that’s wrong. But jeter has do e what he’s done elegantly and in a manner universally renown as “the right way,” something should be said for it.

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  15. MattNC says:

    For Jeter’s defensive metrics, I’ll go with Sean Smith:

    2007: -16
    2008: -4
    2009: +5

    That’s in line with what my eyes saw. Jeter was poor in ’07, was noticeably better in ’08 (despite dealing with nagging leg injuries and a severely bruised wrist), and was clearly better in ’09. He was getting to far more balls up the middle, and even making throws to first when on the 2nd-base side of the bag.

    I expect a 4.5 WAR season from Jeter in 2010 (career average is 4.9/season via Sean).

    BTW, Jeter is ranked 60th all-time among position players in WAR on Baseball Projection.com, and that is with harder WAR grading than FanGraphs does (post 2002, of course). Jeter also has 859 career VORP (from Baseball Prospectus; Pete Rose is at 713, by comparison), and is 17th all-time in HOF Monitor (though that rates him too high, IMHO).

    Interestingly, in many seasons during his career, Jeter is surpassed on the VORP leader lists by mostly PED-tainted players Consider that when valuing his performance.

    Lastly, I’ve seen references to an all-time VORP list, but haven’t been able to find one. Anyone know where one might be? The BP stats only go back to 1954…

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