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November 9, 2010

Manufactured Runs

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Derek Jeter?

by Colin Wyers

One of the things about being a baseball analyst as a writer is that I have the luxury of taking the broad view. If I am right about most players, I’m doing a pretty good job. If I miss on a player here or there…I don’t enjoy it, and I try and learn from it, but it’s not devastating.

A general manager, on the other hand, is responsible for about 25 players or so—more if you include everyone who could conceivably play on a team in one season, fewer if you limit it to players who will end up having (or missing) enough playing time to have a real impact. Missing on one player can, in fact, be devastating.

All of which is to say—I don’t envy Brian Cashman right now. He has a lot of tough choices to make about Derek Jeter—and if he slips up, Yankees fans aren’t likely to be forgiving. Even if he does the right thing, Yankees fans may not be understanding.

While none of us shares Cashman’s unique burden, the outright refusal of MLB to play even a single game between now and March means a lot of us will satisfy our desire for baseball by following the Hot Stove League, and Jeter’s contract negotiation figures to be the star attraction. So, let’s ask, how much is Jeter worth?

Figuring out how much Jeter’s bat has been worth is relatively trivial; it’s also pretty uncontroversial. Here’s runs above replacement player for Jeter over the past five seasons from us, Baseball Reference, and FanGraphs, excluding defense:





























Everyone seems to be using subtly different definitions of replacement-level offense, but past that there seems to be solid agreement between the three as to what Jeter has been worth with the bat.

The question the Yankees have to answer, at least in terms of batting, is this: was 2010 simply an aberration for an otherwise exceptional hitter, or was 2009 an Indian summer masking Jeter’s age taking its toll? What our projections can tell us is the most likely answer (or, more accurately, the answer with the least presumed error), but there’s still uncertainty around that forecast, and that uncertainty compounds the more years you tack onto the contract.

(The Yankees also need to come to grips with where in the lineup Jeter’s bat belongs. Barring a substantial bounce-back, it’s hard to make the case that the Yankees are best served with the Captain leading off every game).

But still, looking simply at Jeter’s bat and his position, he seems like an average to above-average player over the next few seasons, and the Yankees seem to lack decent alternatives (either internally or available through free agency). It seems like a simple decision to retain Jeter in pinstripes, doesn’t it?

The trouble is fielding.

Let’s look at several common fielding stats, all expressed in terms of runs saved compared to the average player at the position—Defensive Runs Saved as published by Baseball Info Solutions, Ultimate Zone Rating (based on the same BIS data as DRS), Sean Smith’s TotalZone, BP’s current implementation of FRAA, and our forthcoming overhaul of FRAA. Looking at years for which all of those metrics are available:





























































Someone relying on UZR or TotalZone might reasonably conclude that Jeter’s defense was subpar, but unlikely to deter the Yankees from wanting him to return. Looking at DRS and FRAA1, one might be more skeptical.

New FRAA, however, casts more substantial doubts on the question.

I’ve discussed what new FRAA does before, but a refresher is probably in order. Simply put, we count how many plays a player made, as well as expected plays for the average player at that position based upon a pitcher’s estimated ground-ball tendencies and the handedness of the batter. There are also adjustments for park and the base-out situations; depending on whether there are runners on base, as well as the number of outs, the shortstop may position himself differently, and we account for that in the average baselines.

The other metrics use other data to come to their estimate of expected outs—in the cases of UZR and DRS, it’s batted-ball and hit location data measured by BIS video scouts. In the cases of TZ and FRAA, it’s data collected by press box stringers working for MLB’s Gameday product.

(TotalZone and FRAA1 both incorporate some batted-ball data from MLB’s Gameday product from 2005 on; this means that what we’re calling TZ and FRAA1 aren’t exactly the same thing depending on season. GuyM has explained why range bias seems to exist in pre-hit location metrics, which is probably beyond the scope of this discussion).

So let’s examine nFRAA for all seasons Jeter played in the majors:

















































































































































Over the course of his career, Jeter has made nearly 500 fewer plays than we would expect a shortstop to have made. MOE_PM represents the margin of error around our estimate of an average shortstop’s plays. What I want to re-emphasize is that the margin of error doesn’t scale linearly—the margin of error for three seasons is smaller than the margin of error for each of those seasons added together.

Looking only at 2003-2010, the cumulative MOE (expressed in runs, not plays) for those seasons is 41.209. In other words, 68 percent of shortstops with that number of chances will have their “actual” value within 41 runs of the value estimated by FRAA—that’s one standard deviation. Assuming a normal distribution, 99.73 percent of players will have their actual value within three standard deviations of the estimate.

The estimates of Jeter’s defense provided by UZR and TZ are about 3.7 standard deviations away from what nFRAA says. It is staggeringly unlikely that Jeter would end up with a batted-ball distribution that cost him so many opportunities based upon random chance alone. DRS is just under two SDs away (roughly, the 95 percent confidence interval)—still very, very unlikely.

If not random chance, then what else might it be? Is there something else that could be so consistent across Jeter’s career? We’ve already controlled for park factors, ground-ball tendencies of the pitchers, and the handedness of opposing hitters. He’s played in nearly 40 ballparks (including two home parks), behind nearly 80 starting pitchers, with two managers (one of whom was still catching for the Yankees when he started playing). Since Jeter became the full-time shortstop for the Yankees in 1996, the team has had six different starting second basemen and five different starting third basemen (not to mention the numerous backups to each). The single-greatest constant to Derek Jeter’s career has been, well, Derek Jeter.

The appropriate response is that the probabilities assume we’ve plucked Jeter at random; of course we haven’t. But we haven’t cherry-picked Jeter because he’s an isolated case. He’s an example of a systemic problem with fielding metrics based on observational data—range bias.

It’s a fairly straightforward matter to determine whether a play was made or not—primarily, you figure out if the batter was safe or out after putting the ball in play. It’s nearly as simple to figure out who made the play; typically the idea of “first touch” is used—who was the first fielder to contact the ball? So "plays made" is mainly an assertion of fact. Expected outs, derived from observation of where the ball was hit and how it travelled there, is more difficult. Here’s a still frame grabbed from a highlight of Jeter making a play:

Jeter about to field a ground ball.

What I want to emphasize is that, other than Alex Rodriguez, the only real reference point to where the ball is when it reaches Jeter is Jeter himself. Because of the way baseball telecasts are shot, this isn’t an isolated incident—this is how baseball looks on TV. And companies like BIS get the same video feeds the rest of us get.

So a player’s range seems to influence his expected outs. How can we tell this? The first data point we have is the spread of observed fielding performance—the spread of observed performance in metrics like UZR and DRS is much, much smaller than that of metrics like nFRAA (or Tom Tango’s With Or Without You system, which is similarly down on Jeter’s fielding ability).

The other thing we see is that a player’s expected outs as a share of team balls in play (or “balls in zone,” a proxy measure for expected outs) persists from season to season, even when looking only at players who switch teams. In other words, the identity of the player seems to change the recorded batted-ball distribution (We have no mechanism that would allow us to explain how a fielder could dramatically change the actual distribution of batted balls; it seems much easier for him to be impacting the estimates).

All of the available evidence seems to suggest that Jeter is a worse fielder than most defensive metrics indicate, perhaps on the order of 20 to 30 runs below the average shortstop. This makes it possible that Jeter, in 2010, was performing at roughly the same level as a typical replacement—in other words, his ability to hit like something resembling an average shortstop doesn’t offset his inability to field like one. And while Jeter’s bat may improve next year from a disappointing 2010, over the next three years it’s a fair bet that his hitting will continue to erode. That’s what happens to baseball players as they get closer to 40.

No, I don’t envy Brian Cashman at all.

Colin Wyers is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Colin's other articles. You can contact Colin by clicking here

Related Content:  Derek Jeter,  The Who,  Managers Of The Year,  DRS,  TotalZone

40 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


Very nice work, Colin. Your PAA is very close to Tango's WOWY estimate (-436 thru 2008), which makes sense. A few observations:

It occurs to me the Jeter ball distribution question could largely be settled by looking at the proportion of GBs handled by NYY 1B and LF (total) over Jeter's career. If Yankee pitchers have somehow managed to avoid Jeter to a significant extent, this would have to result in a larger than usual number of GBs to the right side. It's simply unimaginable Jeter could be shortchanged on opportunities without a big skew toward the other side of the field.

One way you might try to show definitively that PBP data exaggerates opportunities for good fielders is to examine if there's a correlation between a player's minor lg fielding performance and their MLB PBP opportunities. There should be no relationship whatsoever. That would give you a much larger sample than looking only at MLB team-switchers.

The difference between UZR and DRS is interesting. One reason UZR likes Jeter so much, I think, is that it treats errors as 100% a fielder's responsibility and Jeter makes few errors. Since UZR never estimates an out probability at much over 80% on any other kind of GB, errors really increase a player's imputed opportunities (incorrectly, in my view, since there's no reason to think players who make errors actually have more easy plays). Perhaps DRS treats errors differently?

It looks like your run multiplier is about .8 runs per play. I would have guessed it's closer to .7 for a SS. Is .8 correct?

Nov 09, 2010 04:17 AM
rating: 2

You made me go back and look at Win Shares fielding stats, because James' system is not unlike your new FRAA system. Win Shares agrees with you in 2010--it calculates that Jeter was more than 30 assists less than average.

I'm know Win Shares are anathema to some (and for some good reasons), but it's interesting to me that his fielding metrics may still be relevant.

Nov 09, 2010 05:01 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

Any resemblance between the updated FRAA and Fielding Win Shares is purely intentional. I think James' attempt to turn fielding into absolute wins (as opposed to plays/runs/wins above average) falls short, but up until that point it is probably one of the most insightful defensive metrics I've seen.

So I'm not surprised that FWS agrees with these results. There are a handful of methodologies (this, Tango's WOWY, and FWS - I may be missing a handful here or there) that all seem to coalesce around similar results. You have a handful of metrics (the zone-based ones) that seem to coalesce around a different set of results. One of those reasons seems to be range bias; in other words, "advanced" defensive metrics are coalescing around the wrong answers.

Nov 09, 2010 06:42 AM

Colin, this is a fantastic article. I think it is worth noting, beyond the statistical realm, that Jeter's impact off the field makes the decision to keep him much easier for Cashman and the Yankees. Economically speaking, the number of tickets he sells to parents who want little Tommy to see Jeter before he retires and the number of T-shirts they will sell with "Jeter" on the back should be enough within itself to resign him. In addition to that Jeter carries a strong presence in the clubhouse and his knowledge of the game and leadership is extremely important to a team like New York.

So, if Jeter can produce as an at least average hitting short stop during the next three seasons, that combine with his off field impact should make up for his fielding difficulties. I would look for a three year deal, of course his agent may have other ideas. And his price tag will most likely be enormous.

Nov 09, 2010 07:00 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

I won't try to pretend I know what Jeter's intangibles bring to the Yankees in terms of clubhouse chemistry, etc. or how that translates into wins on the field.

As for the rest of it, though - merchandising revenue goes into a shared pool and is split equally among the 30 teams. The Yankees only capture additional revenue from merchandising if they sell it to you, and they can take the mark-up at the cash register. But if you're just buying that Jeter shirt and Wal-Mart or J.C. Penny's, then the Royals make just as much out of the deal as the Yankees. As for ticket sales, I just don't see much elasticity in the demand for Yankees tickets.

Nov 09, 2010 07:10 AM

To add to Colin's point, any revenue gained from selling Jeter shirts is far smaller than the marginal value of a win (since the Yankees are in the sweet spot, where a single win is worth millions as they are on the playoff bubble).

I'm sure David Beckham (or insert celebrity of your choice) would sell plenty of baseball shirts, but the money made selling them wouldn't offset the money lost by playing a player who hurts your chances to win.

Nov 09, 2010 09:47 AM
rating: 2
Johnson Magic

As an O's fan I hope Cashman doesn't have a BP subscription.

BC: Please, please pay Jeter top dollar for his intangible value. Six years would be great; seven or eight even better.

Nov 09, 2010 07:35 AM
rating: 8

Totally agree. Hell, give him ten years and 200 million.

Nov 09, 2010 15:24 PM
rating: 4

The $$$ issue is not the inelasticity of demand for Yankee tickets, but the inelasticity of the Yankee budget. They can afford to pay Jeter whatever they want and have $$$ left over for whomever else they want, too. Now if all the Oldies fall over the cliff, then yes, even the Yankees will not have enough to buy their way out of that. But Jeter's salary will only be a part of it all, then.

The problem for the Yankees will simply be playing a replacement-level shortstop for the next however many years. Until their fan base will politically allow them to bench Jeter. Which so long as his BA is above-average for a shortstop, won't take place.

Nov 09, 2010 08:21 AM
rating: 2

That's why GMs run teams, the fans dont. No way do the Yanks stop selling out if they refuse to give in to Jeter's exorbitant demands, and instead make the playoffs by spending the 20 mil on crawford, Izturis, and a reliever.

Nov 09, 2010 17:26 PM
rating: 1

If the old Barry Larkin could prevent the young Pokey Reese from playing SS, Derek Jeter could prevent any youngster except Ozzie Smith.

Nov 09, 2010 08:48 AM
rating: 2

BP has predicted doom for Jeter on several occasions, and this dates back more than a few years.

If there's one thing I've learned about Jeter, it's that he should not be underestimated. By all accounts, he's an extremely well-prepared and hardworking ballplayer, and I'll bet you he bounces back to something closer to his 2007 or 2009 level with the bat next year.

Of course, he's unlikely to be worth what the Yankees pay him in 2012/13 and beyond, but it seems to me that talk of his demise with the bat is probably premature.

Nov 09, 2010 10:05 AM
rating: 0

Assuming that BP actually has predicted doom for Jeter, they've been spot on in two of the past three seasons: a significant decline in 2008 and again in 2010. Why are those seasons less relevant than 2007 and 2009?

Nov 09, 2010 18:03 PM
rating: 3

Thanks for another excellent article, Colin. The simple fact is that the team doesn't have a 'Plan B', so 'Plan A' is going to be 'overpay him.'

The yankees will be lucky if he signs for 3 years, $42m, with a 4th year as a player/bench coach who they can trot out there to tip his cap and make nice with the press.

In the meantime, they better get cracking on "Plan B."

Nov 09, 2010 11:15 AM
rating: 1
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

I don't know if that's lucky for them. I mean, on one hand, I'm not sure he's worth that.

And, see, I doubt anyone else will pay him that. It's weird in that the Yankees seem to be the entire market for Jeter - they can set the market price for Jeter pretty much wherever they care to. Obviously he has a reserve price beneath which he won't play baseball at all, but if the Yankees think that Jeter's not worth that much then they probably shouldn't keep him at all.

So I don't know... I just don't get it. That's probably my fault, not anyone else's. But I don't see what compels the Yankees to offer Jeter a big contract up front and essentially tank their negotiating leverage.

Nov 09, 2010 11:49 AM

Oh, I agree he would not recoup that investment on the field. But I also think he'll expect more than that. And, if they let him walk, then what is Plan B?

You allude to it in your article above. They really don't have another good option here.

So, without any competition for the position, Jeter would not seem to be as powerless as you suggest. And do you really see anyone in the organization having the cojones to explain to their loyal fans that 'the captain' was not worth what he demanded, and the Yankees really can't spend that kind of money on the player they have idolized for the last eleventeen years because he's just not as good as they think. They're quite comfortable, really, with Jeter ending his career as a SS/DH with the Royals. Because, for the 2011 Yankees and beyond, Eduardo Nunez is the answer. Now please line up over here and buy one of these beeeuoootiful Jesus Montero jerseys!

Their best hope to salvage the situation is to convince Jeter just how much of a liability he has become, particularly after 2010. Anything they offer over 1-year league-average with incentives is purely largesse on their part. And if Jeter is man enough to accept that, then I will be impressed.

Nov 09, 2010 12:41 PM
rating: 1
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

In the unlikely event the Yankees decided to let Jeter walk, wouldn't they sign a free-agent shortstop like Hardy, Peralta, etc., rather than turning to an internal option like Nunez?

Nov 09, 2010 12:54 PM
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Neither Hardy nor Peralta are free agents. The former didn't reach the service time requirement thanks to Milwaukee's demoting him last summer, the latter just re-upped with Detroit. Instead you've got this menu of appallingly gamey meat (via http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2009/09/2011-mlb-free-agents.html):

Geoff Blum (38)
Orlando Cabrera (36) - Type B
Juan Castro (39)
Craig Counsell (40)
Bobby Crosby (31)
Adam Everett (34)
Cristian Guzman (33)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (35)
Cesar Izturis (31)
Derek Jeter (37) - Type A
Julio Lugo (35)
Nick Punto (33)
Edgar Renteria (34)
Miguel Tejada (37) - Type A
Juan Uribe (31) - Type B

Nov 09, 2010 15:47 PM
Jay Taylor

I think this makes a good point. Even though Jeter has regressed a bunch, he's still the best shortstop on the market, so he would get more then he is really worth, even if he weren't THE CAPTAIN. The thing is, more then he is worth, and what the Yankees are apparently going to offer him are two very different things.

If I were Casheman, I'd start the offer at 2 years, $20 million and see where things go from there. I bet Jeter would lose a lot of endorsements if hee went to a smaller market, so whatever the Yankees offer him, it will most likely be worth more overall then anything anyone else would offer. The yankkes are a lot more important to Jeter then Jeter is to the Yankees.

Nov 09, 2010 16:49 PM
rating: 1

He's a great fit for them in 2011 and 2012. But it's those age 38 years and beyond that are going to be real dicey. Any way you look at it, in a couple years, he'll be massively overpaid and probably barely above replacement level. If that.

Nov 09, 2010 16:57 PM
rating: 1
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Thanks for the link, Jay. I was going off the list at Cot's Contracts, but I guess it's not up to date or entirely accurate.

Nov 09, 2010 19:06 PM

Easy. Sign Renteria, he's clutch!

Nov 10, 2010 16:18 PM
rating: 0

offer 12m for 2 and let him walk if not accepted.

Nov 09, 2010 11:20 AM
rating: 0
Matt Kory

Yeah, that's definitely going to happen.

Nov 09, 2010 16:29 PM
rating: 1

I don't know if it is really that big a problem for Cashman as every other general manager should be just as aware of Jeter's limitations, and they also are aware of his age. He doesn't have nearly the 'marquee value' for any other team. Also Jeter, whatever is limitations on defense, is a type-A free agent. Any competitor that signs him is going to have to give up a draft pick for an aging shortstop. Given that, I just don't see Jeter getting a big 3 year contract from anybody.

Nov 09, 2010 11:53 AM
rating: 0

OH GOOD GRIEF ... Jeter just got ANOTHER Gold Glove.

sigh ...

Nov 09, 2010 12:47 PM
rating: 11

who the hell votes for those things?

Nov 09, 2010 13:31 PM
rating: 2

Tim McCarver, I'd guess.

Nov 09, 2010 16:01 PM
rating: 5


Nov 09, 2010 13:35 PM
rating: 2

Didn't you know he was the greatest fielding shortstop ever? Come on Diana, get with the times :)

Nov 09, 2010 14:17 PM
rating: -1

Odds that Derek Jeter pulls a Michael Young? Same as the odds that the Yanks can get an Elvis Andrus like wunderkind at SS.
What's that you say? He wouldn't shove over when Alex Rodriguez joined the team. FAIL

Nov 09, 2010 12:54 PM
rating: 0
Drew Miller

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Derek Jeter? Apparently, you give him (yet another undeserved) Gold Glove.

Nov 09, 2010 13:26 PM
rating: 1

Managers and coaches vote for the Gold Glove. I used to work in the Angels clubhouse, they seemed to spend about 90 seconds on the ballots.

Nov 09, 2010 15:35 PM
rating: 2
Matt Kory

I'm surprised its that long.

Nov 09, 2010 16:30 PM
rating: 2

They're probably slow readers. It's certainly not deliberation time.

Nov 09, 2010 17:19 PM
rating: 3

I've always been a believer in the Branch Rickey philosophy that it is better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late. While Jeter is not getting traded, the analogy fits in that the Yankees need to decide whether they are going to knowingly sign and overpay Jeter for past performance and for the 'intangibles' he brings to the table, or whether their focus will be on putting the best team possible on the field to maximize their odds at winning another championship. If the Yanks (as I suspect they will) sign Jeter for something in the range of 3 years and $35 to $40 million, then the team is worse off than if they let him go and ride Eduardo Nunez.

Perhaps a better all around approach would be to announce that Jeter and ARod will be sharing 3B and DH duties moving forward. Jeter could still spot start at SS when Nunez needs a rest, and the less taxing defensive position and rest while DHing would not be a bad move in terms of keeping him healthy. This would be a very hard (read: impossible) sell to the casual baseball fan as Jeter is coming off a Gold Glove, underserving though it might be.

I'm not Yankees fan, and certainly no Jeter fan; so I won't be crying when the Yankees overpay for too many years to keep their golden boy. This will just give my Kansas City Royals that edge they have been missing these past few years:)

Nov 09, 2010 18:25 PM
rating: 0

There's the additional problem that you have Posada and Montero, who ideally would split catching and DH duties, especially if recent reports that he'll at least spend some time catching in the MLB next year.

Nov 10, 2010 09:31 AM
rating: 0

Okay, the title of this (fine) article has caused me to have the song "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" stuck in my head for 2 days. This is not good.

Nov 10, 2010 07:58 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

May I suggest singing it to the tune of "Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee" instead?

Nov 10, 2010 08:25 AM
BP staff member John Erhardt
BP staff

I thought it was "Nobody *does it* like Sara Lee," though this strikes me as one of those "excuse me while I kiss this guy" things.

Nov 10, 2010 10:53 AM
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