CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article On the Beat: Slow-Mo W... (02/04)
Next Article >>
Prospectus Hit and Run... (02/04)

February 4, 2009

Captain, Oh Captain

Prestige, D, and Derek Jeter

by Christina Kahrl

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

One area in which the present really shouldn't compare poorly with the past is in legend-making. However much how the story gets told might be different, we still have heroes on the diamond whose reputations transcend what they do and how well. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the case of "The Captain," obvious Yankee great Derek Jeter, future Hall of Famer.

A long-running debate over Jeter's virtues as a defender has been a basic touchstone of the sabermetric landscape for almost as long as Jeter has been a major leaguer, and assessments of his value with the glove mark one of the most startlingly specific divisions between analysts and scouts, between performance and anecdotal observation, between documented statistical evidence and reputation. In his prime, the argument was relatively pointless, as Jeter's tremendous position-relative value helped power the last Yankees dynasty. When Jeter was able to provide a Wins Above Replacement mark of 6.9-a mark that includes his defense-as recently as 2006, the debate was puerile, if not downright academic. Ask any GM if he'd like a seven-win player at shortstop, and he'll say yes. Players this good, statistically or in the flesh, don't grow on trees.

However, with Jeter's WARP down to 3.5 in 2007 and 2.5 last season, and with his overall offensive contributions coming down from MVP-worthy to "merely" very good, especially in the power department, we start getting into questions over whether or not his recent decline as a defender might really re-spark the question of whether or not Jeter really belongs at short, or if the Yankees might not be better off putting him at another position. While the arguments over how descriptive and effective different contemporary defensive metrics are rage for good reason, their near unanimity on The Captain's limitations should be damning. Clay Davenport's new play-by-play metric that debuts in this year's edition of the BP annual sees Jeter's work with leather costing the Yankees 18 runs in 2007, and another 12 in 2008. John Dewan's Plus/Minus system from the Bill James Handbook rates Jeter the worst shortstop in total Plus/Minus of the last three years. Other metrics have seen his fielding value move around a bit, but what they have to say about Jeter's leather work is rarely complimentary. On a scouting level, as strong-armed as he is, his range afield has become an obvious issue, just as it did for Cal Ripken in his mid-30s.

The problem with suggesting such a thing, of course, is that playing shortstop for the Yankees has become a thing of celebrity unimagined in the days of Alvaro Espinoza or Bucky Dent or Gene Michael, and that's because Jeter has been so good for so long that there shouldn't be any question that he's the best shortstop in the history of the franchise. This association of a high-profile player-indeed, a celebrity ballplayer in his own right-with his position is seen as a major factor militating against even suggesting that Jeter move to some other spot on the field.

Where this over-developed sense of some slight being associated with recognizing the obvious and moving a great player to another position came from, I don't know. The recent controversy over the Rangers asking Gold Glove winner Michael Young to move from short to third in camp this spring makes it clear that players of lesser stature than Jeter can, after all, be asked by their teams to do something that fits within the ballclub's long-term planning. If prestige associated with position is the problem, since when did playing center field for the Yankees become an indignity? What, Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio or Bernie Williams were nobodies playing nowhere? Perhaps only until very recently, center field in the Big Apple used to be baseball's highest high-profile piece of real estate, going back for generations.

There was a point in time when Robin Yount was every bit the signature franchise player for the Brewers that Jeter is for the Yankees today, a winner of the AL MVP Award in 1982, and one of the game's trinity of great shortstops of that period, along with Ripken and the Tigers' Alan Trammell. By 1985, however, persistent shoulder problems forced Milwaukee to start thinking in terms of moving Yount to the outfield, and by the age of 30, he'd settled in as their center fielder, filling a position at which the team had an obvious need. (Skip rhyme schemes, there's a reason why nobody's singing songs about where Paul Householder has gone.) This wasn't the downslope of the man's career or a case of his being put out to a figurative pasture as well as a literal one, as Yount won another AL MVP Award in 1989.

There are risks, of course. There's the cautionary tale of the Brewers' attempted shift of infielder Bill Hall to center in 2007, which inspired them to go get Mike Cameron (a name that coincidentally seems to come up a lot as a proposed short-term solution for the Yankees' problem in center). Also, asking a player in his age-35 season to move from shortstop to center very obviously isn't like the storied switch of Mickey Mantle as a teenager in the minors, or even Bobby Murcer's move from short to the outfield in the late '60s. But maybe just framing the proposition within the context of those switches and their place in Yankees history might help engender some acceptance of a move certain to elicit months of howling on sports radio or on sports pages. (If fear of that howling is a factor in not making a change, that would be an unfortunate abdication of responsibility from the people paid to make these kinds of calls.)

Obviously, getting Jeter's buy-in is a real-world problem for a team with a real-world need for a center fielder, because the margins are too thin in the tough AL East for the Yankees to really rely on the wrong Cabrera in the lineup. Crying over last year's spilled Melky won't help you catch up to the Rays and Red Sox, but signing Orlando Cabrera, providing the team with a useful-enough hitter and a slick-fielding asset at short could make a small but important difference to a bad defensive ballclub. Last season's Yankees ranked 25th in the major leagues in Defensive Efficiency (their ability to convert balls in play into outs) and Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, and no positions see more chances than the middle infield.

Swapping Jeter out at short to address the team's need for a center fielder would be the sort of win/win move that can let the Yankees return to the top of the standings while breaking in their new stadium, and it does nothing to damage the Captain's place in franchise history. If Yount or Ripken, MVP winners and top stars in their day, could agree to help their teams and themselves to make these switches, you need to ask yourself why Jeter should be any different, especially when the need has gone from debatable to obvious.

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

Related Content:  Position Switches

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

BP Comment Quick Links

dianagram

Great article Christina (as usual).

In the "timing is everything" category, I think if "Mr. Torre" were still manager, and was somehow convinced that the time had come to move Jeter to CF, that Jeter would do it without hesitation.

Now .... with Mr. Torre gone, I don't know if Jeter would oblige so easily.

Feb 04, 2009 09:44 AM
rating: -1
 
awayish

somehow convinced, you mean somehow overpowered?

Feb 04, 2009 10:15 AM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

Forgot to mention one thing ...

With the addition of strikeout pitchers Sabathia and Burnett, Jeter's D deficiencies will be obviated slightly.

Feb 04, 2009 09:51 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Diana, that's an excellent point as far as strikeout-oriented pitching, but it's also something that I think shouldn't necessarily dictate the Yankees' long-term decision-making. Jeter's still a useful hitter, and could be for years to come, but it would be a bit strange to operate as if he's never going to play anywhere but shortstop forever after. I guess I see Orlando Cabrera as potentially being to the Yankees what Mike Bordick was for the Orioles in terms of getting Cal Ripken off of short in the '90s. Not to mention there would be some historical irony, with O-Cab replacing first Nomar in Boston and then the Captain in the Bronx.

Feb 04, 2009 10:05 AM
 
dianagram

I concur Christina. I'm not suggesting that moving Jeter off of SS isn't necessary, only that its not going to be as big an issue in 2009 as it would have otherwise been had the Yanks signed guys like Derek Lowe and Randy Wolf.

If I remember the fielding metrics, Jeter is good going back on pop-ups and on foul balls. One "could" extrapolate that and say he could gauge flyballs to the OF (though diving for balls in the CF/RF gap may be an issue) :-)

Feb 04, 2009 10:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Rob_in_CT

Here's what I don't get:

Why should we believe that Derek Jeter, at his current age, would be a decent CFer? I buy that O. Cabrera at SS + Jeter with ok defense in CF > Jeter at SS + Belky (Brett Gardner/Melky Cabrera) in CF. But I'm not at all sure Jeter would play a good CF.

This is a pipedream anyway. Jeter is in some ways DiMaggio reborn. His pride would get in the way. Even if you could convince him that, despite his hard work, he's not a good defensive SS, you also have to convince him to stick himself out there in CF and endure the inevitable embarrassment of the adjustment period. Remember the Melky-assisted inside the park HR by Trot Nixon? Now imagine the CFer isn't a 20-year old rookie, but Derek Jeter. Oh, the humanity.

Feb 04, 2009 10:02 AM
rating: 2
 
dcarroll

I appreciate the historical perspective. My recollection was that Yount's move to CF was not a controversial issue, although the condition of his shoulder may have made it moot. And even Mantle himself moved to 1B at the end of his career. If a captain is not willing to make a move to improve his team, why is he the captain?

Feb 04, 2009 10:05 AM
rating: 2
 
Richie

Yount's shoulder did make it moot.

Feb 04, 2009 11:43 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Yep. But it also didn't change how people saw Yount as a star-caliber talent--he was still *the* Brewer. Besides Bernie, of course.

Feb 04, 2009 12:11 PM
 
Richie

Like anyone could've wrenched that title out of the mitts of George "The Boomer" Scott! And you call yourself a historian. Pshaw!

Feb 04, 2009 16:02 PM
rating: 1
 
Richie

And weren't Mantle's knees trashed by '68, his last year? Such that moving to 1B sounded like a great idea to him, too?

Feb 04, 2009 16:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Al Skorupa

So? Jeter has terminal PRS - Poor range syndrome.

If youre saying the Mantle and Yount were obvious candidates to move because of health issues - well, that's not really any different from where Jeter is.

Feb 04, 2009 20:12 PM
rating: 0
 
J Scott

The "players of lesser stature" thing is completely reversed. The lesser the stature the player, the more "telling" and the less "asking" is done. It's Jeter's elevated stature which makes this such a difficult thing to do. The move to CF is years too late. Now, with Spring Training at hand, the opportunity to move Jeter off SS for 2009 is gone. The time to do this is about a week after the season, so everybody involved has plenty of time to prepare. Jeter can go to Winter Ball or spend how ever much time in the Yankees' Tampa complex he thinks he needs to prepare. Yes, I think the Yankees need to get Jeter away from SS, but this isn't the way to go about it.
Oh yeah, one more thing, the time to do this was the day they got ARod. "Uncle" Joe and Cashman should have gotten together with Jeter and TOLD him that SS was ARod's and Jeter would get his pick of whatever other position (preferably CF) he wanted. And, then they could all come out smiling to meet the press and announce that it was all Derek's idea "For the good of the team."

Feb 04, 2009 10:08 AM
rating: 3
 
Rob_in_CT

I agree it's too late to do this for this season. Regarding ARod... I tend to think he wasn't the good defensive SS lots of people thought he was.

If we're going back in time, the right thing for the Yanks to do was to sign Carlos Beltran to play CF.

Feb 04, 2009 10:16 AM
rating: 1
 
Evan
(47)

At the time, A-Rod was a very good shortstop. He was certainly better than Jeter.

Jeter's tools should translate well to CF. He has a strong arm and good speed. He does not have a good first step, and he struggles mightily to move to his left. The things that have made Jeter the worst shortstop in baseball (Bill James makes a decent argument that he's the worst shortstop in baseball history) aren't that relevant to play in CF.

This should have been done as soon as Bernie Williams was no longer able to field the position well.

Feb 04, 2009 10:30 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Have to agree Evan, in an ideal world where such a switch could be talked about seriously by the people who can make this sort of thing happen, it would have been lovely to have done this a couple of years ago. I also see things as you do: that Jeter's athleticism would serve him pretty well, and his strong arm would be a flat-out asset. Add in what I think everyone accepts is a tremendous gift in terms of on-field instinct (laments the still-bitter A's fan), and I don't see why he couldn't be a good center fielder, let alone just a guy standing out there.

Feb 04, 2009 12:04 PM
 
Rob_in_CT

Assets: good speed, good arm, heads-up play.
Liabilities: poor first step, zero experience at the position.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not particularly excited about watching more groundballs get pastadivingJeter, nor am I amped up to watch plate appearances by Melky Cabrera and/or Brett Gardner (though PAs from the 34-yr old OC might not be much fun either). I'm just not convinced that the odds of Jeter in CF + OC at SS > Jeter at SS + Gardner in CF are worth the risks involved. One big questionmark is Gardner's defense. In a small sample, his UZR last season was eye-popping. His rep is good, so even if you are skeptical about his work last season, he's gotta project as an above-average defender. If he's not... well then the gambit makes much more sense.

Feb 04, 2009 13:35 PM
rating: 0
 
Patrick M

"the time to do this was the day they got ARod"

Right on! ARod was still one of the better SS goves in the game, Jeter was very clearly inferior at SS, and even if he were slightly below average in CF he would have been leaps and bounds better than Bernie Williams. The Yanks could have gotten significant defensive upgrades at two key up the middle positions. And it would have had the pleasant side effect of maybe nudging Bernie Williams into honorable retirement sooner.

Feb 04, 2009 12:13 PM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

The one downside to signing Tex was that it takes 1B away from the passel of declining Yankees defenders. The Yanks could have spent the money elsewhere, let Posada play 1B this year and next, then move Jeter there afterwards.

Feb 04, 2009 10:23 AM
rating: 0
 
teddyballgame
(166)

A co-worker told me that there is a cap on the number of Type-A free agents a team can sign in one off-season. Is this true? And what is the cap?

Feb 04, 2009 10:25 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

It's scaled to the supply of free agents; although it's been reported differently at different times, my understanding of the rule is that the Yankees should still be free to add another free agent if they so chose because it was a big free-agent class this year.

Feb 04, 2009 10:40 AM
 
chasingboston

The Commissioner waived this rule for this offseason.

jeter will enver move to CF. He should have moved to 2b when the yankees dealt for A-Rod, if he didn't move then, no way does he move now. The Captain is also Captain Ego.

Feb 04, 2009 12:50 PM
rating: 0
 
JayhawkBill

I believe that the rule on Type A and Type B free agent signing quotas by team is found on page 74 of the 2007-2011 Basic Agreement, Article XX B.(5), and the Commissioner shouldn't be able to waive any aspect of the league's agreement with the MLBPA without the union's concurrence. If Bud Selig has, indeed, waived this, I'd be eager to read more about it.

Feb 04, 2009 18:19 PM
rating: 0
 
tomterp

Can you conceive of any possible reason the union might oppose relaxation of a rule that expands the marketplace for players?

Feb 05, 2009 06:45 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

You should find this article a bit helpful:

http://www.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090130&content_id=3785640&vkey=hotstove2008&fext=.jsp

Feb 05, 2009 08:05 AM
 
JayhawkBill

Christina, thanks. The article isn't particularly clear in two areas: first, it appears (at least to me) that the 216 free agent figure combines players eligible for free agency because of all Sections of Article XX, whereas the limit on Type A and Type B signings is based upon Section B free agency only; second, it says that an exception was granted, but it doesn't specify whether the exception was given by MLB and not challenged by the MLBPA, or if it was negotiated with MLBPA leadership and made with full concurrence of both parties.

Tomterp, the only reason I see for the MLBPA to oppose unilateral action by MLB on this issue would be to prevent the established past practice of the Commissioner's being able to unilaterally modify the negotiated labor agreement...but that's a huge reason to grieve the action. If the Commissioner were to be allowed (or has been allowed) to unilaterally waive any part of Section XX, next time the waiver could hypothetically be a waiver of player free agency rights at six years, done, for instance, to limit payroll expense for MLB during a time of sagging revenues. Normally labor unions guard the right to modify any negotiated agreement very carefully, and I'd be surprised if this were a unilateral, unchallenged waiver by the Commissioner.

Feb 06, 2009 07:49 AM
rating: 0
 
Nick Smith

If the Yankees were going to do this, they should have signed Furcal at the beginning of the offseason. You don't move a Hall of Fame shortstop for a 34 year old who had a .705 OPS last year. There's also a decent chance Jeter would pull a Biggio and be even worse in the outfield.

Feb 04, 2009 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
ClubberLang

Cabrera's glove is very, very valuable. He's had WARP over 6 the last two years largely because of his glove. And on FanGraphs, Cabrera and Jeter have had basically the same Value Wins the last couple of years because again, Cabrera's glove is outstanding.

The White Sox will sorely miss his glove (though they won't miss him in the clubhouse, and Cabrera I'm sure would say the feeling's mutual).

Feb 05, 2009 12:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Jared Cross
(694)

I dont think anyone is giving Jeter enough credit here, as the article states, he still had a 2.5 WARP last season, in, arguably, the worst season of his career. The reason this number was still reasonably high, despite Jeter's (for him) very pedestrian splits of .300/.363/.408, is that he plays the most demanding defensive postition on the field. If Jeter had those same stats as a center fielder they would lose all of their value and be grossly subpar. For this reason, I believe this potential move is a bad idea, Jeter's offensive numbers at short more than make up for the -12 runs he costs them per year on defense

Feb 04, 2009 20:38 PM
rating: -1
 
Patrick

By your logic, his numbers would then be better at the less-demanding position (CF) and wouldn't have that particular .300/.363/.408 line.

Feb 04, 2009 21:42 PM
rating: 0
 
jlefty

False. You misunderstood him to mean "the reason Jeter's line was so low was because of the demanding position he plays." What he actually said was quite different. The reason Jeter's WARP was still relatively high is that he put up a .300/.363/.408 line at the most demanding position. Had he put up that same line at anyother position and he loses WARP points. Add in the fact that he's probably capable of a better line than that (lowered his K rate, better BB/K, and career relative low BABIP (granted he had a slight decline in LD%, but that and his career worst FB/HR% might be attributed to being hit in the wrist by a d-cab fastball).

Feb 05, 2009 07:20 AM
rating: 0
 
Patrick

You're right, I did read that wrong. Thanks for the catch.

Feb 05, 2009 10:17 AM
rating: 1
 
husier
(90)

I've been suggesting a move of Jeter to CF for several years now. I think the move is long overdue.

Feb 05, 2009 11:20 AM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article On the Beat: Slow-Mo W... (02/04)
Next Article >>
Prospectus Hit and Run... (02/04)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Done Zo
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of April 24-26, 2...
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: Monday, April 27
Fantasy Article The Buyer's Guide: Jimmy Nelson
Pebble Hunting: Scott Boras Has Baseball's M...
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: The Worst Holes On Contenders
Premium Article Monday Morning Ten Pack: April 27, 2015

MORE FROM FEBRUARY 4, 2009
Premium Article Future Shock: Indians Top 11 Prospects
Premium Article Triple Fix
Premium Article Prospectus Today: The 31st Team
Prospectus Hit and Run: Outside Help, NL Eas...
Premium Article On the Beat: Slow-Mo Wheeling Dealing

MORE BY CHRISTINA KAHRL
2009-02-13 - Premium Article Rays of Sunshine?
2009-02-12 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Price Check on Slugger...
2009-02-10 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: All the Moves
2009-02-04 - Premium Article Captain, Oh Captain
2009-02-03 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: Roster Oddments
2009-01-30 - Premium Article Transaction Analysis: NL East Roundup
2009-01-29 - Premium Article Transaction of the Day: Heilman-a-Go-Go
More...