From Rob Neyer:
DEREK JETER IS NOT SUCH A BAD DEFENDER ANYMORE.
That’s right, he’s not. In fact, at the age of 34 (35 in 9 days, don’t forget to send a card), Jeter is putting together his finest defensive season since they’ve been keeping advanced defensive metrics.
Looking at two fielding stats, range runs and UZR, Jeter has improved immensely since 2005, when he contributed to one of the worst defensive teams to ever make the playoffs.
The improvement clearly started last season, when Jeter rededicated himself to defense, employing “exercises designed to improve his lateral quickness and first-step explosiveness.”
So how has Jeter gone from being among the worst defensive shortstops in baseball to a slightly above-average one?
Is it something simple like these exercises he’s doing? His diet? The fact that no one wants to hit the ball on the ground at the new Yankee Stadium?
Normal statistical fluctuation? Dumb luck?
Seriously, nobody would be more thrilled than I were Jeter to finish this season with decent defensive stats. I love to be surprised. But it’s just too early to get worked up over this stuff. I really don’t think it’s the ballpark, or Jeter’s diet. I might be inclined to think he’s benefited from those new exercises, but considering that he’ll turn 35 next week, and he’s been so awful with the glove for so long, I think a healthy dose of skepticism is in order.
Jeter looked a bit better in the field last season, and has continued to show improvement this year. His range up the middle has certainly increased, as balls up the middle that I thought were certain hits off the bat are now being scooped up as Derek ranges far to his left. There are rumblings suggesting that Derek is paying more attention to the scouting reports on hitters, placing him in a better position to make a play and allowing him to lean in the proper direction. He also looks a bit more limber out there, something which may allow him to sustain the improvements as he ages further.
This development is extremely important, as Derek Jeter with decent defense is likely one of the three or four best shortstops in baseball. Recently, there has been plenty of talk about Jeter’s impending free agency and the need for the Yankees to move him to the outfield or let him leave. However, as long as Derek’s offense does not decline rapidly, something that he shows no signs of, his improved defense means that he is likely to be an asset for this club for a number of years. Being that I would be shocked if the Yankees let him go or even move him off shortstop, this development is of vital significance.
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