Derek Jeter? I have no reason to like him, and I have no reason to dislike him. I'm not a Yankee fan by any means, but I'm not a Yankee hater either. What I am is a baseball fan.
I also pride myself on being non-partisan when it comes to evaluating, comparing, and ranking players. I believe statistics can tell us a lot about a player's value, but I don't subscribe to the theory that numbers can tell us everything.
Look, I'm not here to make excuses for Derek Jeter. His numbers stack up with the very best shortstops in the game today, and he is on pace to rack up career totals that will likely place him among the top ten at his position in almost every important category by the time he retires.
You want numbers? OK, try this on for size. Jeter was one of just four players this year to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases at a success rate of 85% or better. (Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltran, and teammate Alex Rodriguez were the others.) Only 36 players in the history of baseball have put together such a combination of stats in a single season. Moreover, there are just eight players who can say they have performed this feat more than once.
Derek Sanderson Jeter is one of those elite eight. The others? How 'bout Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Rickey Henderson, Bobby Bonds, Eric Davis, Kirk Gibson, and Carlos Beltran. Not a bad list by any means, huh? However, did you notice something? Of the eight players, all but one was an outfielder. The lone exception? That *$%^!@# overrated Yankee shortstop!
I realize Jeter's defense doesn't measure up to his offensive production. But I don't think it is quite as bad as his harshest critics in the sabermetric community would lead you to believe. Yes, he has a slow first step when moving to his left and, as such, covers less ground than the average shortstop. But he is also athletic and posseses a strong arm, and this combination makes up for some of his deficiencies. I think what annoys the studious fan is the fact that Jeter has a habit of making easy plays hard and hard plays easy.
Jeter dives into the stands and catches foul balls and gets criticized. He catches pop flies over his head with his back to the infield and on the run and gets criticized. He sprints across the diamond, cuts off an errant throw, and tosses it to the catcher to nail a runner trying to score at a critical moment in a postseason game and his critics point to his low UZR.
On Wednesday, Jeter tags up from third and scores the winning run on a shallow line drive to right field in a situation in which at least half of the players in the majors would not have had the sense, the guts, or the speed to not only challenge the throw but to beat it. Where does that heads up play show up in the alphabet soup of stats?
The guy is a winner. He plays hard. He plays everyday. He has great instincts and smarts. He is well-liked by his teammates and respected by his opponents.
Finding fault in Jeter's game is similar to finding fault with Ichiro Suzuki. Jeter can't field and Suzuki can't hit for power. Don't mind the fact that Derek can hit for average, hit for power, and steal bases. Forget the fact that Ichiro can hit for a very high average, steal bases, and field and throw with the best of them. Let's concentrate on what they can't do rather than what they can do. It's kind of like looking at the Mona Lisa and questioning the slight smile rather than the overall beauty and elegance of the portrait.