There are few players who have as staunch a team of supporters as Derek Jeter. Once or twice a year, a report on defensive statistics gets released and ranks Jeter near the bottom. Almost immediately, those reports are shouted down by a sea of voices eager to stick up for the Yankee captain because he's a winner and because he doesn't care what some egghead statistician says about his abilities.
Michael Walsh is the latest to take up the cause. His article, first seen at Baseball Musings, argues that Jeter's a fine hitter which matters more than being a good fielder, but doesn't stop there. He also looks into Jeter's record to find out how his errors affected runs allowed by the Yankees. Unsurprisingly he finds that they didn't hurt him all that much, which leads to the conclusion that everyone who says he's a bad fielder is just looking for a big name to draw eyes to their work.
In 2008 Jeter made fewer errors than all but one American League shortstop (Gold Glove winner Michael Young). Yuniesky Betancourt made 21 errors and swung a very average stick. I have yet to see one article proclaiming Betancourt the “least effective” defensive player in the game. Perhaps that’s because articles and studies about Yuniesky Betancourt are about as interesting as an Andy Warhol flick. Derek Jeter’s celebrity is enormous. I can’t think of another shortstop in the big leagues that makes commercials and dates movie stars. Is there a better way to get people talking about your study or newspaper article than to discount the abilities of one of the most recognizable athletes on the planet?
Here's the thing, errors are never, ever cited as the reason why Jeter isn't a good fielder. It's his lack of range that gets criticized. The amount of balls that should be outs but become hits is greater than it should be, and that's why people think he's a subpar fielder. Those hits, which don't get charged to Jeter, do a lot more damage than any of his errors because they lead to a lot more runs.
It's hard to figure out what the point of looking at runs scored as a result of errors is in the first place. Would someone who made three errors in an inning in which his pitcher struck out three batters and allowed no runs be considered a good fielder? Only if you're grasping at straws for a way to defend your favorite player.
Because of his age, one must assume that Jeter's range will continue to erode, which will actually help him make even fewer errors going forward. For some people that will mean he's a good fielder, but those people would be wrong.