Derek Jeter's defensive skills has been a bone of contention for some time. Memories of his amazing play against Oakland in the 2001 ALDS and his jumping throws from the outfield grass have some convinced he's a brilliant defensive shortstop. Just about every statistical analysis, however, marks Jeter as a subpar fielder who does the team more harm than good. It's no surprise, then, that the annual Fielding Bible awards ranked him 22nd among all big league shortstops.
Jeter mustered just one tenth place vote in this year's voting. Baseball Info Solutions, a group that uses video analysis of every batted ball to determine fielding prowess, has called Jeter "probably the least effective defensive player in the major leagues, at any position." For years, Jeter's bat made up for his shortcomings with the glove, but this year's offensive slippage makes Jeter look much worse when taken as a whole.
He's not alone in the Yankee lineup when it comes to defensive issues. Jose Molina was the only Yankee to rank in the top five at any position, a fact that is often ignored when discussing the flaws of the Yankee team. They're not good defensively, which narrows the pitching staff's margin for error and magnifies any problems scoring runs. You don't hear much discussion about improving the defense this season, though, just CC Sabathia this and CC Sabathia that.
If you need an example of a team that focused on this area, look no further than the last two American League champions. The Rays went from 14th to 2nd in the AL in runs allowed, a number that's due to both better pitching and much improved defense thanks to the arrival of Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett. In Boston, meanwhile, Theo Epstein has used these sophisticated systems, mocked often by members of the Yankee front office, to improve the Red Sox defense.
To their detriment, the Yankees will likely never seriously consider moving Jeter off shortstop or avoiding big names for lesser lights who could pay big dividends to the team's fortunes. That's why they probably won't be any better than the third choice in the AL East to start next season.