Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

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In defense of Derek Jeter

 Derek Jeter is easy to pick on. His quick ascent to prominence, amplified by playing for the Yankees, made him a prime target for whose career to be picked apart. And a lot of the criticisms are valid. Even I was very amused when his hall of fame unanimity fell one vote short of becoming a reality. However, people will tend to go way too far when criticizing the hall of fame shortstop.*

The first thing that needs to be addressed is his defense. It is well known that Derek Jeter has the "worst" defensive runs saved total of all time. Defensive runs saved only spans back to 2002, so "all time" is a bit of a stretch, but you get the point. The next logical jump from hearing that statistic is as follows: if he has allowed the most runs on defense of anyone ever, then he must be the worst defensive player ever. This is a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw. That is, it would be a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw if you were an Irish R&B singer whose knowledge of baseball consists of nothing but the notion that scoring runs is good, and that stopping the other team from scoring is bad. You hear that this player is allowing the other team to score more than anyone else, so naturally, he is the worst defensive player. Again, this is a reasonable conclusion to draw if you know very little about the game of baseball. If you're a fan, someone who watches baseball somewhat generally, you should at least question this notion a little.

Who would you rather have at shortstop: Derek Jeter, or David Ortiz? Derek Jeter, or Adam Dunn? Derek Jeter, or Vince Wilfork? You get the point. Vince Wilfork was actually an excellent defensive player, but unfortunately for the Jeter haters, he played a different sport. Adam Dunn and Ortiz are two guys whose careers spanned the post DRS era, and they both had a higher DRS than Jeter, but were obviously inferior defenders. A lot of this might have to do with Ortiz being the Red Sox full-time DH, but Adam Dunn played the outfield for much of his career. The difference is that Dunn played the corner outfield, a significantly less stressful defensive position with a much lower demand for defensive talent. What a lot of people seem to misunderstand about metrics like DRS, UZR, and OAA is that they are position-based. Jeter's -253 career fielding runs (as measured by total zone pre 2002 and DRS post 2002) are relative to the league average shortstop. The league average shortstop is an excellent defensive player. Jeter was a really bad defensive shortstop, but he was not a terrible defensive baseball player. People used to understand this a lot better, but I think that a fundamental misunderstanding of modern day analytics has lead to some misrepresentation of the game. 

This article is unfinished.

*Around the middle of 2021, I saw someone compare Derek Jeter to Keston Hiura. Keep in mind that this was just some prick on twitter, but I'm sure people have similar ideas about him. 

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