Say what? Jeter not so bad at defense

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I hope you’re sitting down for this, because I’m going to share a notion that might shock you right out of your Snuggie.

No, it’s not that Jose Canseco is suing MLB. Or that Congress is now setting its sights on Sammy Sosa. Those two nuggets wouldn’t even surprise this guy.

No, what I’m going to point out is so shocking, you might question everything you thought you knew about baseball:

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.

Here is how Jeter’s numbers stack up since that season:

Range runs (Number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls in his vicinity)

2005: -17.1
2006: -7.1
2007: -16.0
2008: -3.2
2009 (through 60 games): 0.6

Ultimate zone rating
(Number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs,
outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined)

2005: -14.3
2006: -6.8
2007: -15.3
2008: -0.5
2009 (through 60 games): 1.6

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?

I wonder what Jerod Morris thinks? That last one was a joke, folks.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.