Derek Jeter has never fared well in advanced defensive statistics, typically ranking somewhere between below average and awful. He also now has five Gold Glove awards and a legion of Yankees fans who’ll swear he’s a great defender, so clearly not everyone cares about defensive statistics.
And that’s fine, but the notion that Jeter, at age 36, was the best defensive shortstop in the American League this season is simply absurd, whether you love defensive statistics, hate defensive statistics, or merely prefer the Ultimate Warrior to Ultimate Zone Rating.
Derek Jeter is a lot of things, including one of the best players of this era and a deserving future Hall of Famer, but he’s not the best defensive shortstop in the American League. He just isn’t. This is as close to a fact as something relatively subjective can get.
As for who was the AL’s best defensive shortstop, Ultimate Zone Rating says Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox and The Fielding Bible electorate agreed. There’s also Cliff Pennington, J.J. Hardy, Cesar Izturis, Elvis Andrus, and … well, the list of shortstops who’re better than Jeter defensively is a long one. And yet Jeter now has more Gold Glove awards than every shortstop in the history of baseball save for Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, Luis Aparicio, and Mark Bellanger. Seriously.
I stopped being shocked or even especially frustrated by the Gold Glove voting somewhere between Rafael Palmeiro winning the award at first base in 1999 despite playing a grand total of 28 games in the field and Jeter winning three in a row from 2004-2006. In fact, at this point I’m far more surprised about this year’s winners at the other eight positions being mostly deserving than I am about Jeter winning yet another completely undeserved award.