Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports suggests that Jimmy Rollins should play shortstop over Captain Derek Jeter, Lord of Grit and Hustle and Fiery Emotion and Unspoken Leadership. You know that’s a logical suggestion based on objective evidence. Team USA manager Davey Johnson apparently thought the two were defensive equals.
For last night’s game between the United States and Puerto Rico, Johnson put Jeter at shortstop and Rollins at DH.
Yeah. We all know Jeter’s defense isn’t as good as Rollins’ and they’re about the same offensively at this point in time. But just how much better is Rollins’ defense? Over the last seven seasons, almost 80 in UZR/150 according to FanGraphs.
That’s an average of over 11 more plays per 150 opportunities that Rollins makes compared to Jeter.
Wouldn’t you know it, Jeter’s defense became an issue not once, but twice during last night’s game against Puerto Rico.
In the sixth inning, Puerto Rico had runners on first and second, trailing 3-2. If Jeter had knocked down Alex Rios’ grounder through the middle, he perhaps could have prevented the tying run from scoring. Instead, Rios wound up with an RBI single.
“That was a slider,” Jeter said, referring to the pitch by right- hander Heath Bell to Rios, a right-handed hitter. “He usually pulls sliders. I’ve played against him enough. He usually gets out in front of sliders in that situation.”
In the ninth, with Puerto Rico leading, 4-3, Ramon Vazquez batted against right-hander Jonathan Broxton with one out and Rios on second. Jeter got his glove on Vazquez’s grounder up the middle, but the ball squirted out into center field, enabling Rios to score.
Jeter did not count on Vazquez, a left-handed hitter, getting around on Broxton’s fastball.
“I was just trying to knock it down,” Jeter said. “The bottom line in that situation is that Broxton throws so hard, you can’t shade him up the middle. He can hit the ball the other way, so you’ve gotta play straight up.”
Sounds like someone’s in denial. Rosenthal goes on to say that you don’t want to embarrass Jeter by making it obvious he’s riding the pine due to lack of skill, but it’s not exactly a secret that Jeter’s defense has significantly brought down his value and subsequently his teams’ chances to win over the years.
I’m among the first to criticize the WBC as poorly timed and executed, and for being relatively meaningless to the United States as well as many Major Leaguers playing for their native countries. However, these are competitive baseball games and it wouldn’t be fair to the paying customers to put a product on the field you know is inferior. It puts into question the integrity of the game.
If we wanted to stroke egos, we’d put Cal Ripken, Jr., Tony Gwynn, Greg Maddux, and Dan Plesac on the Team USA roster, and screw competitive integrity, right?
At least at the next WBC, it won’t be nearly as hard to completely leave Jeter off the roster in favor of J.J. Hardy. Of course, that assumes anyone still cares about the WBC when 2013 rolls around. It will be fun to weigh which of Jeter or the WBC is more irrelevant.