Yes, I know, with the Cap'n back in pinstripes for the first time this season today, fans of the Bronx Bombers probably think it's heresy of some sort for me to compare Derek Jeter to Ozzie Smith.
And, they may be right. But not in the way they think.
The Wiz ranks ahead of Jeter in WAA, WAA and 162-game win-loss percentage, and the 7-year JAWS ranking for shortstops, for starters. He also ranks higher on positional runs, surprisingly. Of course, he obliterates Jeter on fielding runs. The Cap'n's a -229 while the Wiz is a +154.
Oz had four seasons of 4 WAA or better, to Jeter's 3.
The fielding stats above don't tell the whole story, but another one does.
Jeter started his career below the league average in range factor for shortstops. Ozzie ended his career still above the average.
Ozzie had a bit less doubles power and a fair amount less home run power, tis true, along with lower batting average. The lower scoring era, plus playing in the National League, make his numbers look worse.
But, the fielding flips everything 180 degrees. Not only does it indicate Ozzie's the better shortstop, it says that the Yankees probably never should have had the Cap'n at short in the first place, instead of third base. At the least, they should have bit the bullet on his popularity and looked at moving him over when they got Alex Rodriguez, instead of moving A-Rod.
If we hadn't had his creative flip in the playoff series against the A's, even some fans not totally inclined to sabermetrics probably would have recognized just how bad a defensive shortstop he was.
Now, the $64 question — WHY is Jeter's range factor so bad?
Is he that slow? Or that slow of a first step?
Or, to rack up Gold Gloves, was he trying to preserve his fielding percentage, either consciously or unconsciously?
Now, Jeter fans may say, "But Ozzie played on Astroturf!"
Not so fast, Cochise.
First, his San Diego years were on grass, as were his last few Cardinals years, as old Busch ripped out the turf before he retired.
Second, while turf theoretically gives truer hops, A: That difference isn't that great, with good grass grooming, and B: In the dirt-meets-turf junctions around the bases' sliding bits, hops can be worse on a turf field than a grass one.
Third, while turf can speed up some slow balls enough to allow plays to be made, or to turn force outs into more double plays, it can speed up already-fast hits to give them a better shot at getting through the short/third hole.
And, B-R's Fan ELO Rater agrees with me. The Whiz is at No. 108, while the Cap'n is at 121.