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Derek Jeter: full time outfielder? Never gonna happen

Jan 25, 2011, 1:41 PM EDT

Derek Jeter smiling

This morning, at Brian Cashman’s little press availability, the Yankees general manager said that he envisioned Derek Jeter moving off shortstop and into the outfield before his new contract is up after the 2014 season.

It’s not a ridiculous thing to say at this point in time because (a) Jeter is unlikely to be able to stick at shortstop forever and no one would buy it if Cashman said he could; and (b) it’s not like Cashman can say today that Jeter’s going to be released when he can’t handle short anymore.

He also can’t say that Jeter is going to DH, because that would probably cause Jeter’s 2011 ego to be bruised. He can’t say Jeter’s going to third because A-Rod is still there and doing so would imply that A-Rod is the DH, which would cause A-Rod’s 2011 ego to be bruised.  From a public relations perspective at least saying — on this day — that the outfield is in Jeter’s future is probably the only option Cashman had.

But can it actually be done? Can Derek Jeter make the move from shortstop to a full time job in the outfield?

I’ll say this much: Jeter has become a substandard defensive shortstop, but he is still very good — at least to my naked eye — at getting popups and flies to shallow center or left field.  I don’t know if any defensive metric bears this out — he may suck at it actually — but he at least appears very comfortable doing it.  He doesn’t do all kinds of quick shuffle steps like he’s afraid of falling off a cliff. He seems to glide to those kinds of balls relatively effortlessly. That, combined with what seems like what is still a pretty good arm means that we can at least begin the conversation of him being an outfielder.

But let’s be clear about something: if Derek Jeter becomes a regular outfielder, it will be a move that is unprecedented in baseball history. Derek Jeter is entering his age 37 season. Between 1901 and 2010, there have been:

  • Exactly 16 players who have played as many as 100 games at shortstop and 100 games in left field.  None of them did both after the age of 35;
  • Exactly 17 players who have played as many as 100 games at shortstop and 100 games in center field. None of them did both after the age of 35;
  • Exactly 17 players who have played as many as 100 games at shortstop and 100 games in right field. None of them did both after the age of 35.

Maybe Jeter could be a utility guy who can cover the outfield from time to time, but there is no precedent whatsoever for a guy his age moving from the everyday shortstop position to an everyday position in the outfield. And no, Robin Yount — everyone’s favorite go-to guy on this subject — didn’t do it either. His last game at shortstop came when he was 28. Past the age of 30 he was an outfielder/DH with some occasional starts at first.

And that’s before you factor in Jeter’s bat, which unless he bounces back to 2009 form and stays there for the next four years, will not be stout enough to justify a position in the outfield.

Nice try Cashman, but I’m not buying what you’re selling. Jeter will be the shortstop until that’s no longer tenable, but after that he has time at third base, first base, DH, the bench or the unemployment line in his future.  To say otherwise is to predict that history will be made. And that’s not a safe thing to do even with a ballplayer as spectacular as Derek Jeter.

  1. jh0088 - Jan 25, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    Sorry, but Jeter may be able to glide to a pop up over his shoulder but that is vastly different than covering forty yards on a dead sprint and diving for a line drive in the gap. Never happen.

  2. BC - Jan 25, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    Robin Yount didn’t do it?

  3. Craig Calcaterra - Jan 25, 2011 at 1:50 PM

    Yount’s last game as a shortstop came when he was 28. He was an OF/DH past the age of 30.

    • BC - Jan 25, 2011 at 1:57 PM

      Wow. I thought he was a lot older than that when he made the switch.

      • Joe - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:15 PM

        He was a rookie at age 18.

  4. rbabaseball - Jan 25, 2011 at 1:52 PM

    If Jeter has “become a substandard shortstop,” the only change that has occurred (to wit, the “becoming”) is a change from awful to substandard. Many metrics show that he is actually better now than he was when he was younger, when he was consistently the worst shortstop in the league. His 2005-2007 UZR is cover-your-eyes atrocious. He has actually become half-decent in the past three seasons.

    • spudchukar - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:08 PM

      Does anyone actually believe Jeter has suddenly become a better defensive SS in the past 3 years, than he was the 3 before? All this illustrates are the deficiencies in the metrics used. If a 37-year old pitcher suddenly began throwing 5 MPH faster, I wouldn’t champion his new found heat, I’d check the gun.

      • rbabaseball - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:16 PM

        Defense is as much about instinct and experience as speed. Jeter was always fast, maybe one of the fastest baserunners in the league when he was younger, but he was consistently rated as a bad defender. He couldn’t get to balls up the middle to save his life. If his speed then didn’t correlate with this defensive rating, there is no reason to think that any lost steps (and he still appears to be in great shape and almost as fast a runner as he was anyway) would detract from it. Rather, it’s more persuasive to think that he has worked at improving it and has benefited from all of the repetitions he has received there over the years. I always thought he gave up much of his range because he cheated toward the hole (perhaps to enable his little jump-throw play), so he might have corrected for this.

        Of course, it could be inconsistencies in the data as well, but I don’t think there’s any reason to ascribe it to that over anything else.

      • Kevin S. - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:19 PM

        Actually, people do believe it – Jeter is nothing if not a hyper-competitive sonofabitch, Jordan-esque in that manner. Whether he heard the criticisms of his fielding or, in a bout of introspection, realized his own defensive shortcomings, began working hardcore on improving his lateral movement in an effort to increase his substandard range. People began noticing it, right around the time his UZR upticked. In fact, when Pete Abraham was still at LoHud, he talked about Jeter’s improved defense and mocked the fact that UZR said he was bad, not realizing that UZR actually picked up on the same improvement his eyes did.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jan 25, 2011 at 3:34 PM

        Remember last year when Jason Bay was the worst defender in baseball, and then suddenly they tweaked this and that and he was above average? Defensive metrics, much like science of the middle ages, proves that we know some stuff, but we don’t know it all.

        Science was certain the world was flat right up until it was certain that the world was round.

      • spudchukar - Jan 25, 2011 at 6:14 PM

        First off, Jeter did not just suddenly gain wisdom. That is pure poppycock. He has always been a bright, instinctive player. Secondly, even if it is true he worked hard to improve his defense, the change could only be minimal. Thirdly, if he played too much in the hole, by the metrics used by UZR, that would offset his lack of range up the middle. Fourthly, nobody is improving their range after 35. And lastly, the emphasis on the metric criticism was the about face. An aging shortstop cannot go from one year being pretty lousy, to suddenly the next year be above average.
        This is a common sense issue. For all the wonderful things Sabermetrics has taught us, the Defense category still needs a lot of work. The stark fluctuations defy reason.

      • Kevin S. - Jan 25, 2011 at 9:38 PM

        And I’m just saying, in response to your question about whether or not people actually believe that Jeter became a better defensive shortstop, that people saw an improvement, we knew that Jeter was working on it, and it mirrored the uptick. It’s certainly possible that everybody was wrong, but there are multiple evidence points supporting them.

      • JBerardi - Jan 25, 2011 at 10:01 PM

        “Science was certain the world was flat right up until it was certain that the world was round.”

        And by gum, one of these days they’ll declare it flat again!

        Seriously though, that’s not even close to being an accurate statement.

      • cktai - Jan 26, 2011 at 3:17 AM

        “Science was certain the world was flat right up until it was certain that the world was round.”

  5. Detroit Michael - Jan 25, 2011 at 1:54 PM

    Craig, your second and third bulletpoints are identical — you might want to fix that (not that it’s difficult to follow what you intended to write).

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jan 25, 2011 at 1:54 PM

      Thanks — got it. It was both 17 anyway.

  6. yankeesfanlen - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    I know by now that ufy is ramping up his numbers machine. I don’t do things that way particularly. Somehow, watching 162 games (and playoffs) he doesn’t LOOK too bad at short, and perhaps Cano with his speed and accuracy is covering Jeter’s sins.
    Poor Beep-beep. He brought it on himself with a foolish charade over the winter causing Brian by all accounts to have to bring him down to earth.
    So, we’ll see, the Universe is hardly defensively challenged like that team across the river.

  7. dondbaseball - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    Those are straight forward stats but how many outfielders played 100 games past the age of 35, 36 and 37, ignoring if they previously played shortstop? Common sense tells you that MOST shortstops are there for their glove and outfielders are there for their bats so there is a reason the subset of ss/of is virtually nil. Yount played 139 games in CF at age 36 and 114 games in CF at age 37. Bonds played 143, 135, 123, 133, 116 and 110 games beyond the age of 36. While Jeter is not Bonds offensively, he is Robin and he is better defensively at this age and going forward than the ‘roided Bonds was. If and that is a big if, Jeter is producing hits/offense like Pete Rose did during these later years, he could be playing left field the majority of the time while filling in elsewhere. It all depends on offense. I mean what else did you want Cashman to say? You would have criticized anything he said on the subject no matter what as you need to generate dialogue on your blog.

  8. pbannard - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    Here’s why I see this as a legitimate possibility: Jeter is a fairly unique situation – after all, how often is it for a 37 year old shortstop to sign a 3 year contract, with an option for a fourth year? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees “made history” with that very act. The Yankees are pretty much the only team that could afford an overcommitment of this sort, where they are paying someone for being a Yankee legend and New York icon. Almost every other player in Jeter’s current position would not get a long enough contract where moving to the outfield for 100 games would be seriously contemplated. Basically, I think that effectively the sample size for the statistics you use is too small to be relevant in this case.

    • mattraw - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:33 PM

      You also have to account for the fact that the offense-first shortstop is a fairly recent thing in baseball history, so it would make sense that there isn’t much precedent for a career SS to move to the OF. Not many pre-Ripken shortstops would’ve had the bat to start as outfielders in their primes, let alone when they were pushing 40.

  9. 18thstreet - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    He should have moved to center when Bernie WIlliams left. It made perfect sense.

    • yankeesfanlen - Jan 25, 2011 at 2:48 PM

      When Bernie left, Beep-beep was still crowing over the fact that a few years before he retained SS and ARod went to 3rd. He never would have accepted it then, just as this will be a tussle.

  10. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jan 25, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    My question is this: is this Cashman subtly lashing out at ownership for forcing him into offering a contract longer than he wanted?

  11. aarcraft - Jan 25, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Obviously not a shortstop, but isn’t Biggio’s move to CF at 37 at least relevant?

    • dudntmatter - Jan 25, 2011 at 3:50 PM

      If you get specifiic enough, ANYTHING that happens in sports is unprecedented. As far as Jeter’s acheivements and potential move to the outfield, not that special. Even in New York, you should be able to spell B-I-G-G-I-O. Maybe not a shortstop, but C to Middle infield to Centerfield.

      Just saying………………….

      • larrytsg - Jan 25, 2011 at 6:18 PM

        Exactly what I was going to say. Catcher to 2B to CF is about the same as SS to LF. Or maybe more impressive.

        Either way, I think Jeter in LF and a utility fill-in in the infield would be a good fit for the Yankees….

    • jh0088 - Jan 25, 2011 at 6:30 PM

      Okay, this Biggio comment is the first solid example I have seen yet in favor of Jeter moving to the OF. Craig, please give him one extra credit point for that one.

      But… and I can’t believe I am going to say this… Biggio’s late career when he made that move was right smack dab in the middle of the steroid era and on a Houston team with so many PED question marks I don’t think it translates to Jeter, who as far as I know, hasn’t tried the velvet deer antler yet.

      But if he does move to the OF and starts sprinting like Bambi’s mother running from the hunter and hopping over walls to rob homers, then we’ll see if he has any text messages from Ray Lewis on his phone.

  12. nyyankeefanforever - Jan 25, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    I think if you read the other accounts of Cashman’s remarks elsewhere in the media you’ll see he was basically saying Jeter COULD play the outfield because he’s that athletically gifted — the implication being he’d be wasted playing another position like third where far less skills and smarts are required.

    He and Damon are less than a year apart and damon has no legs, no arm and can’t hit for sh-t anymore — and he’s playing over 140 games a year and seemingly having no problem finding dumb owners to pay him millions. If Jeter switch to the outfield — this year or in two years — he’d be an effin’ All-Star guaranteed.

    And the heck with all these sabregeek formulas that say he didn’t deserve the Golden Glove last season. He led all shortstops in fewest errors and he also was near the top of the list for chances. Bill James and all you fantasy faggots can’t seem to wrap your heads around the idea that those formulas can’t capture the “sense of where you are,” as Bill Bradley put it. If Jeter wanted to play the outfield, he’d be friggin Dimaggio.

    • docktorellis - Jan 25, 2011 at 5:43 PM

      Wow. Easily one of the dumbest comments I’ve seen yet on these (normally above average) comment threads. And that was before I got to the “fantasy faggots” gem. That took it from astoundingly dumb to shamefully hateful as well. Congratulations,nyyankeefanforever.

    • spudchukar - Jan 25, 2011 at 6:18 PM

      Somewhere “Joltin’ Joe”, is rolling over in his grave!

    • spudchukar - Jan 25, 2011 at 6:22 PM

      Even if Jeter became Willie Mays in the outfield, he still wouldn’t be making any All-Star teams as an outfielder with his offensive numbers.

      • spudchukar - Jan 25, 2011 at 6:30 PM

        What is dumb is castigating Damon, then making the case for Jeter’s move by comparing them.

    • cktai - Jan 26, 2011 at 3:29 AM

      “he also was near the top of the list for chances”

      Of all shortstops in the AL to play more then 1200 innings in 2010, Jeter had the fewest put outs and the fewest assists. Next worst in both categories is Cesar Izturis (212 PO vs 182 and 382 A vs 365) who was involved in 57 more outs despite playing 50 innings less.

  13. nyyankeefanforever - Jan 25, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    Thanks dock. …Now, speaking of dumb and hateful, what exactly is dumb about my comment….or are you just trying to illustrate the art of dumb and hateful with your comment?

    • JBerardi - Jan 25, 2011 at 10:12 PM

      Tell me, exactly what kind of reactions did you hope your “fantasy fagots” comment would inspire?

  14. Elwood Larf - Jan 25, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    One minor correction:

    Cashman didn’t exactly say he envisioned Derek Jeter moving off shortstop to the outfield, he was answering a question someone asked him about the possibility. Cash responded by saying that if Jeter ever did move to another position, he considered center field to be the optimum destination. Little bit of a different thing. The same thing happened a couple years ago when Joe Torre said something similar, when he basically said that ARod or Jeter would be capable of playing the outfield if they ever left their respective positions, and of course the internet exploded with people thinking Jeter or ARod would be moving to the outfield. Never happened then, ain’t happening now.

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