Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees, and the Death of Sabermetrics

Why has Jeter been able to defy expert opinion, including New York Yankees staff members, hitting like it’s 1999 to close the season? Does it mean the death of sabermetrics? I sure hope so.

Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees, and the Death of SabermetricsAs one of the all-time clutch players in baseball history, it’s hard to say the pressure of 3,000 hits got to the all-time Yankees hits leader, but maybe it did. Perhaps Derek Jeter just needed some rest. Either way, Derek Jeter is 46 for his last 117 since coming off the DL. All this despite the fact that his UZR, WAR, FIPP, DEUS, FISL, AWO, DKSL, and ELWIS are well below average for a Gold Glove shortstop – and yes, most of those are made up categories. But do you know which ones?

Sabermetrics represent a cult of baseball analysts and fans, with too much time on their hands, that believe everything baseball can be explained through numbers. As an engineer from Lehigh University, that sounds particularly pleasant to me. Unfortunately, baseball isn’t always about numbers. That’s what makes baseball so enjoyable. It’s a break from the pseudo-analytic bull shit of my every day life.

A pitcher can have an excellent career ERA in a particular ball park against a particular team during day games in October on Sundays with a game temperature above 72 degrees Fahrenheit – and still give up eight runs in the first inning. Baseball defies the numbers all the time. Sabermetrics argues that all outlying statistics aside, in-depth analysis can predict, more often than not, player production in a given situation.

Because the Oakland Athletics made the playoffs a couple of times, despite succumbing to Derek Jeter’s greatness and failing to win a championship, we want to believe in Sabermetrics. Unfortunately, we cannot, and Derek Jeter proves that no Brad Pitt movie can trump Yankee greatness as long as it centers around the Oakland A’s.

Baseball is great because Kirk Gibson can hit a walk-off homer even though he can’t walk. Players can turn their careers around in an instant. Maybe it’s steroids, or maybe Jose Bautista has a really good hitting coach. Perhaps Derek Jeter is one of the greatest shortstops of all time and has a bit of magic left in those final years of his presumably steroid-free career.

And what of the Sabermetric analysis of Jason Giambi that made him a key cog to the Athletics’ rise to divisional power? Did Billy Bean account for the value of steroids in the inflated numbers Giambi produced? Maybe the Athletics were just good because they had Mulder, Hudson, and Zito in the primes of their careers. Maybe the Athletics, with no championships during that era, were never actually that good.

The facts are these:

1. Derek Jeter has 3,000+ hits and a .297 batting average this season despite low sabermetric scores.

2. The Oakland Athletics haven’t won a championship since Money Ball

3. The Yankees, under Jeter’s reign, have five.

Sabermetrics might be a good way of evaluating the usefulness of mid-level baseball talent, but it can never undermine the value of a baseball great – even if he is 37 years old. It seemed like a great time to pick Jeter apart, but with this year’s resurgence baseball scouts and their numbers were once again proven wrong.

Sabermetrics should stick to evaluating the pinch-hit value of Miguel Cairo on a Tuesday night in Chicago with wind speeds under 12 MPH against a lefty pitcher in the 7th inning or later on an outside fastball in a 2-1 count. This way, when they’re wrong, nobody will care. Leave Derek Jeter alone, because Sabermetrics aren’t a credible way to evaluate talent and Derek Jeter is going to continue laughing all the way to the Hall of Fame.

Note (added 9/8):

This article was designed to elicit exactly the response it did. My belief is most common baseball fans have only a loose idea of what sabermetrics mean, but still try to use them in everyday evaluations of baseball. The people within organizations that do this for a living are great at it, but when it leaks into the rest of the world it quickly loses its tangible value. Hopefully those who wrote Derek Jeter off at the All-Star break and now revert to preseason sabermetrics to prove their long-term value realize their hypocrisy. Were you quoting these predictions midseason when Jeter was at the height of his struggles?

Take Dustin Parkes of The Score and his word-by-word critique of this post – he uses the fact that Jeter posts similar numbers in the postseason to prove Jeter isn’t a clutch performer. Does he account for the fact that those OPS figures come against the best pitching in the league during the postseason? No. Does he realize that he’s ACTUALLY proving that Jeter is a clutch performer due to the very consistency in the postseason vs regular season numbers that he presents? Probably not. This is the misguided over-analysis that has become far too mainstream. Hopefully, this type of statistical inference and overabundance of sabermetrics dies with Derek Jeter’s electric second half.

Mark Donatiello
Follow me on Twitter:  @FasterHockey more


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