Who was the Best Yankee Shortstop of the 2010’s?
The following is the first installment of Jacob Gaba’s series: The Yankees All-Decade Team
Derek Jeter certainly owned the 2000s for the Yankees. But come the 2010s, despite putting up good numbers until his retirement in 2014, the Captain was just edged out by Didi Gregorius. Didi captured 15.7 offensive fWAR to Jeter’s 7.5 over this period. Some may point out Jeter’s higher batting average than Gregorius during the 2010s (.283 to .269) but to grasp a full offensive picture of both players, it is more useful to look at wRC+ and wOBA. Gregorius was slightly above average at the plate with a 101 wRC+, while the declining 2010s Jeter posted the below-average mark of 97 wRC+. Additionally, Didi has a slight edge in wOBA with a mark of .323 to Jeter’s .318. Of course, these metrics show that the two players–Jeter on the decline and Didi in his prime–are roughly equals. Didi’s defense during the 2010s is what gives him the edge over Jeter.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with defensive metrics, Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) measures how many theoretical runs above or below average a player at a given position is. A player with a UZR of zero is average. I like using UZR for a couple of reasons: one, it is easy to compare players; and two, it uses historical data to measure the likelihood of a player making a play on a certain type of batted ball. This means that it hurts a player’s rating more if they can’t field a ball that is usually fielded. Conversely, a player will be rewarded more for making a more difficult play (which is judged based on the historical ability of a player at the same position to make that play). UZR also adjusts for park factors since some ballparks could, for example, have faster infield grass or a tougher left field corner.
To compare two players, we must scale UZR. Here, I’ll use the conventional UZR/150 found on Fangraphs. Only three Yankees during the 2010s logged over one thousand innings at shortstop: Derek Jeter, Didi Gregorius, and Eduardo Nuñez. Didi posted a UZR/150 of 3.9 during the decade, while Jeter earned a rating of -8.3. Nuñez was even worse at -26.5.
Not satisfied with UZR? Let’s look at Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), another defensive statistic that attempts to measure a player’s defensive skill in runs compared to the average player at their position. Didi Gregorius measured at -11 DRS while Jeter posted a whopping -52. Given that Jeter played more innings for the Yankees at shortstop this decade, if one were to scale DRS over innings (DRS per inning), Jeter would still be worse than Gregorius by a long shot.
If you prefer more traditional defensive statistics, we can still look at put-outs (PO) and errors (E). Gregorius committed 49 errors to Jeter’s 41, but he played nearly one thousand more innings. Naturally, Didi has more put-outs than Jeter because of his longer tenure in the field, and slightly edges out Jeter .980 to .979 in fielding percentage. These traditional metrics make it less clear that Didi was the better defensive shortstop during the 2010s, but when using more advanced metrics like UZR and DRS, a bigger picture can be painted of their defensive abilities. Didi was simply better in the field.
Now, of course, some of you may point to Jeter’s “x-factors:” his ability to lead in the clubhouse or knack for producing memorable moments like “the flip” or his 3,000th hit. Growing up, I looked up to Jeter as a role model. His electric play and calm, steady style were certainly exciting and admirable. He’s definitely headed to the Hall of Fame in the near future, perhaps unanimously. Didi Gregorius will almost certainly never be inducted barring a late-career surge.
Didi had such a difficult task in filling Jeter’s shoes at shortstop, and he certainly rose to the occasion. The evidence shows that during the 2010s, the Yankees improved at shortstop by adding Gregorius. Didi brought his own flair and leadership to the field and clubhouse.
In the end, no matter who you think was better during the 2010s, both produced memorable moments for Yankee fans that will last generations.