Correa vs. Jeter vs. Syndergaard

Carlos Correa, Derek Jeter

Carlos Correa’s jab at Hall of Famer Derek Jeter’s Gold Glove awards inspired the New York Post to insert Jeter showing one of his Gloves into this action shot of Correa with the leather. But was Correa really out of line?

Carlos Correa versus Derek Jeter isn’t exactly the equivalent of a cage match, no matter what Noah Syndergaard might want to make of it. Correa has just finished his seventh major league season; Jeter is a Hall of Famer who played twenty major league seasons. Correa’s career has miles to go before it sleeps; Jeter’s baseball legacy is secure in Cooperstown.

Correa actually said, aboard a recent Me Gustan Los Deportes (I Like Sports) podcast: “Derek Jeter didn’t deserve any of the Gold Gloves he won.” Syndergaard, now a former Mets pitcher freshly signed with the Angels, was not amused: asked by MLB Network whom he’d like to strike out the most, Syndergaard didn’t flinch.

Thor’s preferred strikeout target is Correa. “Not just for the obvious reason, but just what he said about Derek Jeter not deserving his Gold Gloves,” he said. “I think that was a little ridiculous to say.”

The “obvious reason,” of course, is the lingering stench of Astrogate and Correa’s frequent willingness to embrace the villain role the scandal imposed on the Astros, an imposition too likely to remain until the last member of the 2017-18 Astros no longer wears their uniform.

The next-obvious reason might be Correa winning this year’s American League Gold Glove award for shortstop, plus being a free agent and drawing a lot of attention as a contract candidate for the Yankees and other teams looking for better than they’ve got at shortsop.

Jeter wouldn’t let himself be drawn in. Today the Marlins’ chief executive officer, Jeter simply dismissed Correa’s jab: “I didn’t think much about it. I don’t know how my name came up. My Spanish is not that good, I still haven’t seen it, I don’t know how my name was brought up, but it doesn’t even warrant a response. I mean I could go a lot of different directions but I won’t.”

That was the same kind of high-road travel for which Jeter was known well enough during the prime of his playing career. But was it actually that ridiculous to critique Jeter’s Gold Gloves?

When Jeter wasn’t yet eligible for Hall of Fame election, Jay Jaffe wrote The Cooperstown Casebook: Who’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Who Should Be In, and Who Should Pack Their Plaques in 2017. He did it position by position. When it came to the shortstops, Jaffe looked at Jeter in the chapter’s “Further Consideration (upcoming or overlooked candidates” subsection.  And this is what Jaffe concluded about Captain Clutch:

Seemingly engineered to withstand the spotlight’s glare, Jeter spent two decades in Yankee pinstripes pulling off the remarkable feat of simultaneously exuding charisma and remaining completely enigmatic, able to evade virtually every controversy that surrounded the franchise. A starter for sixteen playoff teams, seven pennant winners, and five [World Series] champions, he ranks among the position’s best hitters, collecting more hits than any other infielder, and ranking third in batting runs among shortstops (353) behind [Hall of Famer Honus] Wagner and [Hall of Famer Arky] Vaughan. Defensively, his strong arm, sure hands, and low error totals helped him pass the eye test of casual fans, broadcasters, and even the opposing managers who bestowed those Gold Gloves. However, his range was limited—he moved to his left about as well as Dick Cheney—and his -246 fielding runs is more than double the total of the next-closest shortatop; he was at least ten runs below average in three Gold Glove seasons. Still, Captain Clutch was unflappable in the big moments, hitting .304/.374/.465 with twenty homers in the postseason. Expect him to pull in at least 97 percent [of the Hall of Fame vote] in 2020.

Jeter ended up pulling 99.7 of the vote for his Hall of Fame election. He also inspired the strange phenomenon of Hall voters all but conspiring actively to make him the twenty-third Hall of Fame player to stand alone among incoming players on the Cooperstown podium.

The pan-damn-ic kept it from working out quite that way, of course. Jeter was inducted formally in 2021 with Ted Simmons and Larry Walker, both of whom were elected last winter, as was longtime Major League Baseball Players Association leader Marvin Miller posthumously. He didn’t quite get to stand alone.

But notice the text on Jeter’s Hall of Fame plaque:

Heartbeat of a Yankee dynasty defined a two-decade run of Bronx dominance that produced 17 postseason appearances, seven American League pennants and five World Series championships. Selected to 14 All-Star Games and named 1996 AL Rookie of the Year. Winner of five Gold Glove Awards, appearing in all of his 2,674 games in the field at shortstop. Totaled 200-or-more hits in eight seasons, retiring sixth all-time with 3,475. Scored 1,923 runs, with 100-or-more in 13 seasons. In a record 158 postseason games, batted .308 with 111 runs, 200 hits, 32 doubles. Earned 2000 World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

There you have it. Except for mentioning his five Gold Gloves almost in the middle of his other accomplishments, there’s not. one. single. word. about Jeter’s shortstop defense. Not one. Mentioning that he played every major league game of his career at the position is a question of presence, not performance. The plaque speaks essentially to what Jaffe isolated, Jeter being that great a batter among his fellow shortstops.

Let’s revisit where Jeter stands among his fellow post-World War II/post-integration/night ball-era Hall of Fame shortstops, according to my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances:

Shortstop PA TB BB IBB SAC HBP RBA
Luis Aparicio 11230 3504 736 22 177 27 .398
Ozzie Smith 10778 3084 1072 79 277 33 .422
Phil Rizzuto 6719 2065 651 35 195 49 .446
Pee Wee Reese 9470 3038 1210 67 176 26 .477
Alan Trammell 9376 3442 850 48 200 37 .488
Robin Yount 12249 4730 966 95 227 48 .495
Derek Jeter 12602 4921 1082 39 155 170 .505
Barry Larkin 9057 3527 939 66 126 55 .520
Cal Ripken 12883 5168 1129 107 137 66 .539
Ernie Banks 10395 4706 763 202 141 70 .565
HOF SS AVG .486

There’s no question. Jeter is an above-average Hall of Fame shortstop at the plate; only Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, and Ernie Banks (in ascending order) are past him there.

But that’s entirely at the plate. In the field, at shortstop, Jeter has a pocketful of isolated highlight-reel plays—the Flip, the Seat Dive, you name them—and they surely contributed to the image that he was an overall virtuoso with the leather and on the run. And that’s the problem. Perception is still everything to the casual observer and to the fanboi alike.

But perception is not evidence. The real evidence says that Jaffe had Jeter right in the field: he had the basic skills to enable him to pass the eye test with the minimum passing grade. But like the student who could pass his subjects without trying too hard wouldn’t advise anyone else to try it, you wouldn’t advise another shortstop to try passing the eye test with only the basics in the field unless he, too, is embedded on a passel of division/pennant winners and five-time World Series champions.

The table that follows is Derek Jeter’s fielding record during his five Gold Glove seasons, looking strictly at the number one job a defensive player has; namely, helping his team keep the other guys from putting runs on the scoreboard. The glossary is: DRS-defensive runs saved; RF/9-range factor per nine innings’ play; RF/9-LG-his league’s range factor per nine innings; RF/6-range factor per game; RF/6-LG-his league’s range factor per game.

Derek Jeter Gold Glove Years DRS RF/9 RF/9-LG RF/G RF-G/LG
2004 -13 4.46 4.56 4.32 4.53
2005 -27 4.76 4.60 4.56 4.55
2006 -16 4.14 4.60 3.97 4.42
2009 3 3.90 4.36 3.64 4.31
2010 -9 3.78 4.40 3.62 4.36
AVG-Gold Glove Years -15 4.21 4.50 4.02 4.43

Jeter won his first Gold Glove at age thirty, after he’d been the Yankees regular shortstop for nine years and after he and his Yankees already earned four pennants and World Series rings. There’s an awful lot of cred attached to him already just by dint of that kind of flight jacket.

He’d already shown his postseason mettle. He’d already proven himself money at the plate in those postseasons. He’d already secured his eternal image in Game Three of the 2001 American League division series with the fabled Flip—hustling down from his position across the first base line, grabbing an off-line throw home as he crossed the line a third of the way up from home plate, and throwing backward still on the run to get Oakland’s Jeremy Giambi at the plate.

The most likely reason Jeter won those five Gold Gloves to come was his image, the rep his image produced, perhaps the fact that he produced both as a Yankee—but not for his actual position performance. With the possible exception of his fellow Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, Jeter was the first player you thought of when someone mentioned the Core Five who brought the Yankees back to greatness during the first half of Jeter’s career.

He was a good defensive shortstop who had periodic highlight-film plays in him, and executed them memorably, but shook out in the long run as a slightly below-average defensive shortstop for his time and place. It’s no crime to look at the evidence and make that conclusion based on the evidence as a whole, surface and depth alike. It doesn’t diminish the plate skills, the leadership, the public carriage that really put Jeter in the Hall of Fame in the first place.

If you were to see a shortstop with those net results who didn’t wear the Yankee uniform during Jeter’s career, you’d probably laugh your head off at the suggestion that you’d seen a Gold Glove shortstop. Just don’t let yourself go there about whether Correa did or didn’t deserve his Gold Glove this year:

Carlos Correa’s Gold Glove DRS RF/9 RF/9-LG RF/G RF-G/LG
2021 20 3.91 3.81 3.83 3.72

You can see this year’s American League shortstops weren’t quite as rangy as they were during Jeter’s five Gold Glove seasons, but you can also see Correa standing well above the league average for saving runs from his position and standing at least ten points above his league average for getting to balls in the first place.

If someone other than Correa had said aloud, on the record, that Jeter didn’t deserve his five Gold Gloves, it wouldn’t have been even an eighth as momentarily controversial. Neither would it have broiled Noah Syndergaard into having to defend a boyhood baseball hero’s honour with an urge some think may not stop with just a strikeout.