Baseball Prospectus online (www.baseballprospectus.com) and writer Steven Goldman posted some analysis today focusing on Yankees star shortstop Derek Jeter. Jeter, who will be a Hall of Famer, is known to be terrific offensive player and clutch player (whether you believe in “Santa Clutch” or not), but is sometimes maligned as being weak in the field (despite some popular legend). One common New York joke is that is many balls go “pasta diving Jeter” as if it is some specialty dish ordered in a popular New York bistro.

The story contained an analysis of the batting averages hit to (and through) the Yankee infield over the past several years, and compared it to major league averages. Without going into lots of detail (susbscriber story, I believe), Baseball Prospectus took the analysis and broke out the detail to a level where only right handed hitters were calculated (analysis shows 70% of ground balls by right handed hitters are pulled to 3b or SS, with majority going to shortstop).

Much more about Reds shortstops, below the fold:

To be blunt…the Yanks (and Jeter) have had terrible ratings when it comes to preventing hits on ground balls:

2005: ML avg, .238; Yanks Opp avg, .287; Reds Opp. avg, .221; ML leader, Dodgers, .206; ML trailer, Yankees, .287
2006: ML avg, .244; Yanks Opp avg, .270; Reds Opp. avg, .249; ML leader, Giants, .203; ML trailer, Marlins .283
2007: ML median .255; Yanks Opp avg, .256; Reds Opp. avg, .266; ML leader, Padres, .203; ML trailer, Cardinals, .279
2008: ML median .241: Yanks Opp. avg, .237: Reds Opp. avg, .226; ML leader, Giants, .206; ML trailer, Cardinals, .268

The 2007 and 2008 average numbers weren’t listed. Median means that half the teams were higher and half the teams were lower. However, 2005 and 2006 averages were also close to the median.

So, while Jeter doesn’t have a stellar fielding record (has improved…may be from positioning?), the notable stat I included was the Reds…and the league leader to establish a benchmark of what can be done as well as the teams that finished last.

Now, who were the Reds’ shortstops in these years? We were better than the league average in 2005 and….2008. We were a little worse than average in 2006 and rather poor in 2007. Wait, we were better before Gonzalez arrived and the year he didn’t play? The year Keppinger played shortstop?

Reds shortstops and number of games appearing at shortstop:

2005–Lopez 140, Aurilia 33, Olmedo 24, Bergolla 22
2006–Lopez 84, Clayton 43, Aurilia 26, Castro 27, Olmedo 4, Phillips 3
2007–Gonzalez 103, Keppinger 47, Pedro Lopez 12, Castro 16, Enrique Cruz 2, Phillips 1
2008–Keppinger 108, Hairston 34, Janish 36, Cabrera 9, Castro 3, Richar 1

Before you ask…Gonzalez’s range factor per nine innings in 2007 was 4.24, Keppinger’s was 4.28, Lopez’s was 4.53, and Castro’s was 3.73. In 2007, Keppinger’s fielding percentage was .989 to Gonzalez’s .963. Not only did Keppinger get to more balls per nine innings, he made fewer errors.

In 2008, Keppinger’s range factor was 4.00 with a fielding percentage of .980.

I looked at how the Reds got outs the past two years, wondering how the opponents’ batting average would decline if the shortstop fielding range declined…and I think I found my answer…

In 2007, the ground ball to fly ball ratio was .68 with the ground ball out to air ratio being .90. The Reds recorded 1068 strike outs in 2007. In 2008, the ground ball to fly ball ratio was .75 with the ground ball out to fly ball out ratio being 1.06. The Reds had 1227 strike outs in 2008.

The more strikeouts in 2008 lowered the number of available defensive outs which probably explains why Keppinger’s range factor declined simultaneously with the defense allowing fewer hits to the left side of the infield. Despite the lower range factor at shortstop, the infield defense increased it’s ratio of total of number of put outs as compared to the outfield.

Oh, for the record….Gonzalez’s range factor has declined in each of the last three full seasons he’s played…4.87, 4.36, and 4.24. He’s at 3.60 this year. His team’s opponents’ right handed batter’s batting average on ground balls to the left side those three years? .242, .245, then the Reds. 266. He was right at the league average in 2005 and 2006 before joining the Reds at age 30. Gonzalez is two years older, after missing a year due to a knee injury.

We need to be shopping, and I hope Janish is as good in the field as has been advertised and is used appropriately.

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