Monday, September 18, 2006

Jeter vs. Santana

A large part of the Jeter-for-MVP argument seems to rest on the fact that he's an everyday player, and Johan Santana isn't. Jeter, the logic goes, is there for his team every day, while Santana is there only every fifth day.

It's an interesting idea, and one that raises an interesting debate - does someone who is overwhelming every five days worth less than someone who is merely excellent all the time? The answer, in part, rests with how overwhelming Santana is, not to mention how excellent Jeter (or Maurer, or Ortiz, or the long-forgotten Travis Hafner, who was having a better season by statistical esoterica than any of them) is in wider exposure.

Except that there's a hink in the postulated math there. Sure, Jeter is out there every day, but he's not involved in every play. There are plenty of plays - ABs for other Yankee gazillionaires, Randy Johnson hanging curveballs that end up in the cheap seats, strikeouts - that El Capitan simply spectates, albeit from a better vantage point than anything you're likely to get at the new Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, Santana may pitch only one day out of five, but when he's pitching, he's dealing with every batter.

So, the question arises - is Jeter actually that much more involved than Santana? Rough math - forgive me, Bill James - suggests that he is, but not by as much as you'd think. According to Baseball Prospectus, as of September 17th, Santana had been involved in roughly 870 plays (yes, I'm counting his ABs during interleague play). Jeter, by comparison, is just up over 1200 plays if you include ABs and fielding chances. So there is a gap, but not quite the 5-to-1 ratio that the talking heads would have you believe.

Or, to put it another way, look at Joe Mauer. He's caught 110 games, so assuming 9 innings per game and 4 batters per inning (conservative, yes, but the Twins do have Santana and Liriano), that's nearly 4000 plays he's been involved in, and that's before we get to his 550 or so plate appearances. In other words, the difference between how much Jeter was "there" versus Santana is roughly 1/10 the difference between Mauer and Jeter.

None of which matters, of course, at least not in the eyes of the voters. Jeter will no doubt win the MVP handily, due in large part to his clutchiness in not folding when there was only $190M taking the field for the Yankees every day. He is, of course, an excellent player, but I can't shake the feeling that there's something Rizzutoid about him, a desperate rush to anoint him above and beyond his talents simply by dint of his playing for a winning Yankee team. But that's a discussion for another time. For the moment, let's just say that Jeter's everyday advantage isn't quite as large as most people think.
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