Jeter over Rollins? You really have to wonder why

March, 18, 2009
The big story last night was David Wright, in a good way. But it was almost Derek Jeter, in a bad way. Robothal:

    MIAMI -- What started as a touchy subject is about to develop into a full-blown controversy.

    For Team USA to have its best chance of winning the World Baseball Classic, Jimmy Rollins should be at shortstop instead of Derek Jeter.

    The decision, however, is not that simple.

    Jeter is the captain of Team USA, the face of the tournament for the United States, a player who has appeared in both Classics and helped promote the event when other U.S. stars have not.

    Team USA also has an obligation to give Jeter and other players the work they need to prepare for the regular season -- an obligation that sometimes prevents manager Davey Johnson from making optimal use of his roster.

    Before Tuesday night, Jeter had played only 15 innings at shortstop over the previous 10 days, a far lower total than he would have compiled if he had remained with the Yankees at spring training.

    So, Johnson played Jeter for nine innings at short in the elimination game against Puerto Rico and used Rollins as his designated hitter.

    Twice, Jeter failed to stop balls to his left that Rollins might have at least knocked down, and both led directly to runs.

    If Team USA had not secured its dramatic 6-5 victory over Puerto Rico by staging a three-run rally in the ninth inning, Jeter's defense would have come under heavy scrutiny.

Umm, even with the dramatic victory, Jeter's defense is coming under scrutiny. Again.

Rollins is quite possibly the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues; Jeter is quite possibly the worst.

What does that mean, practically? The difference between them might fall somewhere in the range of 20-30 runs, or (roughly) less than 0.2 runs per game. That's why -- when someone asked me on the radio last week -- I said that playing Jeter instead of Rollins was highly unlikely to really hurt Team USA. If the Americans reach the final, they'll play eight games; theoretically, even if Jeter played every inning of every game, he would "cost" his team a couple of runs … and a couple of runs wouldn't be likely to change anything. And he's not playing every inning of every game.

So far, so good. Jeter's cost his team (at least) a couple of runs, but Team USA hasn't lost a game because of them. Not quite. Nor is Team USA likely to lose the championship because of Jeter. Still, you can't help but wonder -- as you might have wondered three years ago -- if decisions like this one send a fundamental message to everyone involved: Team USA isn't really trying to win.



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