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Friday, February 14, 2014

Shut up, stats nerds and haters: You’re wrong about Derek Jeter

If one had to synthesize most of the recent Jeter coverage under one headline, it would be: Is Derek Jeter a True Hall of Famer or Is He Overrated?

Let’s deal with the first question. There isn’t any doubt that he is going to get into the Hall of Fame. Only nine players in the history of baseball have more hits than Jeter. He’s a 13-time All-Star with five World Series rings. And he’s tremendously popular. If you put down a deposit on a hotel room in Cooperstown for July 2020, it’s good as gold.

Those who have cast doubts about his HOF worthiness have always stressed the lack of bold numbers on his statistics page on BaseballReference.com. In other words, he never led the league in many offensive categories. This is true. He only led the league in runs scored in 1998 and in hits in 1999 and 2012, and HOFers have usually topped the list in more stats than that.

He was never quite a match for the top superstars of his era. Or as Ted Berg put it in USA Today (in a piece titled “Derek Jeter is the most fervently overrated shoo-in for the Hall of Fame”), “In terms of overall value to his teams, Jeter just doesn’t stack up to recent historic greats like Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds, and can’t quite match great contemporaries like Chipper Jones and Jeff Bagwell either.”

This is also true, but not to the point.

madvillain Posted: February 14, 2014 at 02:40 PM | 124 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: derek jeter

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   101. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 15, 2014 at 01:43 PM (#4657356)
Complete players", eh? Please tell us about the marvelous fielding and / or baserunning talents of Ted Williams, Reggie Jackson, Willie Stargell, Brooks Robinson and a guy named Ruth.

Fielding and baserunning may not have been the Babe's forte, but to me his pitching line makes him a lot more of a "complete player" than probably anyone else in the HoF.


I'd agree with that calibrated assessment, and if Ruth could play in today's American League he'd be able to capitalize fully on his unique skill set. But he'd still fall short by the traditional criteria for a "complete" player.
   102. BDC Posted: February 15, 2014 at 01:54 PM (#4657359)
Grace was almost certainly vastly superior defensively

Handedness makes direct comparison impossible. But it's interesting that in terms of dWAR, Grace's advantage is about 3½ wins over 15-20 years. By that reckoning, the difference in value between a guy who can hold down shortstop badly and a superior first baseman is not all that vast.

But we're not really disagreeing, as you note. The long-career 1B with most similar career dWAR to Jeter's (-9.2) are Joe Kuhel, Lou Gehrig, and Jeff Bagwell. That range brackets Jeter in terms of offense. He was a good deal better than Kuhel, and a good deal weaker than Bagwell or Gehrig; but with 12,000 PA and a .312 average it's still quite a career even with sub-Gracean defense.
   103. gehrig97 Posted: February 15, 2014 at 01:58 PM (#4657360)
Grace was almost certainly vastly superior defensively.


At his position, sure. But Mark Grace couldn't play shortstop -- or any other position. It matters. I'm Don Mattingly's biggest fan, but I'm not going to claim that he had the defensive value of Willie Randolph.

Jeter's defense wasn't good. But the fact is, it was good enough for the most successful team of the last 20 years (and in 1998, arguably the best team of all time). When he retires, he'll have played more games at the position than anybody but Vizquel. I'm pretty sure Jeter never once penciled his own name into a lineup card.
   104. gehrig97 Posted: February 15, 2014 at 02:02 PM (#4657363)
ALso: the notion of a "complete player" seems almost anachronistic in today's game. Teams place a much higher premium on hitting than any other skill. As noted earlier in the thread, "Five-Tool Guys" just don't come along very often. Trout and maybe McCutchen come to mind today... (and both have average arms).
   105. AROM Posted: February 15, 2014 at 02:13 PM (#4657366)
At his position, sure. But Mark Grace couldn't play shortstop -- or any other position. It matters. I'm Don Mattingly's biggest fan, but I'm not going to claim that he had the defensive value of Willie Randolph.


He's no Randolph ( not that I think anyone claimed otherwise), but Mattingly could play other positions. Played outfield when he first came up, 3 games at third, and even one at 2B. Is Don still the last lefty to play a non-1b infield position?
   106. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 15, 2014 at 02:14 PM (#4657367)
ALso: the notion of a "complete player" seems almost anachronistic in today's game. Teams place a much higher premium on hitting than any other skill. As noted earlier in the thread, "Five-Tool Guys" just don't come along very often. Trout and maybe McCutchen come to mind today... (and both have average arms).

"Five tool player" has always been more of a Platonic ideal than any realistic expectation for the vast majority of players. No team is going to turn away a truly great hitter simply because his defensive and baserunning skills are less than stellar, or even in some cases well below average.
   107. BDC Posted: February 15, 2014 at 02:24 PM (#4657370)
Is Don still the last lefty to play a non-1b infield position?

B-Ref says that a White Sox rookie named Mario Valdez played one inning at 3B against the Pirates on 2 July 1997. Didn't see a chance.

Valdez played sparingly in the majors but for many years in the US minors and the Mexican League, and even one in Japan. He played at least half a dozen games or parts thereof at 3B in the minors, where he was mostly a 1B and occasional outfielder.
   108. flournoy Posted: February 15, 2014 at 02:53 PM (#4657376)
Larry Walker appeared at second and third base in the ninth inning of a game in 1998. Catcher Jeff Reed got injured on a play at the plate, and the Rockies didn't have anyone left who could catch, so they stuck Neifi Perez back there and played musical chairs with the rest of the lineup. The game ended when a wild pitch got past Neifi to score the winning run.
   109. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: February 15, 2014 at 02:56 PM (#4657379)
Mattingly could play other positions. Played outfield when he first came up, 3 games at third, and even one at 2B.

Mattingly's "game" at second base was one out long, and was just an F.U. by Billy Martin for having to play the resumption of the George Brett pine tar game. Ron Guidry was inserted as the centerfielder.
   110. Sunday silence Posted: February 15, 2014 at 03:28 PM (#4657388)
How comes we cant have this discussion whenever someone says what a joke Mazeroski was for the Hall of Fame (which I read a few weeks ago) or when we have the automatic recitation of inner circle Hall of Famer Ty Cobb sans Tris Speaker or the Cal Ripken Great; Ozzie Smith pretty good too mention?
   111. BDC Posted: February 15, 2014 at 03:38 PM (#4657394)
Walker threw right-handed, though. He'd played some 3B in the minors, as one might expect of a good athlete with a great arm.
   112. Kiko Sakata Posted: February 15, 2014 at 04:28 PM (#4657403)
The problem is that WAR implicitly assumes that a SS could have played LF even better. But that assumption can only be valid for people that show some baseline competency at SS. Jeter never showed that he could play any position on the baseball field competently and therefore we shouldn't assume he could have.


The skill sets required to play LF and SS really aren't that similar and one of Jeter's supposed strengths as a SS - on pop flies - would have probably been more valuable in the outfield. The skills that led to his exceptional baserunning would have probably also translated into more value in the outfield than at SS.

Consider Ryan Braun, for example. His rookie season he was horrific at 3B (BB-Ref has him as -32 in 112 G; his fielding percentage was .895) - he pretty clearly showed a lack of "baseline competency at" 3B. The Brewers moved him to left field and he's been perfectly cromulent there (BB-Ref has him at +26 in LF for his career).
   113. flournoy Posted: February 15, 2014 at 04:35 PM (#4657407)
Walker threw right-handed, though. He'd played some 3B in the minors, as one might expect of a good athlete with a great arm.


Wow. Oops. How did I forget that? Sorry.
   114. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 15, 2014 at 04:43 PM (#4657413)
I'll cop to being a nerd, but I object to being called a hater. I don't have to think that Jeter is worse than a replacement-level player to feel that he didn't really deserve five gold gloves. I don't think he's a shining beacon of all that is goodness and light, but I acknowledge that he's a Hall of Famer and that he was an important part of one of the best baseball dynasties of my lifetime.

(I think it was someone on Prospectus who used to claim Jeter's defense made him sub-replacement quality, but I can't remember who)
   115. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 15, 2014 at 04:45 PM (#4657415)
I'll cop to being a nerd, but I object to being called a hater. I don't have to think that Jeter is worse than a replacement-level player to feel that he didn't really deserve five gold gloves. I don't think he's a shining beacon of all that is goodness and light, but I acknowledge that he's a Hall of Famer and that he was an important part of one of the best baseball dynasties of my lifetime.

Who's calling you a hater on the basis of that?
   116. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: February 15, 2014 at 04:51 PM (#4657419)
I'll cop to being a nerd, but I object to being called a hater.


I object to anyone calling anyone a hater, just because it's such a ridiculous term.
   117. BDC Posted: February 15, 2014 at 05:01 PM (#4657423)
I'm OK with being a hater of the game. Especially if the game is Quidditch.
   118. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 15, 2014 at 05:24 PM (#4657426)
Who's calling you a hater on the basis of that?


The crazy person who wrote the headline on this article. Also probably Yankees Clapper and Redneck when I make fun of some of the upcoming Jeter celebrations.
   119. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: February 15, 2014 at 05:28 PM (#4657427)
(Although now that I think about it, Jeter's team crushed the postseason dreams of both the 1998 Padres and the 2001 Mariners, so maybe I should be a hater)
   120. PreservedFish Posted: February 15, 2014 at 05:31 PM (#4657429)
If Mattingly is born a righty, he's almost certainly a 3b, right? Maybe even a SS in his youth.
   121. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: February 15, 2014 at 05:54 PM (#4657435)
Who's calling you a hater on the basis of that?

The crazy person who wrote the headline on this article. Also probably Yankees Clapper and Redneck when I make fun of some of the upcoming Jeter celebrations.


Headline writers aim for eyeballs, not between the eyes. And okay, YC seems to be serious about pretty much everything, but YR's our resident tongue-in-cheek hyperbolian who just loves playing with anyone who's got a bee in his bonnet about the Yankees. He's harmless unless he's tanked up on his Rebel Yell likker while crossing the path of Bolshevik Bud.

   122. Walt Davis Posted: February 15, 2014 at 10:06 PM (#4657483)
On Ruth in CF ...

Somebody once put together a great table looking at OPS+ by position over time (decades probably). A great idea. It was easy to see the transition of 3B from a key defensive position in the deadball bunting era (and the low OPS+ that went with it) to a more balanced position.

You also saw that there was little offensive difference among the OF positions until (if I remember right) post-war.

On Jeter at another position -- we can never know whether a model fits for a particular individual. But it's a pretty weird thing to get hung up about. Since Jeter has spent his entire career at SS, Jeter the corner OF is an alternate universe thing. Wow, key debating skills to point out that rampant speculation can't be done with precision.

But guys get run off of SS all the time and adapt just fine to other positions. The positional adjustments are based in part on actual position switches (although I'm not sure this is both b and f WAR).

Braun mentioned. Chipper from SS to 3B; Alex Gordon from 3B to LF; Raines 2B to LF; Rose everywhere.

Of course most are moved in the minors and, among those who make the majors as a SS, few hit well enough to play elsewhere. BJ Upton is probably a pretty good defensive comp for Jeter. Moved off SS, tried a bit at 3B and 2B, he's been a below-average CF. He's sitting on -3 dWAR in about 1/3 of Jeter's PAs -- basically exactly what dWAR might suggest.

On the other hand, you have Sheffield who, by Rfield, went from a terrible SS to the Jeter of RF. But even if you whack Jeter down to Winfield's -24 dWAR, he's still sitting on 57 WAR which keeps him borderline (but probably out). So, worst-case rampant speculation, Jeter is a borderline HoFer. That makes it clear that our expectation should be well north of that.

Expansion era, 75% at SS, Rfield <=-20 through age 25, by OPS+ through age 25, also dWAR after 25 and PA

Hanley 138 -3 2000 as SS/3B through 29
Jeter 121
Harrah 97 -1.3 6800 as SS then 3B mostly
Bell 94 9 6500 as SS then some 2B (became a good defender)
Campy 93 73 7500 as SS (wonder about those early career numbers)

drop the Rfield a bit and you pick up Castro who I can only hope learns to hit at least as well as Harrah or field as well as Bell.

Playing around a bit more with thresholds, I pick up the young and very bad Wil Cordero and Mike Morse (how can we forget!). Cordero is kinda amazing in how long the Expos stuck with him (-57 Rfield, 20-23) and how he kept getting (mostly bench) jobs for another decade despite not being much of a hitter. So even worse than Jeter at those ages, he had another 3000 PA from 24-33 with -4.5 dWAR, mostly as an average defensive LF.

Morse was -14 Rfield in just 250 PA, 50 starts at SS. Makes Jeter look like Ozzie. He has continued to be horrible with -5 dWAR in about 3 full seasons. Small samples but that rate is pretty consistent given his first year horribleness.

None of this is convincing really because Jeter of course is unique. Among players with at least 1000 games at SS, there are only 3 without (essentially) average dWAR -- Jeter at -9, Chris Gomez at -6 and Dunston at -2. No team has ever been willing to tolerate a SS this bad defensively for this long but then few SS have ever hit this well.

Gomez was probably worse -- -4.6 dWAR in 3750 PA through age 31 -- Gomez remained a below-average but mildly improved defender as he shifted into the utility IF role. Well, he's rated as terrible at 2B but fine at 1B/3B.

By the way, in his 93 starts at SS at ages 19-20, Sheffield had a Morse-ian -15 Rtot. At 22, Jeter was -14 in 156 starts. His age 26 season is the only one roughly on a par with Morse/Sheff at -23 Rtot in 148 starts. He's had some other Rdrs years that were quite horrible (generally more pessimistic than Rtot).

Among HoFers, Winfield has the worst dWAR, just "ahead" of Thomas. (Don't freak, Winfield has 2000 more PA.) Among the recent non-sluggers are (Rose), Brock, Gwynn, Molitor at -8 or worse. Brock's the only guy I'd definitely take Jeter over but I don't consider far off the others.

Thomas and therefore Edgar are interesting comps for Jeter. Was the offense enough to make up for the lack of defensive value? Jeter has nearly as many WAR as Thomas and more than Edgar but has a substantial PA advantage over both. Jeter 23-35 is a couple of wins behind Edgar in about the same PA. (As many know, I think the DH penalty in bWAR is too small, at least for HoF purposes.)
   123. Foghorn Leghorn Posted: February 16, 2014 at 10:55 AM (#4657572)
To not believe that, you either have to think (1) he was not just bad, but breathtakingly horrible at defense, which no defensive stat supports or (2) the HOF is too large by 50%.
I think both of these things, and I am not sure that "no defensive stat supports". I'll have to double check.

We have BIP defensive numbers for Jeter's entire career. He won't good.
   124. AROM Posted: February 16, 2014 at 11:06 AM (#4657577)
BJ Upton is probably a pretty good defensive comp for Jeter.


Pretty good early comp, as each had a 56 error season in the low minors. As they moved up, Upton kept making errors, so it was obvious he had to move. Jeter just didn't get to balls, so only a few people noticed.
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