Sure Derek Jeter is a good player, not even Alex Rodriguez would deny that. But it seems that he is a good player who has been magnified into a “great” player by the New York media. This guy gets more positive coverage than George Bush that damn water-skiing squirrel. Heck, there are probably Yankees fans that think Jeter will save their immortal souls (I do recall hearing his name mentioned in the Book of Macabees).
Jeter was one of a trio of talented young shortstops in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s that also featured A-Rod (moved to third, admitting taking steroids) and Nomar Garciparra (whose talent disappeared quicker than Alan Thicke after Growing Pains was cancelled), and out of the three is the only productive, drug-free member left. You could also throw Miguel Tejada into the conversation, but he might end up in jail, and never got the publicity of the other three.
The fact that the others have fallen off the map, or can’t stay out of the media for all the wrong reasons, is another factor that has led to Jeter’s puffed up reputation as a superstar. However, one could reasonably argue that Jeter was the fourth best shortstop out of this group. Let’s quickly compare the best year’s of these four players:
Derek Jeter 1999: (.349 BA-24 HR-102 RBI-19 SB-134 R) finished 6th in MVP voting
Alex Rodriguez: 2007: (.314 BA-54 HR-156 RBI-24 SB-143 R) Won MVP
Miguel Tejada 2002: (.308 BA-34 HR-131 RBI-7 SB-108 R) Won MVP
Nomar Garciparra 1998: (.323 BA-35 HR-122 RBI-12 SB-111 R) 2nd in MVP voting
While this is only a small sample of the career of these players, it should give an indication that Jeter was not far and away the best shortstop in the game during his heyday–and maybe not even one of the top three. Jeter has never won an MVP award and has only finished in the top five twice. By comparison, A-Rod has won 3 MVP Awards (1 with a big asterisk) and finished in the top five three other times. Only two times in his career has Jeter led the league in any offensive category, finishing first in runs in 1998 and first in hits in 1999 (if you want to get picky he led the AL in singles in 1997 and 1998–watch out Ichiro!)
Additionally, Jeter has benefited from playing in what is the perennially one of the best lineups in baseball with the Yankees. Between 2002 and 2007 New York never finished outside the top 3 in the league in runs scored and led the league three times. While Jeter probably still has a couple of seasons left, he is no longer an above average shortstop offensively, and his current career numbers compare to those of Barry Larkin, Ray Durham, Alan Trammel and Lou Whitaker. Granted these aren’t terrible players, but they certainly aren’t superstars either.
And what about shortstops like Hanley Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins; better players than Jeter who get far less recognition because they play in smaller markets? Ramirez (who you’ve probably never heard of unless you are from the Sunshine State or play fantasy baseball) is one of the most exciting players in the game, and at only 25, is already more polished than Jeter was at the same age. Fresh off a 30-30 season, Hanley Ramirez would be the toast of New York if he joined the Yankees. If Jeter played for Florida he would be more overlooked than the TV show Freaks and Geeks.
But it’s not only offensively that Jeter is vastly overrated; a close examination of his defensive abilities also leaves something to be desired. He won three Gold Gloves between 2004 and 2006, but many in the league point out that this was due to his reputation rather than his performance in the field. Jeter may have less errors than other shortstops, but that’s because he doesn’t have the range to get to balls deep in the hole that are routine for players like Omar Vizquel or Orlando Cabrera. In 2008, baseball stats guru Bill James named Derek Jeter the worst fielding shortstop in MLB, and another of the voters for the Fielding Bible called Jeter “the least effective defensive player in the major leagues, at any position.” Ouch!
Now, to dispel some more myths about the suddenly human Derek Jeter. He was given the nickname “Mr. November” because of his clutch play in the 2001 playoffs. Just exactly how clutch was he you ask? Well, Jeter went 2-17 (.118 BA) against the Mariners in the ALCS before summoning up the strength to hit 4-27 (.148, 0 walks-6 strikeouts) against the Diamondbacks in the World Series. In the Yankees epic collapse against the Boston Red Sox in 2004, it was Captain Clutch himself who saved the day by hitting a robust .200 in the series. And let’s not forget who allowed Luis Gonzalez’s fateful hit to fall in during Game 7 of the 2001 World Series…that’s right, Derek Jeter. Would an average defensive shortstop have made that play? Only God himself knows…
Now, at this point, some may come to the defense of poor Jeter and point out that he won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996. Of course Bob “Green Eggs and” Hamelin won that award in 1994 and Pat Listach won it in 1992. For god sakes Ben Grieve won the ROY in 1998–Ben Grieve!! Well, his supporters would fire back, what about the time Jeter won the All Star Game MVP in 2000? No one will deny that fact, but someone might be kind enough to point out that he joins an illustrious list of players including Jeff Conine, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Terry Steinbach as recipients of that award.
Derek Jeter is a consistently good player, not great, who has benefited from playing for one of the best teams of the past two decades. He has come through in some clutch situations while failing in others. Jeter is an above average offensive shortstop, but certainly not one of the best of all time, or even the past decade. He is greatly overrated defensively, and currently is adequate at best but more likely a detriment to the Yankees’ defense. Jeter isn’t even the best shortstop in New York (Jose Reyes) or even on his own team (A-Rod)! His skills continue to erode and he may soon have to be shifted to the outfield or first base where his value would diminish further. Even in his prime he wasn’t the best shorstop in his division, let alone all of baseball.
So why then, is Derek Sanderson Jeter hailed as one of the greats of the game? You tell me…
P.S. He never did saved those orphans from the burning building, hates apple pie, cheated on an 8th grade biology test and uses hair plugs. Are those traits of a great player, or just a good player?
Filed under: AL East, Baseball | Tagged: 2001 World Series, A-Rod, alan thicke, Arizona Diamondbacks, Ben Grieve, big apple, bill james, Bob Hamelin, Boston Red Sox, derek jeter, donald trump, fielding bible, hanley ramirez, Jeff Conine, jeter, jimmy rollins, jose reyes, lou gerhig, Luis Gonzalez, miguel tejada, Mr. November, New York Yankees, nomar garciparra, overrated, overrated jeter, Pat Listach, Sandy Alomar Jr., Seattle Mariners, Terry Steinbach, yankees hit record |