Hall Watch 2004-The Shortstops-Derek Jeter

Sunday, January 02 2005 @ 01:59 AM EST

Contributed by: Mike Green

Derek Jeter will go in to the Hall of Fame. As an icon of the age, fame defines him. His merits as a ballplayer are not quite so clear-cut.

2004 was an interesting year for Jeter. He started off colder than an iceberg, but heated up with the warm weather to finish with a fine .292/.352/.471 line. More controversially, he was awarded his first Gold Glove. His defensive statistics were better in 2004 than previously, but still below average.

Derek Jeter was the Yankees’ first round draft pick in 1992, and the sixth overall selection that year. He had just turned 18. He hit very poorly in rookie ball the remainder of that year. In 1993, he hit well in low A, and in 1994, he was the talk of baseball, as he blew through high A, double A and triple A, hitting .329, .377 and .349 with good plate discipline. For good measure he stole 50 bases and was caught only 8 times. The Yanks gave him another year of ball in triple A in 1995 before he was called up for good in 1996. He immediately was a .300 hitter in the majors with good plate discipline and some power. He improved gently in all spheres, reaching his peak at age 25 in 1999 when he hit .349/.438/.552. He has not approached those marks since. He has however improved his stolen base efficiency considerably as he has aged, posting a sweet 115/19 success rate over the last 5 years.

There is no question that Jeter has been a very good offensive shortstop. For his chart, I’ve included Bernie Williams, as I’ll be comparing the contributions that Jeter and Williams made to the Yanks 1996-2000 World Series champions. Here’s the chart:

Player         G     AB     H    HR     W     BA    OBP   SLUG   OPS+
Jeter 1366 5513 1734 150 559 .315 .385 .463 121
Trammell 1568 5694 1650 133 594 .290 .356 .424 114
Nomar 1029 4133 1330 182 295 .322 .370 .549 133
Banks 1216 4670 1355 298 452 .290 .353 .552 138
Stephens 1412 5481 1588 224 598 .290 .360 .474 124
Cronin 1363 5108 1539 80 653 .301 .383 .453 114
Vaughan 1539 5763 1846 86 829 .329 .410 .460 138
Bernie 1096 4296 1298 151 595 .304 .389 .487 130


Looking closer at the Jeter/Garciaparra comparison, Jeter gets on base more, whereas Garciaparra has hit for more power in his career. OPS+ attaches too much weight to power, so I calculated their career GPA+. Jeter’s is 111; Garciaparra’s is 115. It’s fair to say that Jeter fits at the high end of the Cronin/Trammell/Stephens/Garciaparra range of offensive shortstops, taking into account his batting skill and much better than average speed.

One cannot talk about Jeter without forming an opinion about his defence and his contributions to the great Yankee ballclubs.

Defence

Prior to 2004, the analytical community was united on one thing. Derek Jeter was a below average defensive shortstop. While he had a fine arm, his range up the middle was very poor and he had difficulty turning the double play. There were differences about how bad he was, some describing him as terrible and others as merely below average. Mike Emeigh, who did an extensive play-by-play analysis of Jeter’s work, had the more charitable view.

Mike Emeigh's 2003 Primer article with comments from MGL and Tangotiger summarizes the various analysts' views of Jeter's defence from 1999-2003. Similar statistical views can be found here.

I checked Jeter’s zone ratings when he came into the league in 1996-97. They were consistently 5% below league average; Jeter converted roughly 10 fewer balls within the zone into outs than the average shortstop during a season.

Derek Jeter won the Gold Glove in 2004. His defensive statistics, courtesy of espn.com, did improve. His zone rating, which had been the worst in the league among regulars every year between 2001-2003, was league average. Instead of turning a double play every 20 innings, as he had from 2001-2003, he turned one every 14 innings. He led the league’s shortstops in putouts, rather than having a below average number. He still had a below average number of assists.

In 2004, a number of changes occurred to the Yankees’ pitching and defence that might affect Jeter’s statistics. He had a new second baseman, Miguel Cairo (in place of the defensively challenged Alfonso Soriano), and a new third baseman, Alex Rodriguez. Kevin Brown, an extreme groundballer, joined the rotation in place of Roger Clemens.

My own opinion is that Mike Emeigh’s view was correct. Jeter was, and is, a below average defensive shortstop, but not a terrible one. It seems likely that part, but not all, of his inability to turn double plays prior to 2004 resulted from Soriano’s deficiencies. His relative strength in throwing out runners from the hole is outweighed by his complete inability on balls up the middle.

Jeter and the 96-00 Yankees

It is a fact that the Yankees’ run of World Championships coincided with Jeter’s arrival in the majors, but it is certainly possible to overstate his importance. In 1994, the Yankees had the best record in the American League when the strike occurred in August. In 1995, they went 79-65 in the shortened season, and made the post-season as the wild card.

The 1996 ballclub went 92-70 with a Pythagorean 88-72 record. Jeter’s arrival was one of several pieces of good news on that club; other pieces were Mariano Rivera’s fabulous season setting up for John Wetteland, Bernie Williams’ jump forward at age 27, and the arrival of Andy Pettitte. Jeter ran up a fine .314/.370/.430 batting line, but he was 4th on the team in on-base percentage, and 6th in slugging. For comparison, Williams put up a .305/.391/.535 mark and played a fairly good centerfield at that stage in his career. Rivera’s line was utterly amazing- 107 IP, 73 H, 1 HR, 34W, 130K during the regular season, followed up by 14 almost as good innings in the post-season. I’d say that Jeter’s arrival played a significant role in the Yankees’ victory, but Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams were more important in the Yankees’ success.

The 1997 ballclub went 96-66 with a Pythagorean 100-62 record. Jeter was again very good at .291/.370/.405, but again he was the 4th or 5th best hitter on the club. Bernie Williams went .328/.408/.535, for comparison purposes. The 1998 ballclub was dominant going 114-48 with a Pythagorean 108-54 record, and losing only 2 games on the way to a World Championship. Jeter improved to .324/.384/.481, again behind Williams’ .339/.422/.575. Jorge Posada took over the bulk of the catching in this year, and made significant offensive and defensive contributions.

In 1999, the club coasted to a 99-64 record, and then went through the post-season losing only 1 game. Jeter was, for the first and only time, the best hitter on the club, with his .349/.437/.552 line, narrowly edging Williams’ .342/.435/.536. It is possible to argue that Jeter was the most valuable Yankee during this year, although Williams and Rivera have cases too. The 2000 club went only 87-74, but prevailed in the post-season in hard-fought series. Jeter, who hit .339/.416/.481, Williams and Posada had fairly similar offensive seasons, with Posada’s being the best.

Summing up, I’d say that there were 5 important pieces in the Yankees’ championship run- Williams, Rivera, Jeter, Pettitte and Posada. Somehow it has become commonplace to suggest that Jeter was more important than Williams or Rivera in the run; I cannot agree with that suggestion. He was in my view an important piece, but not the most important.

Putting it all together

Derek Jeter is, according to Baseball Reference, most comparable to Alan Trammell. It is not a bad comparison. Jeter is somewhat superior offensively and Trammell somewhat superior defensively. I’d say that it is pretty close overall. It is also true that both players emerged with other stars on their teams (Trammell had Gibson, Whitaker and Jack Morris accompanying him on the fine Tiger teams of the 80s). The major difference between their two clubs was the Yankees’ ability to acquire the secondary talent to accompany their stars, which led to more consistent triumphs.

Logic would indicate that Jeter will fare better in his 30s than Trammell (who had only 3 good seasons after 30). Jeter is a better hitter, and position change is a more viable option for Jeter than it was for Trammell. On the other hand, Jeter’s fame and ego prevented a position change when the younger and better A-Rod arrived in New York in 2004, and there is little indication that this will change any time soon.

Still, I have argued that Trammell belongs in the Hall of Fame, and if he does, then so too does Jeter, assuming that his career follows an average path from here.

For the Green projection method on a rainy day, we have leek and potato soup- clean and saute 9 leeks until soft, but not brown, add 2 diced potatoes 4 cups vegetable stock, add pepper and caraway, simmer for ˝ hour, puree, and then add 1 cup of half-and-half. Inhale and pronounce:

Derek Jeter’s final career statistics: 2350 games, 3015 hits, 280 homers, .297/.365/.426.

Next up: Barry Larkin

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