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Evaluating shortstops is especially challenging because of the importance of, and the difficulty in measuring, their defensive abilities. Two years ago, I wrote about evaluation standards, and then about Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, and Julio Franco. I am going to treat Alex Rodriguez as a third baseman this time, so he'll have to wait another week or two. I also have nothing to add to what I said about Larkin. So for now, it's Nomar, Jeter and Franco.

Nomar Garciaparra

Here is what I said two years ago:

"The interesting comparison is Banks. Banks to this stage in his career was slightly better than Garciaparra, and more importantly had played signficantly more games. Banks had very modest value in his 30s as an average first baseman. But, Ernie Banks had garnered more fame than Garciaparra in his 20s by virtue of the back-to-back MVP awards, although his team had much less success than Nomar's.

If Garciaparra can put in 3 more good seasons as a shortstop, and then finish his career in his late 30s at some other position, one would think that he would be Hall-worthy, and likely to be admitted. If he does not, my guess is that he will likely not be admitted, with the record of his teams, the decline in his defence, and the shortness of his career being key factors.

My own view is that he was a great, great player, and that he should be admitted unless his career is very short. Joe Cronin, Vern Stephens and Alan Trammell were all significantly lesser hitters than Nomar and about even with the glove, but I think they all should be in. Cronin is the only one of the three who is, so far."

The Banks comparison continues to be a good one. At age 31, Garciaparra moved to first base as Banks did at the same age. Two years ago, Banks was ahead of Nomar primarily because of durability. The pattern has continued, as Nomar has played 184 games over the last 2 years. He did however put up a nice .303/.367/.505 line in 2006, and he may yet be a valuable contributor even as a first baseman for a few years. For now, he is one of several middle infielders who had very strong peak performance, but relatively short careers in the middle infield. He joins Stephens, Banks, Joe Gordon and Laughing Larry Doyle in this category. I am less convinced of Nomar's Hall-worthiness (and Stephens' Hall-worthiness due to the influence of his peak during the war years) than I was 2 years ago. I remain doubtful that he will in fact be elected. We will check back on Nomar in another 2 years.

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter, on the other hand, has played some of his best ball in his early 30s, with 2006's .343/.417/.482 line making him a solid MVP candidate. He tacked on 34 stolen bases in 39 tries. He really is a fine, fine hitter. Check out his ball in play profile from The Hardball Times- 20% line drives, 60% ground balls, 2% of fly balls are pop-ups, and 15% go over the wall. Two years ago, I said:

"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."

So far, Jeter is well above the norm for early 30s performance. He should be a shoo-in. Interestingly, his top Baseball Reference comparable is now Roberto Alomar. They are, through age 32, quite comparable offensive players, and share the flair for the dramatic defensive play, but the unimpressive defensive statistics. Another interesting comparable is George Davis, who shared the offensive profile of Alomar and Jeter. Davis had the defensive rep too, but we are still waiting on the defensive metrics for the 1890s. Here is the offensive comparison, purely for entertainment value:

Jeter 6790 183 705 1191 .317 .388 .463 249 62 123
Alomar 7221 170 822 878 .304 .375 .448 416 100 119
Davis 6481 70 628 180 .312 .377 .439 485 (unknown) 125

The differing strikeout rates relate partially to difference in batting approaches, but also to a significant degree on the standards of the time.

Jeter should be, and will be, a Hall of Famer. The remaining doubt is whether he will go in on the first ballot, and if he continues the way he has gone for the last 2 years, that doubt will disappear very shortly.

Julio Franco

Did you know that the most comparable player, according to Baseball Reference, to Julio Franco at age 24 was Russ Adams? And over his career, the two most comparable are Buddy Bell and B.J. Surhoff. Franco had a fine year at age 46 in 2005 in Atlanta, throwing up a .275/.348/.451 line, and then tailed off modestly last year in New York.

Two years ago, I said:

"Should Franco end up in the Hall of Fame? Will he? Julio Franco would be just short of the standards I would suggest. He played five years at shortstop, and four years at second base. His offense would be good enough for a career shortstop, but he's really only had half a career as a middle infielder. Now, as for his chances, I wouldn't want to guess. He has 2457 hits now, and had 99 hits last season. He might end up with 2600-2700 hits and that might be enough. Or, one of these years, he might have a big post-season and that just might do it for him in the minds of the writers."

He now has 2566 hits, and has just signed a two year contract. Nothing he has done over the last 2 years has changed my opinion that he falls just short of the standards for Hall-worthiness, but his longevity may very well capture the attention of the voters. There are certainly many less qualified players who have been summoned.

Hall Watch 2006 Update- The Shortstops | 6 comments | Create New Account
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Ron - Friday, November 17 2006 @ 01:44 AM EST (#158149) #
Jeter is a lock for the HoF. I know some people on the internet like to playfully mock Jeter because he plays for the Yankees, but there's no denying he's a fine ball player. Jeter strikes me as a player that will age well. I think it's fair to give him the "professional hitter" label. By the time his career is over, it will be interesting to see if people consider him to be one of the greatest SS's of all-time.
Mick Doherty - Friday, November 17 2006 @ 09:45 AM EST (#158160) #
The interesting thing about Jeter is -- who would have guessed that of the 1990's "Holy Trinity" of shortstops, he'd be the last one actually playing there? A-Rod is at third, Nomar is at first ... both have changed teams multiple times. Tejada is probably the best of the "other" 90's guys, he of the "Holy Trinity Plus One" designation.
ayjackson - Friday, November 17 2006 @ 10:28 AM EST (#158169) #
It would be kind of interesting to see the Holy Trinity all playing infield for the Yankees this season.  I've heard there's been some interest in Nomar on the part of Cashman.  Though Nomar seems intent on staying in the Sunshine.
Craig B - Friday, November 17 2006 @ 11:03 AM EST (#158171) #

Davis had the defensive rep too, but we are still waiting on the defensive metrics for the 1890s.

We have enough to know that Davis was an excellent shortstop, befitting his reputation.  To the modern eye his error totals look ridiculously high but he was actually well above average in fielding percentage.  Bill James's win shares method rates him very well, as does Nate Silver's method (high rates and 88 runs above average for his career).  He was not quite the equal of a Bill Dahlen or a Bobby Wallace with the glove, but he was good.  (He actually was better at avoiding errors than either Dahlen or Wallace, pretty high praise!) 

Deadball era defenders had much more variability in their impact (since the science of infield play was not quite as well developed and the athleticism was probably less uniform) but being as good as Davis was assures us that he was a fine defender.

Comparing Jeter with Davis, despite the fact that Jetes doesn't show up as well on the defensive stats, isn't a bad comparison.  Acknowledged team leaders, stars in New York and the NY media, very strong all-around offensive games (Davis with more power, Jeter better at getting on base, Davis marginally better at stealing bases).

I think the most similar shortstop to Jeter is Arky Vaughan, though.

Mick Doherty - Friday, November 17 2006 @ 11:29 AM EST (#158173) #

BBRef thinks so, too.

Interestingly enough, Larkin and Trammell are right behind Vaughan on that list.

Mike Green - Friday, November 17 2006 @ 11:42 AM EST (#158178) #
That off-hand comment about Davis was, of course, a little oversimplified.  We can be pretty confident that he was above average for the league, for reasons that Craig describes.

Arky Vaughan was a better hitter than Jeter in his prime.  If the rudimentary statistics we have and the anecdotal evidence can be believed, he was the 2nd best defensive shortstop of his time- just behind Durocher.  On the other hand, Vaughan's career essentially ended at age 31 for a number of reasons.  Jeter will be playing into his 40s, I think. 

Hall Watch 2006 Update- The Shortstops | 6 comments | Create New Account
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