Sunday, July 27, 2008

On Derek Jeter

In part 3 of 100 Things, I wrote a short list of things and people I thought were overrated. Included on this list was Derek Jeter. A fella by the name of Seth took great offense to that and let me know it in the comments. My response to him was getting very long so I thought I'd just throw it up here as a quick weekend post. As a set-up, here's Seth's comment:

You all need to start backing up this Derek Jeter overrated b.s. A-rod? Fine. Overrated. In fact, bag on anyone else on the Yankees (except Rivera, and maybe Jorge) and I'd be hard pressed to argue. But to just float out there that Derek Jeter is overrated is unacceptable. A career .316 hitter, closing in on 3,000 hits, 1996 Rookie of the Year, 3-time gold-glove winner, World Series MVP, World Series Champion (3x), Captain of the Yankees, and dater of hot women. That's not overrated, that's Hall of Fame.
Need more proof?

The Flip


The Dive

Okay, first of all, let me say this. Jeter is probably a Hall of Famer. When all is said and done, he'll be remembered as one of the most prominent players of his generation. "Overrated" does not equal "terrible at baseball." My beef with Jeter is the over saturation. The level of discourse about him and the tenor of that discourse is way out of whack for the player he is and it often leads to the ignoring of other players. Seth mentioned Rivera and Posada and they're a perfect example of the latter. They were every bit as important to the recent Yankee dynasty as Jeter but they hardly ever get talked about the in same way as Jeter. Jeter is a Born Winner. Those other guys are just his teammates, happily tagging along.

The one area where I will absolutely argue that Jeter is overrated is in the field. Gold Gloves are often won on reputation and I definitely feel that's the case here. As Seth suggests, let's go to the tape. I think the two following plays have done more to contribute to the myth of Derek Jeter than anything else.

In the first video (linked above), Jeter shows remarkable hustle and heads-up play. But to give him all the credit, which the announcer on the clip does, ignores the fact that one, the right-fielder who is NEVER called by name in the clip, made a near perfect throw down the line that probably would've gotten to Posada even without Jeter's involvement and two, Posada set up perfectly, fielded the flip, and placed the tag, a tough play that he made look easy. (It also completely ignores the fact that Jeremy Giambi was an idiot not to slide in that situation but that's beside the main point.)

The second video (also linked above) is the play where Jeter tracks down a pop fly, catches it, takes a bunch of steps, and then dives dramatically into the stands. Ummm... great? Jeter definitely does a godd job of sticking with the ball and he covers a lot of ground, but is he the only player to go into the stands in an effort to make a defensive play? The only player to bleed on the field? Listen, at risk of upsetting even more Jeter fans, that little swan dive wasn't entirely necessary. He had plenty of room to start slowing down and bring himself to a stop against the railing. Maybe his momentum takes him over the railing a little. But three rows into the stands? Really, Jeter? If this were hockey he would've gotten two minutes on that play. I could spend fifteen minutes on YouTube and find fifteen catches more impressive than that one, ones where the player leaves his feet because he has to in order to get to the ball.

By almost every measure - range factor, zone rating, actually watching other shortstops in the league - Jeter is a below average defensive shortstop. The question about his defense isn't, "Is he good or average?" The question is, "Is he slightly below average or terrible?" He's not even the best defensive shortstop on his side of the Yankees' infield. Hey, quick joke for you. What do you call a ground ball to Jeter's left? A single up the middle! Wocka, wocka, wocka!

At the plate his numbers are more impressive but even then they don't justify his deification. As a quick comparison, we'll use Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros. Jeter's career batting average is 12 points higher right now but that still makes Berkman a .300 career hitter and Berkman has a higher OBP, slugging %, and OPS. Berkman hits into slightly fewer DPs per season. They average exactly the same number of strikeouts per season. Berkman averages more home runs, more RBIs, slightly more doubles, and a couple fewer triples. So they're pretty comparable. But Jeter plays under the bright lights of New York City for a team that drafted well early in his career and always has one of the highest payrolls in baseball while Berkman plays in the middle of the U.S. for a small market NL team that hasn't shown a propensity to draft well OR spend a lot of money. Berkman has spent a number of seasons as one of the few consistent bats in the Astros line-up whereas Jeter has always been surrounded by offensive talent, including one of the very best hitters in baseball. Jeter is always the center of conversation in every Yankees game that's on national TV. He gets tons of glory when he's playing well and tons of glory when he isn't playing well. He gets very little criticism. Berkman doesn't get much national attention at all regardless of how he's playing.

In conclusion:

Very good at baseball: Lance Berkman AND Derek Jeter
Underrated: Lance Berkman, Overrated: Derek Jeter.

Your mileage may vary. Obviously.

(By the way, Alex Rodriguez is not overrated. Lacking in personality and not that much fun to watch? Definitely debatable. Overrated? No, I don't think so. Jeter has had 7 post-seasons where he hit above .400 but he's also had 7 post-seasons where he's hit under .250, mostly the more recent ones. The Yankees not producing in the last few playoffs is not solely on Rodriguez. He doesn't hit for everyone else and he doesn't pitch. They might not have even made it to the playoffs last season if not for him. The amount of crap Rodriguez has taken from Yankees fans during his time there is crazy.)

* All statistics cited were taken from Baseball-Reference. And for the record, I also think Derek Jeter is totally average looking while Lance Berkman is as cute as a bug's ear. Jeter dates hot women? Yeah, what single professional athlete doesn't? Berkman is married to his college sweetheart, dotes on his three little girls, goes to church every week, drinks chocolate milk, and says things like "Good gracious!" So even off the field Jeter is overrated while Berkman is underrrated.

(Thanks for the comment, Seth! I love when people express their disagreement in a thought-out and reasonable manner.)


Seth said...

Glad to inspire a full post. If I come off like a jerk in any of this, it's not my intention. Just passionate about this subject.

A few points:

- On the flip, it most certainly was not the throw by the right fielder that set that up. He missed both cutoff men and that ball wound up in no-man's land. The ball had no business being where it was, and without Jeter's intervention there is no way Giambi is out.

- Slightly below average or terrible in the field? Give me a break. Jeter's lifetime fielding percentage is .975. That' 9 one thousandths of a point below the the all time leader. That solidly puts him in the in the upper tier of defensive shortstops. Range factor is a bullshit stat that fails to take many aspects of a team into consideration. Zone rating I will give you, for I am not professing Jeter to be perfect, but it is another one of the "new" baseball stats that I feel have little bearing on the game and are more for fantasy geeks. He may not have the widest range, but no one makes the throw across the body from the hole better.

- Clutch factor - I have no convoluted stats to throw at you for this one, but both of the plays linked in the videos came at key times in a game that saved the Yankees from falling behind, and Jeter consistently carries his team in this way.

-A Lance Berkman Comparison? Really? I think head-to-head with another SS would be more appropriate. 1B are traditionally power hitters and Jeter is not a power hitter. And, I can make the exact same argument you made but in the inverse - it's harder to perform well in NYC due to the constant scrutiny which makes Jeter's accomplishments all the more special(BTW I like Lance Berkman and do agree he is a bit underrated).

- A .300 lifetime postseason hitter, especially with the number of postseason games he has played in? Awesome.

- The Yankees have made the postseason every year he has been on the roster.

- As for him hogging the limelight, that's not really his doing, it's the New York media. Also, when have you ever heard a teammate say anything negative about Jeter?

I do applaud you for articulating some of the reasons why you think Jeter is overrated, and I have enjoyed making counter points. Let's throw it open to other commenters.

GregK said...

Exact same way I feel about Chris Drury.

Heather B. said...

Seth, I'd love to get others input but I do want to respond to one thing you said here. I'll leave everything else for anyone else who wants to jump in.

I totally agree that the spotlight and conversation around him isn't Jeter's fault. But the fact that it's there even when he doesn't deserve it or when other players just as talented are being ignored is what moves him toward overrated for me. I'm certainly not implying that it's his fault that I think he's overrated.

And you're right that the first baseman/SS comparison might not be entirely fair but I was really just making a comparison between a guy who gets a ton of credit for being good offensively (Jeter) and a guy who doesn't get enough credit for being good offensively (Berkman). Again, it's not the numbers. It's how much attention one guy's numbers gets over the other.

Whoops, that was two thing :-D

(I have no problems with Jeter personally and again, I think he's a very fine baseball player. And you didn't come off like a jerk at all. Lord knows, I understand being passionate about players I love. Considering the number of Yankees fans in Buffalo, I actually expected more people to argue that one with me.)

Vanek's Hair said...

Has anyone else noticed that Derek Jeter's "clutch" World Series performances are directly related to Yankees pitching staff. When the staff was dominant in the late 1990s, they won. When their staff has been a grease fire, like they have been this millenium, not so good. He is a Hall of Famer, but he isn't even the best shortstop on his team.

Lee Andrew said...

If you take a look at Derek Jeter's career so far who is the player he is most like? Roberto Alomar. At age 34 Alomar had the same amount of runs and hits. He had two championships rings, he won 10 Gold Gloves (7 more than Jeter), 12 time All Star (2 times more than Jeter), 5 times he was in the top 10 in the MVP voting (7 for Jeter), he was a team leader, a clutch hitter ('92 ALCS MVP), a higher batting average and OBP in playoff games, batted over .300, fielding percentage (if you choose to go by that number) is .984 to Jeter's .975.

At this point in his career the only thing different about Jeter and Alomar is that Jeter is a better power hitter, but on the other hand Alomar smokes Jeter in fielding and running.

Granted Jeter is going to be a lot better in the end. Alomar's career was virtually over at 34 and Jeter will continue to be good for a long time. That will be the difference between him deserving to be in the Hall of Fame and Alomar not. But at this point right now Jeter is no better than Alomar was at 34. Alomar was a very very good player, but not the type of player that deserves the kudos that Jeter is getting.

If Mariano Rivera is the "greatest reliever of all-time" then he's not overrated. If he's in the argument for greatest pitcher then he's overrated. The closer position as a whole is a useless position. If you go back to before there were closers the percentage of games that were blown in the 9th are exactly the same as they are now. The closer position hasn't change a thing.

Posada? We'll never know for sure until he plays in a lineup that isn't completely loaded every season but that probably isn't going to happen.

Rodriguez? Not overrated. Best player in baseball.

I'd say the first and maybe only Yankee that comes to mind when talking about underrated is Robinson Cano. Although it sure would be nice if he didn't wait until the second half to start playing.