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?
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.
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.)