By: Eli Geha
February 22nd, 2016
Before I start this article, I would just like to say that I have a huge respect for Derek Jeter. The way he represented himself on and off the field was remarkable, as well as the way he played the game. Jeter always played the game hard, and as a result he became one of the greatest hitting short stops of all time. What is frustrating to me is that when people talk about Jeter they seem to disregard his numbers throughout his career and continue to say he is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Before you close this article out of rage, I ask you to hear me out and read the evidence that I put forth.
For starters, a huge argument is his post season numbers. I have to admit they were very good to the untrained eye- 5 world series rings, .308 batting average and the most runs scored, hits, total bases, singles, doubles, and triples in post season history. He is also 4th in post season history for rbi’s and walks as well as 6th in stolen bags. Out of his nineteen seasons with the Yankees they made the playoffs sixteen times. For someone who has played at least three playoff games in sixteen seasons, it is obvious he is going to have such good numbers. .308 post season batting average is impressive, and a .366 post season wOBA is not too bad either. In Jeter’s career he played in 154 playoff games. Having the most runs scored, hits, total bases, singles, doubles, and triples in post season history isn’t very surprising… look how many playoff games he played in! If Derek Jeter played for the Kansas City Royals instead of the New York Yankees then he would not have these accolades because he would not have made the playoffs nor would he have any World Series rings. How can he be praised for these team awards?
Next I want to debunk Derek Jeter’s hitting myths- was he a really good hitter? Absolutely. Was he a great or elite hitter? No. Let’s start with the most important stat: wOBA. His career average wOBA was very good: .360. This is above average especially for a short stop. His career OBP was an outstanding .377, which as you can see, getting on base was never his problem. His problem was his slugging percentage which was a career .440 and is average at best. His ISO power was .130 which is considered to be between average and below average for a major league hitter. Jeter also averaged just under 14 home runs per season. With his best season for homeruns was in 1999 when he hit 24. Jeter also had a career ground ball percentage of 58.4%- atrocious! The league average ground ball percentage is 44%. With that being said, Derek Jeter was a very good hitter, but his lack of power is what prevents me from saying he could be put in the elite hitting category.
Now for defense, his advanced numbers are almost laughable. If his name wasn’t Derek Jeter he would have been moved to second base half way through his career. Jeter’s fielding percentage was .976 which is just below the MLB average at .985. But who cares about fielding percentage- what does it really show? Fielding percentage shows the number of times a defensive player properly handles a batted or thrown ball. With that being said, it is possible for a player of lesser defensive skill to have a high fielding percentage because it does not take into account a player’s defensive range. Therefore, a ball that Jeter could not get to is marked as a hit instead of an error. A player of greater defensive skill might have a lower fielding percentage because of how many more balls he fields due to his superior range. For example Ian Desmond has better advanced defensive numbers than Derek Jeter but Jeter’s fielding percentage is 16 points higher than Desmond’s.
Now let’s get into Derek’s advanced defensive numbers. His Total Zone runs above average (measures how many runs a defensive player has saved according to his range) was a horrifying -129 runs over his career. That means when Derek Jeter played short stop the Yankees gave up an extra 129 runs. His career Total Zone average per season was -8 runs, which means the Yankees were eight runs worse per season with him starting at short. If you’re not a fan of the TZ stat there are more accurate stats you can look at which are UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). His UZR was a career -76.1 and an average per season of -5.9. Many aspects go into UZR, including the amount of runs above average an infielder is by turning double plays, if they get more balls than average, and if the player commits more or fewer errors when compared to the league average player at their position. The reason UZR is a better metric than errors/fielding percentage or Total Zone is because it is a better representation of how good a defender is in their position. Even the best fan in the game will not be able to do a good job measuring defensive players because you can’t watch and remember every single play a player does throughout a year. Stats like UZR and DRS are used to estimate defensive value of a player and to help realize how much he does defensively to help his team win. According to the UZR scale having a 0 would be the league average, 15 is considered a superb defender and -15 is considered an awful one. Derek Jeter’s career average of -5.9 lands him in the category of below average, meaning while Jeter played short stop, the Yankees allowed almost six extra runs per season. One final defensive stat I will be using is DRS. His DRS was a career -159, an average of -13.25 per season. DRS uses the same measurement scale as UZR, so Jeter’s -13.25 per season would place him in the category of being a poor defender.
Let me finish by saying that this argument/debate is one of the most frustrating topics I ever come across when discussing baseball. It is hilarious to me that people can disregard numbers like they are nothing because of team accolades and the simple fact that he was a good hitter. Don’t get me wrong, as I said earlier I have the upmost respect for Derek Jeter and I am not denying the fact that he was a pretty decent hitter. He was one of the best representatives of baseball the game has ever seen. When digging down deep into his advanced numbers they clearly show how overrated he was, not just at the end of his career, but during his entire stay in the big leagues.