2014 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

The Derek Jeter Legacy

jeter land
Source: Leon Halip/Getty Images North America

Nothing is ever cut and dried in New York. The legacy of Derek Jeter will be another in a long line of convuluted tales that changes depending on the person perceiving it. On the one hand, he could get to 3,500 hits with a healthy season and join the all-time greats in Cooperstown in the minimum time allowed. On the other hand, there are those within baseball’s intelligencia that would point out that Jeter is one of the more overrated players in the history of the game. The irony is that both accounts are absolutely true at the same time.

A simple accounting of his numbers to date (seen below) indicates that he belongs in the conversation of great historical shortstops. Yet, there are some numbers (we will see later) that call that into question. That leads some to wonder whether he truly is an all-time great or whether he was simply at the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a black and white world, so it likely is not one or the other. In many instances it is both.

  • Games: 2602
  • Plate Appearances: 11,925
  • Hits: 3316
  • Home Runs: 256
  • Runs:  1876
  • RBIs: 1261
  • Doubles: 525
  • Triples: 65
  • Stolen Bases: 348

There can be little doubt that Jeter will have a spot in Cooperstown. The two questions on everyone’s mind are whether he will be a fantasy factor this year and where he belongs on the list of all-time greats. In a fantasy perspective, we can focus completely on the offensive side. In that case, he combined very good batting averages, decent walk rates, and good power and speed. Any of those by themselves wouldn’t make him elite, but when you consider the combination and how long he was able to combine all those skills, then you have to consider him elite.

Of course, that only tells half of the story. The sabermetricians in the audience are screaming about his fielding. Even then you get a bevy of arguments depending on the source. The most popular source is The Fielding Bible. It’s defensive runs saved (DRS) statistic has become one of the more popular metric among learned fans. That isn’t to say that it has its own detractors and it only goes back to 2003, but it will give us a decent idea of what those statisticians are talking about.

  • 2003: -13
  • 2004: -13
  • 2005: -27
  • 2006: -16
  • 2007: -24
  • 2008: -10
  • 2009: +3
  • 2010:  -9
  • 2011: -15
  • 2012: -18
  • 2013:   -5

The relationship between Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez is about as complicated as there is in sports. The difference between how each is handled by the media is also as different as you can get. Even if you take away PEDs (difficult I know), Rodriguez has always been seen as selfish while Jeter is the ultimate teammate. Yet, when they acquired Rodriguez it was Rodriguez that moved to third base. This is in spite of the fact that he was clearly the better defensive shortstop. Arod is a hard person to defend, but in this case he got a raw deal. We have to change platforms to look at his early career, but if we go to Ultimate Zone Rate (UZR) we can look at his first ten years.

  • 1995: -5.0
  • 1996: -14.0
  • 1997: -3.0
  • 1998: +2.0
  • 1999: -11.0
  • 2000: -23.0
  • 2001: -17.0
  • 2002: -0.1

Again, I have to warn of the dangers of mixing and matching statistical platforms, but these results show us overwhelmingly that Derek Jeter was by far the worst defensive shortstop in baseball (while he played) and when you consider the context of the numbers, he might be the worst defensive shortstop in the game’s history. This is at least the case for any shortstop to log more than 10,000 innings at the position.

This is where the raging debate begins. Those that watch him play on a regular basis will beg to differ. After all, there is the famous play where he flipped the ball to the catcher to save a run in the playoffs. There is the other famous play where he caught the pop fly and then propelled himself into the stands. If clutch performance can happen at the plate it can also happen in the field. Jeter always had a presence that allowed him to come up big in big moments.

That only adds fuel to this fire. The corresponding argument goes that you have to have the opportunity to play in big games to come up big in big games. If he had been a Kansas City Royal, Pittsburgh Pirate, (or Houston Astro as he almost was) would he have near the reputation for clutch performance? I’m not so sure, but then again, I can’t crack on a guy for simply coming through in big moments when given the opportunity.

The end result is a huge disconnect. You have a very good offensive player known for clutch performances. Fans can’t help but fall in love with such a player. When the number crunchers start pointing out the cracks in the veneer they begin to circle the wagons. After all, Jeter is neither a loafer nor error prone, so those defensive numbers must be inaccurate. In fact, those fans have gone so far as to call the numbers folks “haters.”

It’s hard to split the difference on something like this, but I have to. The statistics don’t paint the same picture that we saw when we watched Jeter. He was always a maximum effort guy, so the defensive numbers aren’t as much an indictment of Jeter the person, but more a fact of a guy not playing at his optimum position. At the end of the day, all three narratives are a part of the whole Jeter narrative. Yes, he was one of the best hitting shortstops in the history of the game. Yes, he is one of the best clutch performers in the history of the game. Yes, he might also be the worst fielding shortstop in the Hall of Fame when he gets elected. To get the whole picture you have to consider all three.

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  1. March 25, 2014 at 11:23 am — Reply

    You left out that Jeter is the all time yankee leader in both strikeouts and double plays.

    And if there everwas a rally killer, Jeter is the last guy you wanted to see with men on base.

    • March 26, 2014 at 6:02 am — Reply

      If someone has been playing for 20 years, they are liable to rack up some pretty big numbers across the board. I’m not sure if Jeter will go down as rally killer, but then again I am not a Yankees fan. I would think he would be remembered for the times he came up big. Of course, I’m not used to my team winning, so any player that comes up big multiple times would likely be hailed as a hero in my hometown.

  2. Rick Russo
    March 25, 2014 at 3:24 pm — Reply

    Please tell me a team that would not have wanted Jeter as there Shortstop.He has almost 1300 R.B.I. batting either 1st or 2nd please show me someone else with stats like that. Also he probably has more class than anyone who played in his era,if there is someone with more you let me know who.

  3. March 25, 2014 at 7:15 pm — Reply

    I would have loved Jeter as an Astros fan. As the story goes, a scout sat in his home ready to sign him when the Astros decided to draft Phil Nevin instead. I would have moved him to third base, but otherwise would have loved to have had him.

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