NPF: PENDULUM

There cannot be a baseball fan on Earth, Yankees devotees included, who is not a little embarrassed by Jetermania. The national sports media's overindulgence in #2's final month was at parts ridiculous ("Jeter's final night game!") to the unwatchable (various "tribute" videos from annoying NYC personalities). People are so sick of hearing about Jeter that there has been a strong and unsurprising backlash of articles critical not only of the media coverage but of Jeter as a person and a player. While many of us have been on the "Shut Up about Jeter" bandwagon for a decade now, it filled to overcapacity in the past two months.

So that is how I find myself sitting here about to defend, and even laud, Derek Jeter. I am as sick to death of the coverage of his retirement as anyone else, but even as a career Yankee hater I have a hard time believing that any half-serious fan could say with a straight face that #2 is not an all-time great player. All of these sarcastic headlines about honoring "one of the 500 greatest players of all time" might inspire some giggles but are patently ridiculous.

Derek Jeter has that Ben Affleck disease – just looking at his face and listening to him talk creates an irresistible urge to punch him, even when he's saying something intelligent. He benefits from playing on teams that are always loaded with expensive talent. He lives in the media capital of the US, if not the world, and his every accomplishment is reported on in glowing terms. All of this is true. Fine. Look at the numbers, though, and you see an absolute, slam dunk, first ballot Hall of Famer and that's not even debatable. Oh, I'm sorry…are there a lot of other shortstops with 3465 hits, .310/.377/.440 career slash numbers, eight 200 hit seasons, and 96 career oWAR? I guess he should wait until the rest of them are inducted. If they existed.

The criticisms of Jeter are well known and valid. He was not a great defensive player. He was an average one for the first half of his career and then a liability in the field over the second half. For how many great HOF hitters is defense a consideration? Most HOFers were either undistinguished defensively, played next to none (Molitor, Thomas, etc), transitioned to easier positions like 1B in their 30s to hide their defensive deficiencies (Murray, Foxx, Mize), or had allegedly fantastic defensive skills that were mostly mythical (Brock, Stargell, Winfield). When guys are great hitters, nobody cares about their defense. Dave Winfield was about as useful in the field as a traffic pylon in the field; I don't recall that mattering much when he became Hall-eligible.

Jeter also gets considerable criticism for how bad his final season was. This is so stupid it isn't even worth discussing. Pick ten random HOF hitters and look at their final seasons. Look at what players who are practically worshiped like Ripken, Brett, Murray, and Mays did in their final season (or two). Everyone hangs on a year or two too long, usually in a desperate effort to pad counting stats or reach milestone numbers.

Did he benefit from playing on high payroll, talent-stocked teams? Yes. And he was consistently the best or one of the best players on those teams when they were successful. He also delivered in the postseason, a notable shortcoming of many HOF caliber hitters.

In short, I get it. I understand that everyone is sick of Jeter and that the media coverage was so far over the top that it's hard not to hate him for it. That said, don't be an idiot. He was not a perfect player, but with the BBWAA opening the doors of the Hall to mediocre Nice Guys like Rice, Dawson, and Perez in recent years there is not a single decent argument against Jeter, the best hitting shortstop of the last 100 years, being anything but a lock for Cooperstown the moment he is eligible. Fuck that guy, but he could hit.

32 thoughts on “NPF: PENDULUM”

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I've been a die-hard Yankee fan since I came home from school and watched Mickey Mantle hit a monstrous HR off of Barney Schultz in the '64 World Series.
    When my Mom and I stayed up to watch Apollo 11 land on the moon, I though Neil Armstrong's first words would be, "One small step for man – one fucking hell of a fucking shot by Mantle!"

    I grew-up watching the horrible Yankee teams of the mid to late 60's and early 70's.
    The late 70's were terrific.
    The early-med 80's were ok.
    The early 90's sucked Steinbrenner dick.
    And then, came Jeter, and those gloriously great teams of the late 90's – early 00's!

    And, now that I've given my Yankee fan bona fides, and as an avid Jeter fan, MAN was this year over-kill!
    Steiner Sports and the Yankees sold any and every thing Jeter-related, besides his pee and poop samples – and I'm not sure they didn't do that!

    After Wagner, and possibly Ripkin, Jeter is the finest hitting shortstop since Ernie Banks and Vern Stephens were in their prime – I'd include that asshole A-Rod, who might have been the best of them all, and Nomar, except those dudes used PED's.

    On defense, Jeter was great going back on pop's and flies, and he had that patented move to his right, and his jump-throw. He wasn't ever any good going to his left. But, he had Knoblauch and Cano at 2nd, so he didn't need to get in their way by going too far left.

    He was a class act on the field and off – no mean feat in the days of the internet and social media.

    One bone to pick with you, Ed:
    I agree that Dawson and Perez were nice guys – but Rice?
    Ask the Boston writers how "nice" Rice was.
    There's a reason he wasn't elected into the HOF until he was almost ineligible – besides that, outside of a few years, he wasn't that great a hitter – he was an asshole to the press, and to the fans.

  • No, Jeter was not an average defensive player early in his career. He had a negative dWAR (meaning he was worse than some league-minimum schmo) every year but '97, '98 and '09. He was always a bad defensive shortstop, and in many years he was a terrible one.

    He was definitely a great hitting shortstop though.

  • I more or less just let Will Ferrell's "I don't like you, but I respect you" semi-serious rant about Jeter stand as how I feel. I'm a Boston fan. I can't like him. But he's not a bad person, or a bad player. Hopefully the Damned Yankees don't find a replacement to equal him any time soon.

    In any case, he's nowhere near as annoying as over-hyped football stars (*coughBrettFarvecough*).

  • One of the sport stat sites, (maybe 538) had probably the most fair take:

    1) He's the 3rd best offensive SS ever (behind Honus Wagner and A-Rod)
    2) He's a bad defensive shortstop
    3) Which combine together to make him around the 10th or so best SS ever.

  • Your point about last seasons is well-taken. Jeter's compares very well with Ruth, Mays and Griffey Jr., to name three. I also love that Jeter helped Billy Crystal get an AB with the Yankees for his 60th birthday.

  • My issue is that it's BS to call Jeter an amazing offensive SS when the numbers he's being compared to are players that are nearly all better defensively at a traditionally and appropriately defense first position. Anything that includes "for a SS" is nonsense simply because they should have moved him a decade ago – likely to the OF. His numbers still hold ip for the HOF but I hate all the SS nonsense.

    Tl;dr – he won a gold glove at SS in a year when Alexi Ramirez was playing the position. Come on….

  • c u n d gulag says:

    wnsfr,
    That was in a game against Boston in Boston – IN JUNE!
    Not that that's not an important game, but it was still only June.

    I was at a game at Yankee Stadium when they were playing the Braves in and inter-league game in, I think it was 2002.
    With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, with the Yank's losing 6-0, Jeter hit a worm-burning ground ball to the Brave SS.
    He ran his heart out, and almost beat the throw.

    Say what you will about his defense – or anything else – but even there, he never didn't give it his all!

  • Good bye, another professional sports hero. You collected your money and endorsements, bought your nice houses and cars, bedded some of the finest looking women available, and filled stadia with your skills.

    Why do your rabid fans and the jock sniffers on teevee think we now need to adore you like they do for doing your job like you were well paid to do?

  • You say Jeter benefited from playing on "teams" with expensive talent. I thought he only played for the Yankees during his entire career?

  • I call shenanigans on your criticism of 'no one cares about defense'. The so-called baseball orthodoxy didn't for years, but most of the statistical revolution has for at least the last 5 years been focused on quantifying defense. Which is the reason smart Jeter-haters had to criticize him. The reason I say your point is off the mark is because what you've pointed out is essentially a tautology. To wit, if you don't care about defense, you think Jeter is the best SS of all time, and if you think Jeter is the best SS of all time, you don't care about defense.
    Also, your HOF argument about defense not mattering is a little lacking. Jeter should have transitioned to an easier defensive position in his 30s, but he didn't because of his own mythology. So naming guys that did is saying that they were less selfish than Jeter ever was. Also, I can name 3 HOF guys who were great defenders (Mays, J. Robinson, B. Robinson) and a SS who got in strictly because of his defense (O. Smith) so now I've backed up my argument as much as yours. I agree defense never mattered to the 'old school press box crew' that voted as the BBWA. However, that doesn't make them any more correct or Jeter any better.

  • @mothra

    The team personnel changes a little each year, so the 1997 team is a 'different' team than the 1998 team and so on. The organization remains the same. he did play his entire career with the Yankees.

  • It is ridiculous to call Jeter the best hitting shortstop of the last 100 years.

    OPS as a Shortstop:
    .963 A-Rod
    .917 Banks
    .906 Nomar
    .818 Jeter
    .815 Larkin
    .805 Tejada
    .801 Ripken

    This is from the career splits on Baseball Reference. All of these guys played more than 1000 games at shortstop.

    It is certainly worth noting that Jeter played more games at shortstop than anyone except for Vizquel and would have passed him had he not been injured in 2013. So I think it is defensible to put Jeter ahead of Nomar as a hitting shortstop. There is a big difference between 1000 and 2000 games at shortstop, especially in terms of how it will impact a number like OPS. You can even make that same argument when comparing Banks and Jeter,

    If you compare Jeter with Larkin, who did play more than 2000 games at shortstop, you see very similar numbers. Jeter's career OPS+ was 115 and Larkin's was 116. Jeter's had a higher career WAR: 71.8 vs. 70.2 but Larkin had a higher WAR7: 43.1 vs. 42.2. The one place where Jeter really stands out from Larkin is oWAR: 95.5 vs. 67.5. Larkin never had an offensive season like Jeter's 9.0 in 1999 and only had two seasons above 5.7. So even though their career numbers look similar, Larkin's offensive peak was lower than Jeter's.

    A-Rod is another matter entirely. He didn't wash out as a shortstop and wasn't moved to first base like Banks. He was no Ozzie or Vizquel but he had a better resume from 1996-2003 than Jeter did. Just compare his oWAR with Jeter's during that time period. He averaged a 7.7 compared to Jeter's 6.2. The only argument that can be made against A-Rod being the best hitting shortstop since Honus Wagner requires bringing steroids into the conversation.

    As to your larger point about Jeter being an all-time great player, I think that overall he is above average as far as hall of fame shortstops go. He was an excellent hitter for his position but he made a conscious decision to stay at the position well after his fielding performance dipped from mediocre to barely tolerable. Some people will always hold that against him. They will also make the obvious point that a career in New York makes someone more famous than one in Cincinnati.

    But the bottom line is that Jeter was about as good as Barry Larkin and people who watched baseball in the 90's know that Barry Larkin was a really great player. Cincinnati fans were lucky to get to watch him for his entire career just as Yankee fans were lucky to get to watch Jeter for his entire career.

  • Captain Blicero says:

    It just boggled my mind that they didn't put A-Rod at SS and Jeter at third base *years* ago. I mean I get it but it certainly wasn't logical.

  • I always have had an appreciation for hitters that can hit to the opposite field effectively.

    And Jeter was as good as it gets at it. And the old Yankee stadium helped his numbers a lot with the shallow porch in right.

    That said. Fuck the Yankees.

  • I made 3 yankees games this year.. including second to last game. good times.

    "He was an average one for the first half of his career and then a liability in the field over the second half."

    but Jeter made some great plays…fantastic catches and throws.. in the clutch.. and then match that with his hitting… sure I saw him strike out in the ninth with two on and two out (third game before last)

    but how many times has he gotten that hit? two games later he did it in Boston. walkoff single..

  • Don't know a lot about baseball, but many seem to be criticising Jeter for not changing fielding position. Would that be a decision the player makes? In any other team sport I can think of, that'd be up to team management. Not so in baseball?

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  • "..there is not a single decent argument against Jeter, the best hitting shortstop of the last 100 years, being anything but a lock for Cooperstown the moment he is eligible."

    Obviously there's no argument for that, but that's absurd. Some really old hack comic just called me to tell me he wants his "Arky Vaughn called' joke back. And it's probably questionable to call Jeter a better hitter than Cal Ripken—not definitely, given rate stats, but c'mon, Cal had 400+ home runs.

    c u n d, I love your political comments, and now I'll never be able to read one without thinking "… says the guy who thought Honus Wagner played 'since Ernie Banks'." Thanks for ruining a great thing.

    bjk, I thought he was talking about Murray Chass!

    … wait, c u n d, you thought that game was in Boston? The July 1st "The Game" game was in the Bronx. The Yankees won it in a walkoff on consecutive singles by… well, obviously none of us could name them. The game in Boston (same month, July 24th), won by the Red Sox, featured the A-Rod slap at first, not the Jeter seat-dive.

    I mean, if you're going to try that hard to forget something from 2004, try to forget Game 7. [ed.n., of course I mean Election Day. But you know. Keeping with the theme….]

  • "It just boggled my mind that they didn't put A-Rod at SS and Jeter at third base *years* ago. I mean I get it but it certainly wasn't logical."

    Jeter was overrated as a captain as well. His Yankees would have been a better team had he volunteered to move so that Rodriguez could play SS.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Pat,
    WHOOOOOOOPS!
    What can I say – I'm gettin' old!
    I tell people, I once had a mind like a steel-trap – and I really did! – but now, it's more like a spaghetti-strainer.

    This growing old stuff is vastly over-rated… ;-)

  • He was not a perfect player, but with the BBWAA opening the doors of the Hall to mediocre Nice Guys….

    Really?

    Sincerely,

    Alan Trammell

  • I can't believe you talked crap about my man, Tony Perez, the Big Dog. It hurts! Since we Reds fans can't have Rose we'll take Perez.

    Good points about Jeter. Although by the numbers he wasn't an above average shortstop, he had enough plays shown in the highlights reels to give people the impression that he was superman.

  • I was 11 years old in 1996 when Jeter stole a World Series from my team and I've hated him openly ever since. I have no other reason. I don't care if it's completely irrational. That's it.

    That said, the argument that nobody cares about defense may have a kernel of truth but I find hard to believe whole-heartedly for two reasons:

    1) I think they should. Get rid of the DH, get all these fucking dinosaurs out of the game; if they are too big of a liability with the glove to deserve a starting spot don't give them one.

    2) Shortstop in particular is supposed to be the one position where defense is the #1 tool.

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