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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, December 02, 2023
Jim Dayton

Column: Appreciating Derek Jeter simply as a baseball player

Barring a miracle playoff run, just seven games remain in the storied career of Derek Jeter.

Even at age 40 and two years removed from his last productive season, Jeter is still the closest thing to the mythical “face of baseball” label. Jeter has played his entire career in one of the world’s biggest markets and for one of the most universally hated teams in sports, which has made him so recognizable across baseball.

But paradoxically, playing for the Yankees actually makes Jeter somewhat underappreciated. He’s won five World Series championships and during the late 1990s, was an icon on one of baseball’s all-time great dynasties.

This is why we remember Jeter. But it isn’t what makes him great. Sure, he’s a widely respected player who has been an integral part of some incredible teams and moments.

But statistically, Jeter is one of the best shortstops in baseball history, at least offensively. Sometimes this gets overlooked when we talk about Jeter. It’s easy to fall into the cliché that Jeter’s greatness was inflated because he played for the Yankees. Though this certainly helped his status as a superstar, the numbers speak for themselves.

Jeter’s current total of 3,457 hits is the most ever by a shortstop and the sixth-highest overall. His .309 career average is sixth all-time among Hall of Fame shortstops.

He had eight 200-hit seasons, the most ever by a shortstop and tied for the fourth-highest total among players of any position. If we label Ernie Banks as a first baseman (he played more career games there than short), then Jeter’s 260 home runs rank third among shortstops.

Defensively, Jeter is known for his trademark jump throw from the hole after a backhanded pickup. He also famously “dove” (it was more of a tumble) into the stands to catch a pop-up against the Red Sox in 2004 and was in the right place at the right time for an errant relay throw against the A’s in the 2001 ALDS.

All of those images are iconic. But even though defensive metrics are still very raw measurements, the advanced stats say Jeter was a pretty mediocre defensive shortstop.

He never once appeared on a single season top 10 leaderboard for total zone runs as a shortstop, a stat that evaluates how many runs above or below average a player is worth based on the number of plays he made. It’s regarded as one of the most inclusive defensive stats available right now.

Twice Jeter appeared on a single season top 10 for range factor per game, a stat that adds a player’s putouts and assists and then divides that number by the player’s total games played. Even here, he barely cracked the leaderboard, finishing eighth in 2005 and 10th in 1997.

So Jeter wasn’t as slick-fielding as counterparts like Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr. or Omar Vizquel. But he’s still one of the best shortstops to ever play thanks to his hitting prowess. Jeter deserves to be in the same group as Smith, Ripken, Honus Wagner, Luis Aparicio and Robin Yount.

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It’s hard to compare players from different eras, especially in the case of Wagner, who played at the turn of the 20th century when advanced stats weren’t around. It’s also difficult to effectively combine a player’s offensive and defensive impact and compile a definitive ranking. But Jeter’s numbers merit him being on the same level as the aforementioned players, all of whom were first-ballot Hall of Famers with the exception of Aparicio.

It might be easy to scoff at Derek Jeter’s career and say he was the product of the Yankee environment. But before you try to devalue his career, just know that he has the statistics to back up the praise.

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