Though his defense cut into his overall value, Derek Jeter
's skill at the plate made him one of the most accomplished hitters of all-time as measured by offensive WAR. (Frank Franklin/AP)
Derek Jeter plans to hang up his spikes after the 2014 season. The Yankee legend's announcement of his intentions on Wednesday virtually guarantees that he will be at the head of the class for the 2020 Hall of Fame induction, for his credentials are overwhelming.
Even if he's unable to rebound to anything close to his 2012 form after missing nearly all of the 2013 season, Jeter has already done more than enough to guarantee a first-ballot election, likely with more than 95 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Beyond his 13 All-Star appearances and five Gold Gloves (oh, we'll get to those), his 3,316 hits place him 10th on the all-time list, and he needs just four to surpass Paul Molitor for ninth place. If he plays regularly, he should be able to climb all the way to sixth, surpassing Carl Yastrzemski (3,419), Honus Wagner (3,420) and Cap Anson (3,435; via the Elias Sports Bureau, Major League Baseball and the Hall recognize only 3,081 hits for him).
Jeter also has a realistic shot at moving into the top 10 in runs scored; his 1,876 rank 13th, and he can vault over Tris Speaker (1,882), Lou Gehrig (1,888) and Alex Rodriguez (1,919) if he stays healthy. He's 16th in times on base (4,527) and could realistically climb to 13th (Mel Ott, 4,648) with regular duty.
Helped by the addition of the wild card and the third tier of playoffs, Jeter has been a key part of 16 playoff teams, seven pennant winners and five world champions. Along the way, he's claimed a few major postseason records, and by a country mile at that. His 158 games played are 33 more than former teammate Jorge Posada, the next closest player. He outdistances another former teammate, Bernie Williams, by staggering margins in plate appearances (734 to 545), hits (200 to 128), times on base (271 to 202), total bases (302 to 223, with Manny Ramirez tying Williams) and runs (111 to 83). Meanwhile, despite never being particularly known for his power (not that his 256 career homers are anything to sneeze at), his 20 postseason homers rank third behind Ramirez (29) and Williams (22). Beyond simply compiling, over the course of nearly a full season of extra play, Jeter has more or less matched his regular season performance (.312/.381/.446 career) with a sizzling .308/.374/.465 postseason line, all of that coming against high-caliber competition.
Turning to the advanced metrics via my JAWS system for comparing Hall of Fame candidates, Jeter's 71.6 career Wins Above Replacement ranks 10th all-time among shortstops, a list that includes several (Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, George Davis, Robin Yount, Luke Appling, Arky Vaughan) who moved to other positions later in their careers; they're classified as shortstops because they accrued the most value there. He's about five wins above the Hall standard there (66.7), while his peak total (best seven seasons) of 42.3 ranks "only" 16th and is 0.5 wins below the Hall standard. Even so, his JAWS ranks 12th among shortstops, well above the standard. Here's the top 20 all-time:
|Avg HOF SS||66.7||42.8||54.7|
|17||Pee Wee Reese*||66.2||40.8||53.5|
Asterisks denote the Hall of Famers; not shown there are the scores of seven other enshrined shortstops plus John Montgomery Ward, who split his career between short and the mound so evenly that I don't include his JAWS in calculating either position standard. With even a minimally productive season (1.7 WAR, say), Jeter could pull into the top 10.
He would rank higher on that table above if not for his defense. Sure-handed, blessed with a strong arm (think of those jump throws from deep in the hole) and a preternatural awareness of the action around him (think of that 2001 Division Seriesflip play), Jeter was certainly capable of making plays that gave the impression he was a fielding whiz. Even so, his limited mobility -- particularly to his left -- meant a whole lot of balls in play that he never got a glove on, and it's there where the metrics take their toll. Via the Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved estimates (the latter has only been around since 2003) used in Baseball-Reference.com's version of WAR, Jeter comes in at a whopping −234 runs, by far the lowest figure at any position, let alone shortstop. For more than a decade, the gap between the perception of his skill afield -- as typified by highlight reels and Gold Gloves -- and the cold, hard numbers via methodologies that have evolved during his career has been one of the sport's most polarizing topics of discussion.
Whether it's TZ, DRS, Ultimate Zone Rating, Fielding Runs Above Average or something else in the alphabet soup of sabermetrics, the general agreement of those multiple metrics is that he's been a significant drag on New York's pitching and defense, by figures that have sometimes exceeded 20 runs a year. Via DRS, Jeter's low was 27 runs below average, which came in 2005, the year in which he won his second Gold Glove. He was a combined 62 runs below average during his five award-winning seasons, though to be fair those of his last two (+3 in 2009 and −9 in 2010) were markedly better than the earlier ones as he worked to combat his advancing age.
How does that impact his ranking? Among those classified as shortstops by JAWS, Jeter's 94.0 offensive WAR ranks third behind only Honus Wagner (122.4) and Rodriguez (112.9); in fact, it's 21st among all hitters. The next eight guys: Eddie Mathews, Mike Schmidt, Anson, Chipper Jones, George Brett, Ken Griffey Jr., Pete Rose and Robin Yount, with Manny Ramirez, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs and Frank Thomas — players routinely hailed for their hitting — even further below him. In terms of defensive WAR, his -9.2 is about 31 wins less than Trammell (22.1), about 44 less than Ripken (34.5) and about 53 less than Ozzie Smith (43.4).
For all of that, the entire package of bat and glove was still a very valuable one. If 2.0 WAR is an average season for a full-time regular, Jeter had 14 that can be considered solidly above average (3.0 or more), including five that are more or less All-Star caliber (4.0 to 7.0) and two more that were borderline MVP caliber (7.5 and 8.0, from 1998 and 1999, respectively). On a per 162-game basis, he's been worth 4.5 WAR, the kind of building block any general manager would kill to have.
Of course, none of that factors in Jeter's intangibles, which obviously can't be quantified but which were considerable enough to impress even the most skeptical sabemetrician. When it came to setting the tone in the Yankee clubhouse by placing team goals above individual ones, withstanding the harsh glare of the New York spotlight, rising to the occasion to create indelible moments
or serving as an ambassador of the game, Jeter was in a class by himself. He'll probably have more company than that on the Hall of Fame dais in July 2020, but even then, he'll stand alone.