Pete Rose vs. Derek Jeter
A comment from brilliant reader DJ:
"Rose vs. Jeter per 162 games:
Jeter: 207 hits, 120 runs, 17 HR, 82 RBI, .316 BA .386 OBP .458 SLG
Rose: 194 hits, 98 runs, 7 HR, 60 RBI, .303 BA .375 OBP .409 SLG
Jeter wins hands down. It's not even close."
Now, let's me say as kindly as possible that even though the above comment is technically accurate there are about 200 things wrong with it. But before I get to those I want to say that DJ's main point is exactly right: It's fun to match up
And, honestly, I'm not sure which one was better. I think this makes for a classic argument, right there with
So, let's match 'em up. But first, yeah, we need to point out why this is much more complicated than DJ's statistical breakdown makes it seem. We'll reduce those 200 things down to two main points:
If you want to match up Rose vs. Jeter per 162 games, you need to do it fairly. Jeter is 34 years old and seems to be beginning his decline (though he has been his old self the last 75 games or so). Rose' s breakdown numbers, meanwhile, include his final 11 years, long after his prime. So, if you want to compare them per 162, the numbers are badly, badly skewed. Let's now look at DJ's same numbers through the age of 34.
OK, so that's much closer. And Rose had one more terrific year when he was 35 -- we'll see if next year Jeter will match the .323/.404/.450 season that Rose had in '76.
Still, even with all this, Jeter still does have a slight statistical advantage. But that brings us to Point 2 (you already know what's coming, of course).
Rose played in a much, much, much harder hitting environment. A run was much more valuable in the National League in the 1960s and 1970s when Rose was playing than it was in the 1990s and 2000s American League of Derek Jeter. We all know there are statistics that take this into account. Take a look at the Runs Created Above Average through age 34:
Take a look at the OPS+ through age 34.
Take a look at the Top 10 seasons of Win Shares (this incorporates defense, by the way):
Rose: 37, 34, 32, 32, 31, 30, 29, 28, 27, 27.
Jeter: 35, 32, 28, 27, 26, 26, 24, 24, 23, 19.
Take a look at the top five Equivalent Averages of each player by age 34:
Rose: .328 (1969), .324 (1968), .312 (1973), .311 (1972) and .306 (1975*)
Jeter: .332 (1999), .319 (2006), .310 (2000), .309 (1998) and .305 (2005)
Or you can look at the Baseball Reference neutralized statistics for the two men through age 34:
We can keep going like this ... Rose's numbers when seen through the wider lens very clearly measure up to Jeter's and, in many instances, are a little bit better. Now, I don't think that necessarily makes Rose better than Jeter. I think this is worthy of a long post -- and by coincidence one follows. But my point is that I think this is not something you can just write off with a blanket statistical statement and no further explanation.
*Did I mention I'm writing a book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds?
Even now, I believe, baseball fans hunger for Pete Rose. They don't hunger for the old Pete Rose, of course, the crotchety Rose penciling himself into the lineup so he could break the unbreakable hit record, the manager Rose who had a standing bet on his team, the unrepentant Rose who would show up in Cooperstown to sign autographs for his very own Hall of Fame, the repentant Rose who will write "I'm sorry I bet on baseball," on a baseball and then sign his name for the right price.
No, it's the young Rose we're talking about here, the in-your-face Rose, the run-over-
And still, I think, fans long for him. I say this based on three things I believe:
3. There is (I think) no player in baseball who is more talked about, argued about and known than
Rose did not invent the grinder style of play that won him Sports Illustrated's
Enos Slaughter did not create that style of baseball either; he learned it from
"Cobb," Gabby once said, "had a ninety horsepower brain."
See, with Rose, everything goes back to Cobb.
But Pete Rose made the style all his own. He played baseball as hard as Cobb, as ruthlessly as Slaughter, as ferociously as Pepper Martin, but he added a modern touch. He played for money. He longed for fame. He bought expensive cars. He did goofy Aqua Velva commercials. There were those -- then and now -- who said much of what Rose did (the headfirst dives, the running to first base) was just show, and that's probably right. But, the larger point is still that he never turned off.
Here's a fun Rose statistic that tells you something: Rose is second all-time in doubles, and he led the league in doubles five times. But the thing that strikes a chord is that he never led the league in doubles BEFORE he turned 33. That seems to say that Rose never lost his drive, his need to make the wide turn at first base and dig for second whenever he saw a fielder move a bit slowly to the ball or tip off balance after he reached it. Here's another way to look at it. There are three men who hit 40 or more doubles three times after their 35th birthday. They are all Hall of Famers and all-time hustlers --
In other words he may have been playing Charlie Hustle for show, for money and fame, but he never stopped, never, and if you are ALWAYS on, it becomes real. It reminds of my friend
Rose tapped into people's feelings about the game in a way that, I thought, was unique -- he was the first person I ever heard used in the expression: "If he's on your team you love him; if he's on the other team you hate him." It was a perfect saying for Pete Rose, and also easily demonstrated. They hated him in Philadelphia for all those years when he played for the Big Red Machine. But in 1980, in Philadelphia, during the World Series, when that foul ball popped out of
That Bob Boone play defined Pete Rose in many ways ... much in the same way that the
There were, in my mind, two amazing plays made at this point. The first, everyone knows about.
My favorite quote on Jeter's play came, of course, from Johnny Damon: "What the heck was Derek Jeter doing way over there? ... Was he a high school quarterback or something? That was pure instinct."
The second great play, in my mind, was made by Posada, who did not go chasing after Spencer's bad throw. Talk about pure instinct. Posada saw Jeter running across the field and, instinctively, decided to stay at home plate and see what kind of magic the guy would do. I've always thought that as great as those passes were by, say,
I know some people think I do not like Derek Jeter -- probably because I invented the word Jeterate and tend to get a bit worked up about Jeter's defensive issues. But I do like him, I admire him, and I've always thought that while that play gets shown about 583 times every postseason, it is actually an excellent way to describe Jeter's play. He has, in my mind, played with a heightened sense of life. You know that expression: "Be alive out there." I think Jeter has been alive as much or more than any player of his generation.
I don't mean that he's some great clutch guy -- I don't believe in that stuff much, I think great clutch players tend to be great players the rest of the time too -- but I mean that he has shown an ability to play at a high level more often and more consistently than many others. He seems to have a good grasp of the moment, and he doesn't fade out too often.
Example: I've never thought Jeter was especially fast but he has stolen 275 bases in his career, and he rarely gets caught. There is something about
He has done all of those things that express consistency and equilibrium. He has cracked 200 hits six times in his career. He has hit 15 or more home runs seven times despite playing in a right-handed hitter's graveyard. He has hit .300 every year but two, he has on-based .370 every year but two, he has either led or finished second in the league in singles eight times. He has scored 100 runs or more every full year he's played (until this year -- he will need a big finish), and sure, it's true Jeter has been followed by great hitters his whole career but, hey, 100 runs is 100 runs and the only way you can get there is to play a lot, get on base, and take the opportunities when they come.
So, who was better, Rose or Jeter?
Let's break it down. While I just mentioned that Jeter is not a speed burner, he is considerably faster than the young Pete Rose. And you can see it in stolen bases -- through the same point in their career, Jeter has stolen than 275 bases, Rose stole 97. Here's a little tidbit for you: Rose was the only Machine regular to not steal a base during that 1975 season. Hey, I have these facts, I have to drop them on someone.
Rose, though, made up for a lot of that with his aggression, by stretching more singles into doubles (441 to 411) and doubles into triples (95 to 57).
Jeter hit for more home run power. Well, it's kind of interesting, but this wasn't always true. The younger Rose hit double digit home runs for seven straight years, from 1965 to 1971. So in those years, he really did hit with similar power to Jeter. Then, though, his home run power tailed off sharply -- and what I find intriguing is that happened around that time Rose was often quoted about how he was the first "$100,000 singles hitter." It's almost like he decided the lack of homers was an important part of his persona. Rose's homers suddenly were cut in half, but his strikeouts also went down by more than 20 percent. I suspect that Rose purposely decided to become a slightly different kind of player.* Anyway, Jeter has hit with better power.
Rose struck out a lot less often. Jeter has been a high strikeout guy -- about 100 per year -- and Rose struck out about half as often.
Jeter, on the surface anyway, should have more value defensively because he's been a Gold Glove shortstop while Pete played four different positions during his first 13 seasons. But this is probably closer than appears at first glance. Rose moved around to help the team. His willingness to move to third base in May of 1975 was, in many ways, the key to the whole season. He won Gold Gloves playing outfield in 1969 and 1970, and while Gold Gloves might have been a bit over the top -- he wasn't exactly a range rover out there -- he was quite a good and solid outfielder, either in left or right. And he came up as a second baseman, and while he wasn't especially good there, he held his own.*
Meanwhile, Jeter's shortstop defense has probably been discussed and argued about more than the defense of any other player in baseball history. It is the opinion here that Jeter has been a dreadful defensive shortstop, and I say that mostly because I have never found a reasonable defensive statistic that shows anything else. At some point, if it looks like duck and quacks like a duck and has the zone rating of a duck, it's probably a duck.
So, I'm not willing to give Jeter a big advantage for his defense. I'm sure he can play shortstop significantly better than Rose could. But Rose never played shortstop.
They're both great, great players. But you know what? I'm picking Rose. Here's why: Because in the end, I think he just did a few more things well than Jeter. And I say that knowing and appreciating that Jeter does a hell of a lot and has those homer and stolen base advantages. Here are the major offensive categories Derek Jeter has finished among the Top 10:
In addition, Jeter led the league in hits once and runs created once. But he also finished in the Top 10 in negative categories like outs (five times), grounded into double plays (three times) and strikeouts (once). Rose led the league in batting average three times, OBP once, games three times, runs three times, hits five, doubles twice, adjusted OPS+ three times and runs created once. Rose finished in the Top 10 in outs eight times, more than Jeter, but he was not among leaders in doubles plays or strikeouts.
Rose, in my view, was just a more dominant player in his era. Of course, I am writing a book about the '75 Reds, who did you think I was going to pick?