Derek Jeter: Not Just a Good Hitter for a Shortstop

Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium ended like a Disney movie. That’s not an insult; moments like this are one of the reasons why we love baseball.

You don’t have to like Jeter or the Yankees to enjoy that moment. There is perhaps no better way for Jeter to leave Yankee Stadium than with a game-winning, opposite-field single.

As his career comes to a close, nearly everyone who covers baseball has weighed in on Jeter’s legacy, and unfortunately, part of that legacy is his status as a poster boy for disagreements between the traditional media and the statistically inclined crowd, especially regarding his defensive value. Jeter’s poor ratings at shortstop have made him the subject of numerous articles on defensive performance, and that has created the perception that Jeter has been a poor defender; a notion which Jeff did a nice job of debunking earlier this year.

But that’s not the only misconception I heard fairly regularly about Jeter. Perhaps because his career spanned the era where nearly ever team had a shortstop who could hit 30 home runs, even Jeter’s offensive value has been called into question, and more than once, I’ve had people ask me if Jeter was even really a great hitter; would we hold him in the same high esteem if he had (perhaps rightfully) been moved to an easier defensive position earlier in his career?

The answer should be yes, absolutely. Jeter doesn’t need to be compared to shortstops to be recognized as one of the best offensive performers of all time.

Let’s just start with the easiest way to look at this. In the history of baseball, 955 players have had careers spanning at least 5,000 plate appearances, and Jeter has more offensive runs above average than all but 89 of them. At 350 offensive runs above average — and remember, OFF is using the average hitter as a baseline with no regard to position — Jeter is actually a few runs ahead of David Ortiz (347 offensive runs above average) on the all-time leaderboard, and a significant chunk of baseball observers think Ortiz has earned a spot in the Hall of Fame despite being the ultimate defensive liability.

Of course, the primary driver of their respective rankings is playing time, as Jeter has nearly 4,000 more plate appearances than Ortiz. On a per plate appearance basis, Jeter isn’t Big Papi, but even if we even out playing time, Jeter still ranks ahead of some of the more notable sluggers of our time. For instance:

Player OFF/600
Sammy Sosa 18.4
Derek Jeter 16.7
Adam Dunn 15.5
Ryan Howard 15.3

Sosa hit 600 homers in his career, Dunn might get to 500, and while Howard has declined fairly rapidly, he was a legitimate force as a cleanup hitter for the better part of a decade. And Jeter has been their offensive equivalent, only he’s done it for 50 to 100 percent more plate appearances. Adam Dunn isn’t an all-time great player, of course, but if he had a 20 year career while performing at his career averages, would anyone question whether he was really a productive hitter?

Or, maybe you’d prefer to look at guys who did end up in the Hall of Fame, almost entirely because of what they did at the plate? For instance, there’s Dave Winfield (19.7 OFF/600), Eddie Murray (19.2), and Paul Molitor (18.2) just ahead of Jeter, with Robin Yount (10.1) a good deal below. Molitor is perhaps the best example, as he and Jeter had almost the same career on offense.

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR
Derek Jeter 12593 9% 15% 0.130 0.350 0.309 0.377 0.439 0.360 119 43.6
Paul Molitor 12167 9% 10% 0.142 0.326 0.306 0.369 0.448 0.361 122 46.6

Molitor was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try, receiving 85 percent of the vote in the process, despite the fact that he spent nearly half of his career as a designated hitter. Molitor’s career is Jeter’s offense mixed with almost no defensive value, and he was an unquestioned Hall of Famer.

Jeter wasn’t Ted Williams, but he also wasn’t just an okay hitter who stands out because of his positional peers. We shouldn’t just see Jeter as a great hitter for a shortstop, but a great hitter period.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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AC_Butcha_AC
Member
AC_Butcha_AC

Interestingly, Derek Jeter had the highes WPA of any single regular season game in his carreer last night…. Baseball.

Maybe even his entire carreer. But unfortunately the game logs don’t show postseason games.

bdhudson
Member
Member
bdhudson

If I ran my play index query right, and I’m pretty sure I did, Jeter’s highest postseason WPA was .331 in game 4 of the 2001 World Series, in which he hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning in a tie game.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo

The end of career tour stuff need to stop. The media machine makes these guys more than they are, they are not solving world peace. I love baseball but the true honor should be enshrinement in the HOF (something Jeter and Mariano Rivera will enjoy I’m sure) This farewell tour crap is more a popularity contest then a real assessment of thier value to the game. What about a guy like Beltre, a much better player than Jeter but not the media darling. Does he get a farewell tour too? Idoubt it.

Semperty
Guest
Semperty

Jeter and Mo were the faces of the rebirth of baseball. Studies show that attendance and TV ratings are higher for teams hosting the Yankees than they are when those same teams host non-Yankees teams. People tune in to see their team take on the “bad guys”, and that’s incredibly important to baseball.

Jeter’s a great player, but this tour is more about him being the face of baseball and the leader of the rebirth of baseball than it is about him being an all-time great.

Bret Favre
Guest
Bret Favre

I gotta admit though, I am getting a little sick of his farewell tour.

bookbook
Guest
bookbook

Cal Iron Man Ripken was the savior of baseball after one strike. Mark Iron Blood McGwire after another. Griffey was the everloving face of MLB up until his ignonimous midseason canning. Ripken did get excessive farewelliness, but nowhere to this extent.

Not even Yankee fans should be able to stand Jetes after a year of national fellation at this scale.

Los
Guest
Los

Does anyone else think that it would be more fitting for the game on Sunday to end on a walk off hit that was hit “passed a diving Jeter”?

channelclemente
Guest
channelclemente

He’s also great camouflage for A-roid.