Archive for the ‘Jeter’ Category

Jeter Is Just Alright with Me

September 11, 2009

So Derek Jeter has been in the news quite a bit lately. He is, after all, the most recent proud owner of a Viagra Milestone Moment. Yesterday, Craig was excoriated by legions of barely literate Yankee fans* in the comments to the NBC blog for suggesting that maybe seven separate stories by one newspaper surrounding the tying (not even setting, tying) of a single franchise record by a single player was overkill.

* I’m not making a generalization about Yankee fans at all, just talking about those particular Yankee fans, and I’m not exaggerating. Go read those comments and discover for yourself.

Also yesterday, Jason at IIATMS put up what I think is a really nice piece on what Jeter means to him as a fan. And I think that’s great. Jason expresses exactly what one should feel about a great player that’s played for your own team for 14 years.

I’ve been a pretty harsh Jeter-basher over the years (only mentioned him once on this blog, but it wasn’t friendly), but none of that has anything to do with how Yankee fans feel about him. And really, none of it has anything to do with Jeter himself; while I feel he’s showboated and behaved overtly selfishly more than the greatest leader in baseball history should, guys who play hard are fun, and he seems like a pretty solid character overall.

Rather, my problem has been with how the national media has taken all that love and all that character and rolled it together into this larger-than-life, iconic hero for the whole baseball nation. It obscures his weaknesses–which have been real and numerous–and takes a lot of attention away from other players who (if only momentarily) have been better. Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn were heroes to their own fans, and that’s a wonderful thing. And they were great players. But they weren’t the kind of players who should have dominated all coverage of the sport. I believe that essentially, Jeter is basically what would’ve happened if Puckett or Gwynn or Cal Ripken, Jr. had played his entire career with the Yankees instead. And that can get awfully annoying to the rest of us.

But let me change gears completely: I think it’s time for us — and by “us” I mean sabermetric types who are fans of teams other than the Yankees — to back the hell off and give Jeter his due. No, to this point, he arguably hasn’t been markedly greater than Barry Larkin or Alan Trammell, both of whom will have a hard time getting into the Hall, while Jeter will waltz in on the first ballot if he retires tomorrow. But those guys should be in the Hall, and the unfortunate fact that they haven’t gotten the attention they deserve isn’t a great reason to deprive Jeter of the credit he has earned.

Furthermore, you can’t really look at Jeter and compare him to those other guys and say “and he hasn’t even had his decline phase yet!” anymore. Yes, the decline phase is coming eventually, but Jeter is 35 years old. At 35, Trammell was no longer a full-time player, and immediately became a very bad half-time player for his final three seasons starting with age 36. Larkin had already declined significantly and was in his last year as a useful player. Jeter, meanwhile, is having one of the best seasons of his career.

And then there’s that defense. I remain thoroughly convinced that Jeter has never been even an average shortstop, and I think Bill James was probably more or less right when he wrote that he was one of the worst regular shortstops we’ve ever seen who was allowed to stay at the position for more than a year or so. Moreover, it still kind of pisses me off that they moved A-Rod to third for him, when A-Rod was obviously the superior shortstop. But. UZR and plus/minus aren’t available before 2002, and I don’t trust any other defensive stats. Even the new measures are subject to wild fluctuations from year to year that can’t just be explained away by players having good years or bad years. But by UZR, Jeter has had two awful years, one bad year, and four more or less average years since 2002, and now this year he’s been above zero, and actually very good (+5.1). I’m not prepared to believe that a guy who can look that good at age 35, and average so many other times, is as awful as we once thought.

Another common stathead criticism of Jeter is that (in a given year) he’s not even the best player on his own team, and I guess I get that when you’re trying to combat all the Jeter love, but it also strikes me as a little silly–the fact that Bernie Williams is having a great year or A-Rod is A-Rod shouldn’t take away from Jeter’s greatness any more than Nick Punto and Delmon Young being bad at baseball should take away from Mauer’s MVP candidacy. And at any rate, now — at an age when most middle infielders, even the best of them, are in serious decline or retired — Jeter unquestionably is the best player on his team, and that team is the best team in the game right now. So that doesn’t work anymore either.

Finally, there’s his consistency. Jeter has been one of the two or three best shortstops in the American League every single year for at least the last twelve and possibly more, and that’s really something when you’re playing at the same time as A-Rod and Nomah and Miggy. That’s more than one can say for Trammell or Larkin, both of whom fluctuated quite a bit over their careers (and Larkin was always hurt). Jeter could justifiably have won two MVPs, and would be in line for a third deserving MVP this season if not for Mauer.

No, Jeter is not one of the three or four best Yankees of all time. It’s profoundly silly to compare him favorably to Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig or DiMaggio. But he’s a great, great player, certainly among the greatest of our current time, and it’s time to stop begrudging Yankee fans their right to enjoy that. And maybe to start enjoying it just a little bit ourselves? I can’t believe I just said that.

Totally cool to keep ripping on ESPN and Tim McCarver, though. I mean, everybody has a breaking point.

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AL All-Star Atrocities

June 3, 2009

It’s hard to believe, but by my count, we’re exactly halfway done with the 2009 All-Star Game balloting process. Today is June 3; balloting began (ridiculously, outfreakingrageously early) on April 22. That was 41 days ago. The game itself is on July 14. That’s 41 days from now.

So I thought it would be a good time to look at the progress of the balloting and some of the oddities/surprises/huge mistakes therein. I’ll probably do the National League tomorrow unless something more interesting comes up, but MLB.com’s latest AL update came out today, and the NL has been getting all the attention anyway, what with the Manny thing and the Brewers thing and the Milledge thing, so we’ll stick with the American League for today. My geekily opaque stat of choice today will be WAR, as seen on FanGraphs, through the games of June 1.

1. Ranger Dominance.
The story of the AL ballot is usually Yankees and Red Sox fans using their numbers to bully everybody else out of the game, but it looks to me like the Rangers might be doing their best Brewers impression and stuffing the box this year (or have just had more home games this month than anybody else; I’m not going to bother to check). “Only” two Rangers would start if the voting ended today–the unquestionably deserving Ian Kinsler (2.5 WAR) and the less-deserving Josh Hamilton (0.9 WAR)–but a Ranger is in the top 5 at every position, including Chris Davis (fabulous first-base D but a .194 AV and .253 OBP; -0.2 WAR), rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus (1.2 WAR thanks mostly to great D) and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0.5 WAR). And Nelson Cruz (who it should be said as a much stronger claim to a spot than Hamilton) is also among the top 10 outfielders. I expect they’ll slide back in several areas–Michael Young is in a distant second at 3B behind Longoria, for instance, and I’m sure the Right Coasters will make sure Lowell and A-Rod pass him up soon enough–but it’s kind of ludicrous right now.

2. Derek Jeter
I get that the All-Star game is supposed to be about who the fans want to see, and I’m generally for rewarding players for longer-term performance than just the first half of this season. But Jeter (2.0 WAR), who is enjoying a very nice bounceback year from a down-for-him 2008, currently has 2 1/2 times more votes than any other shortstop, including Jason Bartlett (.373/.418/.596, 2.7 WAR) and Marco Scutaro (.305/.408/.457, 2.5 WAR). Both those guys are having a fluky couple of months, and I’d rather see the first-ballot Hall of Famer than the scrubs that happened to get off to hot starts. But I also think that the voting should be closer than 2.5:1. Jeter is a very close second behind Longoria for the most votes in the AL, and it’s hard to argue that he’s earned that.

3. Ken Griffey Jr.
I know I just said I’m all for honoring players for their great careers and everything, but haven’t we already done all that with Junior? He’s just 30,000 votes behind teammate (and currently vastly superior player) Ichiro! for the third starting position among outfielders. At least when he was getting voted onto the team in Cincinnati, he was actually playing in the outfield when he was healthy enough to play. Now he’s a full-time DH, with just 23 innings in the field so far, and he’s hitting .208/.327/.362 (0.0 WAR). Look, Junior knows we love him, and there will be decades (God willing) for ceremonies and such after he retires. Let’s leave him out of this one, though, ‘kay?

4. Ichiro!
Where did all those Japanese voters go? Ichiro is, as I said, in the third and final OF slot, but is much, much closer to 4th through 7th places (Griffey, Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter and Nick Markakis) than he is to 2nd place (Hamilton). Yet, he’s having arguably the best year of his career, and he’s been elected to start the All-Star game in each of his first eight seasons; to be left out of this one would be unfortunate and pretty ironic. His walk rate is down, and so are his steals, but he’s hitting .352, and with more power (5 HR; he’s had 6 total in each of the last two years, and his career high is 15). He’s playing his usual stellar defense, and has a 1.8 WAR, better than both Hamilton and the current leader, Jason Bay (1.5).

5. Adam Jones.
UZR doesn’t like his fielding nearly as much as most human observers do (in fact, they say he’s cost the team nearly five runs, which seems like a blip after being worth 10 runs last year), or else his WAR would be much higher than his current 1.9. His .344/.400/.608 offensive line ought to put him in regardless, however. He’s a distant 10th in the outfield balloting. Another Oriole with a strong case is Nick Markakis, though WAR hates him because UZR says he’s lost them ten fielding runs already (after saving 12 last year…what’s up with the O’s outfield?).

All in all, this is shaping up to be a better voting year than most; I’m not convinced that we’re getting all the starters right, but (as long as Ichiro continues to hold Griffey at bay) there aren’t any that I’d actually call “atrocities,” either. Well, maybe Hamilton too, though at least he was still playing like an All-Star (more or less) in the second half of ’08, if you want to credit him for that.

For the record:

Pos My Vote Leader
C Mauer Mauer
1B Morneau Youkilis
2B Kinsler Kinsler
3B Longoria Longoria
SS Bartlett Jeter
OF1 Hunter Bay
OF2 A.Jones Hamilton
OF3 Ichiro Ichiro

I know, I said I’d rather see Jeter than Bartlett, but I know Jeter’s going to win anyway (and I know Bartlett is on the DL, but he’s just been that good), and I don’t think I could ever actually bring myself to vote for Jeter.

I didn’t even really mention Torii Hunter (2.2 WAR), but he’s been phenomenal for an Angels team that really badly needed a hitter.

The hardest to leave off my ballot were Youkilis and Teixeira (both of whom have been about as valuable as Morneau…so all things equal, of course, I go with the Twin), and Carl Crawford (who has arguably been just a little better than Ichiro, but I have to go with career value there).

Nelson Cruz is actually the best OF in the league according to WAR (2.4), but a lot of that comes from his 7.6 UZR (meaning he’d save 22.9 runs per 150 games at that rate), and that’s no more sustainable than Scutaro’s OBP. He’s good, but not that good.

So that’s my ballot. What’s yours?