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Sunday, February 16, 2014

In ranking Jeter, why ignore Banks, Yount, Rodriguez?

Ernie Banks, Robin Count and Alex Rodriguez were all MVP shortstops, Banks twice, before changing positions in the middle of their careers: Banks to first, Yount to center (another MVP), Rodriguez to third (two more MVP).

In all the adulation and evaluation of Derek Jeter, who has played the field only at shortstop, why not include the shortstop portions of those three careers?  The current consensus seems to be that Jeter is second only to Cal Ripken among post WWII (World War 2; after 1945) shortstops.  Jeter is the better hitter, Ripken the better fielder.

Among all shortstops (at least 75% of games) from 1903 through 2013, seasons sorted by OPS+:

Yount's 1982 MVP season is number ten all time.

From 1903-2013 there have been these number of shortstop seasons with OPS+ greater than or equal to:
175: 6
160: 16
150: 27
140: 54
130: 96
120: 175

Top 25 shortstop seasons 1946-2013:

Jeter is on this list once: number 15.  Ranks of multiples:
Rodriguez: 4, 6, 7, 8, 19
Banks: 9, 11, 20, 25
Ripken: 5, 20, 25
Yount: 2, 16
Garciaparra: 9, 14
Ramirez: 17, 23

Garciaparra, Jeter and Rodriguez all started about the same time and were the big three shortstops who could hit, field and run.  From 1996 through 2003 Garciaparra was number two behind Rodriguez.  In his first full season of 1997 Garciaparra led in AB, Hits, 3B; RoY, MVP-8; second in MVP in 1998.  Led in BA 1999, 2000: .357, .372.

In 2004 Garciaparra was injured and traded during the season.  His Red Sox went on to win the championship for the first time since 1918 when they had Babe Ruth, thus breaking the curse.  Before the 2004 season Texas tried to trade Rodriguez to Boston but the players union objected to Rodriguez agreeing to have his ten year Texas contract restructured to accommodate Boston.  The Yankees suddenly had a need at third base when Aaron Boone was injured during the off season.  Texas then traded Rodriguez to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano.  Yankee manager Joe Torre switched Rodriguez from shortstop to third and kept Jeter at short.  Rodriguez was generally regarded to be a better fielder than Jeter and obviously Rodriguez was a better hitter.

Let's compare the truncated shortstop careers of these players to Jeter.  Ripken is included for fun; he has two listings: one for his time as a shortstop, which went to age 35, and another that has a comparable number of PA to make it relevant to the others.  Garciaparra is also included for fun; he continued as a shortstop after leaving the Red Sox but is not a serious contender to Jeter.  Garciaparra's OPS+ peeked at 140 in 2000; career 124.


Rodriguez and Banks are the best hitters.  Jeter's hitting is comparable to Ripken through 1989 one year before Ripken won his second MVP.

Yount's standing is more difficult to judge.  His MVP season is clearly better than any season that Jeter ever had.  Jeter's best hitting season was 1999 but he led only in PA and Hits.  Other than PA and AB, Jeter's only other "black ink": Hits in 2012, Runs 1998.

 MVP seasons led league in:

1958: G, AB, HR, RBI, SLG, TB
1959: G, RBI.

1982: Hits, 2B, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB    shortstop
1989: zip:    center field

1983: G, PA, AB, Runs, Hits, 2B
1990: G, TB

2003: Runs, HR, SLG    shortstop
2005: G, Runs, HR, SLG, OPS, OPS+    third base
2007: Runs, HR, RBI, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB    third base

What if Torre had done what many Yankee fans wanted at the time: moved Jeter and played Rodriguez at shortstop?  I had long thought that Jeter was a natural center fielder, better than teammate Bernie Williams.  That would have been a natural move.  If Jeter could have made that transition and stayed in center for most of the rest of his career, he might have wound up like Yount and been regarded as a Hall of Fame player.  But if Jeter moved to second, that would have lowered his value as would moving to left field or third base where a power hitter is preferred.  I think moving to left would have ruined Jeter for the Hall and he might have already stopped playing for the Yankees.

What about Rodriguez staying at short?  Rodriguez could have lasted a few more seasons but as he bulked up and became less flexible, he would have moved, probably to third where his power would still make him an exceptionable value.  By then, Jeter could not have returned to short.

How would the Yankees have done with Rodriguez at short and Jeter at another position?  Probably at least as well.  In those years it was starting pitching that was not good enough.

And what if Banks, Yount and Rodriguez had all retired rather than move to different positions?  Would they make the Hall of Fame?  Since ten seasons are required, technically Banks would not have qualified 1953-1961.  But Rodriguez (1994-2003) and Yount (1974-1984) would.  Let's say that Banks had played part of another season.  I think both Banks and Rodriguez would be elected easily.  Yount probably but less certain.

What if Jeter and Ripken had stopped playing at comparable points?  Ripken would have one MVP but Ripken would not have broken the record for consecutive games played set by Lou Gehrig.  Jeter would have been a member of four championship teams, not five, same as teammate Bernie Williams.  I think that Ripken's chances would be about the same as Yount's.  Jeter would probably not make it.

If Rodriguez had stayed at shortstop through his third MVP season of 2007, he would be regarded as at least the second greatest shortstop of all time, behind only Honus Wagner (1897-1917).  Rodriguez voluntarily agreed to switch positions when he joined the Yankees in 2004, seemingly without resentment.  That should be considered when taking his measure.

Finally, what if Jeter and Rodriguez had played for each other's teams?  Would the Yankees have won at least as many championships as they did with Jeter?  Would Seattle have beaten the Yankees in the 2000 tournament with Jeter at short?

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