We’ve heard it all – he didn’t have to dive, he’s a glorified Craig Biggio, he was a horrible shortstop, Derek Jeter is overrated. Well, really?
But over the years, despite Jeter’s success he had widely been deemed as one of the sport’s most overrated players ever.
Of course, the biggest knock on Jeter is his poor defense.
Despite winning five Gold Glove Awards in his career, Jeter’s -152 defensive runs saved from 2003-2014 was by far the worst in baseball. His ultimate zone rating of -76.1 in that span was the second-worst.
While his glove was fine (he is just one of 47 shortstops to own a fielding percentage of at least .976), the jump throw was only a thing because of his lack of range. Maybe he doesn’t dive into the stands if he has better range.
(Side note, please don’t try to convince me that he didn’t have to land in the seats, or that the flip play is stupid. If you passed first grade science class, you’d know that both were not only necessary, but another result was impossible.)
Now that that’s over…
Another knock on Jeter is that he arguably was never the best player on any team he played for.
In fact, throughout his entire 20-year career, 18 of which consisted of full seasons, Jeter led the Yankees in WAR just three times: 1998, 1999, and 2009.
But if he was rarely, if at all, the best player on his own team, why is he one of the most famous baseball players of all time?
Of course, playing short stop for the New York Yankees, winning five World Series, dating supermodels, and good looks helped his cause.
We’ve seen the argument that Jeter would not have the same career had he not been a Yankee for 20 years. His five rings came from totally stacked teams.
But Jeter’s best asset, and arguably the main reason why everyone knows who he is, was his consistent greatness throughout his entire career.
How often have you heard that Jeter is just a glorified Craig Biggio? Well, let’s compare.
Jeter had 12 seasons with an OPS of .800 or more, as compared to Biggio’s nine.
Jeter also hit .300 or higher in a dozen seasons. Biggio did that just four times.
Even when Jeter hit .266 from Opening Day 2010 to July 4, 2011, he then slashed .336/.389/.454 in the remainder of 2011, at age 37.
Jeter also hit .316 the following year, leading all of baseball in hits. Biggio’s last .300 season came in his 11th.
Maybe some of these stats are inflated because of the protection Jeter always had in his lineup — who wanted to face prime Alex Rodriguez, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Robinson Cano, and Jason Giambi? Yes, all of those hitters, in their primes, were arguably more feared than Jeter.
But we looked at WAR before – Biggio led his team in WAR just three times in his career and it was in a four year span. Plus he never had a team quite like any Yankee team.
You knew what you were going to get from Jeter year in and year out for 17 years.
For crying out loud, he hit a walk-off single in his final home game, and his final plate appearance resulted in an RBI single. Anyone shocked? The big moment never got to Jeter, either, as it did with Biggio.
Jeter actually owned a higher OPS in a whole season worth of postseason games (.838) than he did in the regular season (.817). Biggio’s regular season slash line of .281/.363/.433 is a far cry from his postseason .234/.295/.323.
Oh, and let’s not forget that only five people in the history of baseball have more hits than him. FIVE PEOPLE!
And no, it’s not “3,000 hits in 20 years, so that’s only about 150 hits a year.”
Those 20 years include 1995 – where he played 15 games, and 2013 – where he played 17 games.
He also racked up 465 more hits after hitting a home run off David Price for his 3,000th hit.
So it’s more like 3,465 hits in 18 years. That’s an average of 192.5 hits. For context, throughout Jeter’s career, there were only 179 instances of 192-hit seasons. That’s about nine per year. His 3,465 in 2,747 career games is about 1.26 hits per game. That’s, like, very good.
In short, Jeter is well-known because he was a great player who played at a Hall of Fame level for almost 20 years.
And sure, Jeter never won an MVP award. He finished in third twice and in second once. But seldom do non-power threats win MVP awards, especially in Jeter’s playing days when the steroid era was at its highest.
Jeter probably will never be considered the best Yankee of all time, especially when Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle exist. But Jeter is the franchise leader in hits (by over 700 hits), doubles and stolen bases. That’s pretty decent company to beat.
Sure, to the casual baseball fan, you know who Derek Jeter is, and because of his superstar persona, you probably think he’s the best player ever. That, of course, is not true.
But this narrative that he was a stat compiler who is only known for being a Yankee is also false.
Derek Jeter is arguably the best player to ever play the shortstop position, at least offensively. And while he shouldn’t have been the first pick in any fantasy draft, or a redraft of all baseball players ever, or even during his playing days, knocking him is foolish.
If anyone can possibly be both overrated and underrated, it’s Jeter.