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Jeter’s great, but he’s not one of the top five Yankees

Jul 9, 2011, 7:25 PM EDT

Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter AP

No doubt about it, Derek Jeter is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  He rates as one of the top 50 position players in major league history, and on Saturday, he became the first Yankee to ever reach 3,000 hits.

The Yankees, though, have had better position players.

Here’s how WAR ranks the top 10:

1. Babe Ruth – 149.6
2. Mickey Mantle – 120.2
3. Lou Gehrig – 118.4
4. Joe DiMaggio – 83.6
5. Derek Jeter – 70.1
6. Yogi Berra – 62.1
7. Bill Dickey – 54.4
8. Willie Randolph – 49.8
9. Bernie Williams – 47.3
10. Tony Lazzeri – 46.6

Pitching included, Ruth’s total is 172.0, barely edging out Barry Bonds for the top spot all-time.

But we already knew Ruth was No. 1. What about Jeter? WAR places him fifth at 70.1. That total places him 55th all time among position players.

I think I’d put him a bit higher than that on the league-wide list.  WAR is giving him plenty of credit for spending his entire career at shortstop, but it’s also punishing him a horrible defensive shortstop.  It says Jeter is 83.8 wins above replacement offensively, but 13.7 wins below replacement defensively.

And I don’t necessarily disagree that Jeter is that bad defensively.  But Jeter deserves some credit beyond the WAR.  He’s been a leading figure on five World Series champions, hitting .309/.377/.472 with 20 homers in 599 postseason at-bats.

WAR isn’t accounting for one bit of that.

So, why does the headline say Jeter isn’t one of the top five Yankees?

Because WAR is punishing Berra far more than it’s punished Jeter.

Catchers, because of their lack of playing time and hard-to-value defensive contributions, score poorly in WAR.  Johnny Bench is 52nd all-time. Ivan Rodriguez is 69th. Berra is 96th. Mike Piazza is 116th.

Berra is better than that.  He was a three-time American League MVP who played for 10 World Series winners.  He’s one of the top three catchers of all-time by any measure, and that trumps Jeter’s accomplishments.

I don’t think it’s too controversial to put Jeter behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio and Berra.  That’s quite a crew to trail.  He’d be the all-time great in some organizations, but on the Yankees, he’ll have to settle for coming in sixth.

  1. royalsfaninfargo - Jul 9, 2011 at 7:30 PM

    I couldn’t agree more with you Matthew. Jeter will have a plaque in the outfield and a bust in Cooperstown but that top 5 is as good as any people who played the game for any team.

  2. deathmonkey41 - Jul 9, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    Don’t tell me- Pat Kelly was 11th, right?

  3. skerney - Jul 9, 2011 at 7:51 PM

    Quick thing on jeter v berra: Was chatting with former Yankee Neil Allen a few years ago and he relayed this story to me. Allen, Yogi, and others were in Torre’s office one day and Jeter had a photo shoot after BP where he was to wear his four rings. He peeked his head in the office, flashed a handful of championship rings at allen and playfully said something to the effect of “Heading to the photoshoot. Sorry ’bout all the diamonds, neil.” It was then that Yogi held out both of his hands palms down and said. “Hey Kid, where is your other hand?” Lesson: Yogi has 10 rings one for each finger. BTW If you want to know how I know Neil Allen, I was the clubbie for a Minor league team he coached for.

    • bigdicktater - Jul 10, 2011 at 1:15 PM

      Great story, thanks for sharing it! I can’t imagine why that would get a ‘thumbs-down’.

  4. deathmonkey41 - Jul 9, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    I’m thinking it’s still probably a pretty good career if people consider you the 6th greatest Yankee of all time.

  5. 24may98 - Jul 9, 2011 at 8:00 PM

    This fact renders a true sense of proportion to Jeter and WAR or whatever:

    Here is something to blow your mind: From 1957 through 1981 New York baseball teams appeared in 13 World Series. Yogi Berra-as player, coach or manager-appeared in every one of them. In all, Yogi Berra appeared in 21 World Series. Think about that. The number is so staggering, so overwhelming, that it defies attempts to make sense of it. The St. Louis Cardinals, the second most successful franchise behind Yogi’s Yankees, have appeared in 17 World Series in their long history. At one point this season San Francisco, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Texas and Tampa Bay led their divisions-all six combined have not been in as many World Series as Yogi Berra.

    Source:Yogi Berra Will Be A Living Legend Even After He’s Gone by Joe Posnanski, Sports Illustrated, July 4-11, 2011

  6. 24may98 - Jul 9, 2011 at 8:06 PM

    As a young boy, a friend of mine had the opportunity to meet Yogi in the Yankee dressing room at Griffith Stadium in the ’50’s. He was of course awestruck, but was able to speak. When me shock hands he said “Pleased to meet you Mr. Yogilla.”

  7. crpls - Jul 9, 2011 at 8:16 PM

    If we’re adding intangibles then Yogi’s ability to turn a phrase puts him above Jeter.

  8. vazz44 - Jul 9, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    Horrible defensive shortstop? Horrible defensive shortstops don’t win Gold Gloves. Jeter has at least five last time I checked. I’ve been watching BASEBALL since I was a kid and Mr. Jeter, although not the best defensive shortstop, is not “horrible.” He may not be the best, but needless to say, he’s come through in the clutch. How are clutch plays measured in your stats? Do winning defensive plays in ALCS count or are they listed with asterisks in the stats? Give the man SOME props on the other side of the ball.

    • Max Power - Jul 9, 2011 at 8:32 PM

      Yes, Jeter is probably not “horrible.” But let’s not use Gold Glove Awards as the measure of defense. Horrible shortstops may not win Gold Gloves, but designated hitters do.

    • mrfloydpink - Jul 9, 2011 at 8:40 PM

      He’s also gritty. Don’t forget gritty.

      • acheron2112 - Jul 9, 2011 at 9:21 PM

        Not to mention his mystique and aura.

    • Ari Collins - Jul 10, 2011 at 12:13 AM

      This is such a typical comment that it almost sounds like trolling. But it’s missing a comment about people in their mom’s basement. So, sadly, this is probably in earnest.

    • marinersnate - Jul 10, 2011 at 1:25 AM

      ” I’ve been watching BASEBALL since I was a kid and Mr. Jeter, although not the best defensive shortstop, is not “horrible.”

      Mr. Jeter?

      Yes. I am sure that:

      He is faster than a speeding bullet.

      Stronger than a locomotive.

      And that he stands for TRUTH, JUSTICE, and the AMERICAN WAY!

      But “Mr. Jeter”?

      Give it a rest dude….

    • Chris Fiorentino - Jul 10, 2011 at 9:08 AM

      Vazz, you obviously do not read statgeeks.com…err I mean hardballtalk.com…too often. Don’t you understand that Jeters gold gloves do not matter because Palmeiro won one once after playing only 17 games at first base? It is because of that fact that they are 100% meaningless. Also, some nerds on computers watch every play of every game every night and they push a button on a computer that says in their mind whether the ball shoul have been caught or not. And those guys say that Jeter is terrible defensive shortstop. They also say that Griffey wasn’t one o the greatest defensive centerfielders even though he has a trophycase full of GGs himself.

      Also, what are you doing using your eyes to watch a baseball game? You should be more like the God of baseball. Billy Beane, who didn’t watch the games. What’s wrong with you?

      • drmonkeyarmy - Jul 10, 2011 at 10:26 AM

        Fiorentino, you might be my favorite poster.

  9. North American Bowl - Jul 9, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    How come Matt Nokes is not on the list?

    • deathmonkey41 - Jul 9, 2011 at 9:46 PM

      He play was always overshadowed by the play of Oscar Azocar.

  10. cup0pizza - Jul 9, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    Overrated still.

  11. uyf1950 - Jul 9, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    Been a Yankees fan all my life since the 1950’s. I couldn’t agree more with Matthew. While Jeter deserves all the accolades he is not,should not and will never be as great a Yankee as Yogi. I’m glad to see someone look beyond what this new way of thinking/stats shows. That’s just my opinion.

  12. sasquash20 - Jul 9, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    Ruth crushes Bonds. One took PEDs the other ate and drank himself into an even fatter state then he already was. If the Babe actually tried to stay in shape his numbers would have never been touched. Ruth is the greatest ever. Way ahead of Bonds.

    • fquaye149 - Jul 9, 2011 at 10:33 PM

      Good grief. If you want to argue Ruth was better than Bonds just stick to the stats, which show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ruth was a more valuable player than Bonds no matter how you measure it. Bringing steroids into the euation is just silly, especially since there is latent evidence that strongly suggests that Ruth corked his bat.

      Neither player was lily white by any stretch. So why even bring it up when the cold hard evidence ALREADY points to Ruth.

      • clydeserra - Jul 10, 2011 at 3:11 AM

        (and he didn’t play against the best competition playing baseball at the time)

      • 24may98 - Jul 10, 2011 at 6:02 AM

        An article Why Babe Ruth Is Greatest home Run Hitter : Popular Science Monthly tests in the laboratory his brain, eye, ear, and muscle – and gets his secret” [Popular Science, Vol. 99, No. 4, October 1921] ” reported on testing done in a physical science research laboratory at Columbia on Ruth and his bat. The techs measured his physical (sight, hearing, muscular) reflexes and mental acuity and found him extraordinary, and they weighed his bat at 54 ounces. There is more in Bill Jenkinson’s well researched book:The year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs

  13. sasquash20 - Jul 9, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    Oh and anyone who thinks Jeter is overrated is just a yankee hater. I can’t stand the yankjobs but dude hustles his ass off and has over 3000 hits and what 5 rings. Oh and they call him the captain. He is leadership. Show the man his due respect.

  14. bobwheel - Jul 9, 2011 at 10:00 PM

    Forget WAR. Ruth is the best ever by a mile. No one else comes close to his combination of excellence on the mound and at the plate. Not even close.

    • deathmonkey41 - Jul 9, 2011 at 10:03 PM

      Barry Bonds had a bigger head though…at least while he was playing

    • Matthew Pouliot - Jul 9, 2011 at 10:06 PM

      Of course Ruth is the greatest ever. But WAR is a counting stat, and Bonds has two big advantages there: he was great through 42, whereas Ruth was finished after his age-39 season, and he got to play an extra eight games every single season.

  15. paul621 - Jul 9, 2011 at 10:56 PM

    No pitchers (Ruth aside)? If we’re talking “great,” which can’t be quantified even by WAR, how has Mariano Rivera not been mentioned? Maybe not top-5, but certainly in the discussion.

  16. Ryan Lansing - Jul 10, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    I’ve always rooted against the Yankees and Derek Jeter’s oh-so-punchable face. But no one who knows anything about baseball would say that he isn’t a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Even if his defense has been mostly crappy, his hitting gets him in.

    Dear Yankees fans: You are not now, nor will you ever be, the underdog. Stop being so defensive. Everyone who hates on Jeter secretly wishes he was on their team. Being considered the sixth best Yankee of all time is not an insult. Try to enjoy the moment.

  17. stoutfiles - Jul 10, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    “Dear Yankees fans: You are not now, nor will you ever be, the underdog. Stop being so defensive. Everyone who hates on Jeter secretly wishes he was on their team. Being considered the sixth best Yankee of all time is not an insult. Try to enjoy the moment.”

    The young Jeter, maybe. Nobody in their right mind would want Old Jeter and the remainder of his 3 year, 51 million contract on their team. No one.

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