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Derek Jeter’s great, but let’s compare to Alan Trammell

Feb 15, 2014, 7:05 AM EDT

Image (1) Trammell.jpg for post 3064

SOCHI, Russia — Well, the overwhelming thing that is the Winter Olympics has completely thrown me off my 100 greatest baseball players ever schedule. So it goes. We’ll pick up where we left off after I return and recover and get back on U.S. time. I predict this will be sometime in July.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about one big mistake I made in the Top 100 list, I’m sure I’ve made dozens of mistakes but one in particular stands out to me. And it relates pretty directly to the biggest baseball news of the last week.

I left Alan Trammell off my Top 100. That’s just not right. And I’ll need to correct that.

When Derek Jeter announced his retirement a couple of days ago, I wrote about how amazing it is — in these times of Twitter and 24-hour sports talk and mean-old defensive statistics and smark-aleck bloggers who invent words like Jeterate — that Derek Jeter will walk away from the game almost universally admired. It is a happy fate that eluded almost every great player of his time. Derek Jeter was a fantastic player, a sure Hall of Famer, a man who played hard every day. For the next six months, people will come to dedicate a portion of baseball immortality on him. It is altogether fitting and proper that they should do this.

But in a larger sense …

In the last last few days someone wrote how there will never be a Yankee who mattered more than Derek Jeter. Someone wrote this tripe about how stat nerds need to shut up because Derek Jeter was, like, the awesomest thing ever. Someone wrote that the Hall of Fame shouldchange its induction rules because Jeter should go in early with his buddy Mariano Rivera. Red Sox players were effusive, Bud Selig, after spending months breaking Alex Rodriguez, wrote the most glowing statement about him. Albert Pujols said he was “pretty close” to Jesus.

And I it hit me: Oh yeah, THAT’S why I invented the word Jeterate.

He was a fantastic baseball player. But you know what? Alan Trammell was just about as good.

Here are Alan Trammell’s and Derek Jeter’s neutralized offensive numbers.

Trammell: .289/.357/.420
Jeter: .307/.375/..439

Jeter was a better hitter. But it was closer than you might think. They had similar strengths offensively. At their best, they were .300 hitters with some power and some speed. Both lost deserving MVP awards to players who hit a lot of home runs and had a lot of RBIs. Jeter played in a historically high scoring time which inflated his numbers. Trammell played in a low-scoring time, which depressed his. So their actual numbers diverge. Plus Jeter was much more dependable which is no small thing. Jeter played in 300-plus more games. He played 140-plus games in 15 seasons. Trammell because of injuries and such managed only eight 140-game seasons.

But Trammell has his advantages too — namely defense. Trammell was a much, much, much, much, much, much — can’t put “much” in here enough times — much better defensive shortstop.

By Baseball Reference’s defensive WAR Trammell was 22 wins better than a replacement shortstop. Jeter was nine runs worse.

By Fangraphs, Trammell was 76 runs better than a replacement shortstop. Jeter was 139 runs worse.

You can buy those numbers or you can partially agree with them or you can throw them out entirely, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Trammell was a better defensive shortstop. It’s only a matter of degree. And where Jeter’s offensive strengths and longevity give him a cushion over Trammell, the defense unquestionably cuts into the lead.

More: They were both widely respected players. They were both leaders on excellent teams. They both had great years. It’s fascinating to look at their five best years by Baseball Reference WAR.

Jeter: 8.0 (1999); 7.5 (1998); 6.6 (2009); 5.5 (2006); 5.1 (2001).
Trammell: 8.2 (1987); 6.7 (1990); 6.6 (1984); 6.3 (1986); 6.0 (1983).

And by Fangraphs WAR:

Jeter: 7.4 (1999); 6.8 (2009); 6.2 (1998); 6.1 (2006); 5.5 (2002).
Trammell: 7.7 (1987); 6.9 (1984); 6.2 (1990); 5.7 (1986); 5.6 (1983).

By both of those measures, Trammell was at least as good, and perhaps a tick better, than Jeter when they were both at their best. That’s because Baseball Reference and Fangraphs WAR weigh defense pretty heavily. Like I say, you might not think Trammell’s defense makes up that much ground. You might not even think Trammell was a better defender than Jeter. Baseball is fun to argue about.

All of this can lead to the easy conclusion that Derek Jeter was wildly overrated … and when people are saying he’s pretty close to Jesus or that he belongs on Yankees Mount Rushmore(worst tourist attraction EVER!), yeah, it’s hard to argue. But my point is different. My point is that Alan Trammell was criminally underrated.

There are only a handful of shortstops in the history of baseball who transcended the position. You look at the Hall of Fame shortstops — many of them couldn’t really hit. Aparicio … Ozzie … Pee Wee … Scooter … all of them were, in total, below average hitters. Cal Ripken is viewed as one of the most powerful offensive shortstops ever … but he had lower slugging percentage than Ruben Sierra and Eric Karros. The position is so demanding defensively, so demanding physically, so demanding mentally that very, very few players could play the position and stay on top of their games daily and be great offensive players and run the bases and lead their teams.

Jeter deserves to be celebrated for being one of those shortstops. He was probably the best player on four of the five Yankees World Series champions he played on (he wasn’t in 1996; there’s an argument that Jorge Posada or Bernie Williams was better in 2000). He helped his team in countless ways. I wouldn’t say he was the best modern shortstop but his career has been wonderful.

And so was Alan Trammell’s. Criminally underrated doesn’t even do his career justice. And I’m one of the people who underrated it.

  1. weaselpuppy - Feb 15, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    Fantastic article.

    The point here isn’t that Jeter is equal to Tram. He’s better. But not by a much.

    The point is that Tram is the mirror image of Barry Larkin, and Sweet Lou had 99.9% the same career as Ryne Sandberg. The point is the BEST 2b-ss duo of ALL TIME has no chance at sniffing the HOF despite being top 10 or 11 ranked players at their positions with balanced offense and defense with all the hardware and a championship, because the BBWAA is a dumpster fire trainwreck jackwagon parade.

    Any other sport they’d have been in the HOF on their 2nd-4th years of eligibility with the careers they have had. So yeah, people get tired of the NY/EC bias and the blatant malfeasance of the group of people that are supposed to safeguard the integrity of the history of the game.

    • derklempner - Feb 15, 2014 at 2:43 PM

      …because the BBWAA is a dumpster fire trainwreck jackwagon parade.

      I gave you a thumbs-up just for that sentence fragment.

    • dohpey28 - Feb 15, 2014 at 3:55 PM

      Jeter has only played 300 more games then Trammel, but still has a 1000 more hits, 100 more doubles, 10 more triples, 71 more home runs, 640 runs scored, 258 more RBI. His average is 27 points higher, his on base is 29 higher, his slugging 31 higher and ops 61 higher. But hey

      But hey if we can find make believe numbers to make them comparable then go ahead.

      Oh and I am a Mets fan and loved watching Trammel play when I was a kid and do think he and Sweet Lou should be in the HOF, but he still isn’t in Jeter’s class and isn’t just as good, even if you think his defense was much much much much better.

      • txspartan95 - Feb 16, 2014 at 2:49 AM

        Jeter has 2600 MORE plate appearances through his career than Trammell did. If you take Tram’s career averages and amortize them against these additional plate appearances, you’d find these raw numbers a LOT closer than you’d expect. For instance, the career hits gap declines to < 300.

        Jeter, while great, benefited tremendously from a terrific team that was bought around him his entire career. Trammell played in an era when this was not the norm and did not benefit from the same overblown economics as the Yankees provided Jeter.

      • otistaylor89 - Feb 17, 2014 at 3:32 PM

        Jeter also played through (and actually had his prime) during one of baseball biggest offensive periods in it’s history, while Trammel played during a period that was slightly below average offensively. If you look at their neutralized stats then they actually get a lot closer. Trammel was, by far, the better fielder – Jeter was/is below average.

      • nomoreliesfortoday - Feb 28, 2014 at 1:16 PM

        So Jeter hit at a .386 clip for his extra plate appearances…………just saying.

      • spacealbatross - Mar 4, 2014 at 12:01 PM

        Jeter won 4 of his 5 titles with home grown talent, not a team bought around him.

    • sportsfan18 - Feb 15, 2014 at 4:24 PM

      The point is that Trammell is about to fall off of the HOF ballot.

      There are currently 22 shortstops in the HOF. Trammell is better than half of them.

      No, he isn’t better than Jeter, but Trammel has been overlooked

      Tram compares very well to many of the greats because he’s just a tad behind them. Cal Ripken was better than Tram too as we all know, but let’s compare a bit between them.

      Tram’s career BA .285
      Cal’s career BA .276

      Tram’s OPS+ 110
      Cal’s OPS+ 112

      Tram’s on base percentage .352%
      Cal’s on base percentage .340%

      Tram’s slugging % .415%
      Cal’s slugging % .447%

      # of double plays Tram grounded into 156
      # of double plays Cal grounded into 350

      Again, Cal IS better, we all know. The point is that Tram is better than he is remembered. Tram should have been in the HOF long ago…

      Barry Larkin sailed into the HOF, deservedly so by the way. Barry’s career wins above replacement was 70.3. Trammell’s was 70.2

      Again, this isn’t a knock against Barry Larkin.

    • buddaley - Feb 15, 2014 at 4:46 PM

      Your points are reasonable until you mention NY/EC bias. There is little evidence of that. Consider that since 1995 the Yankees have been in the post season 17 times and have had just 2 MVP awards (Alex Rodriguez twice) and just one Cy Young (Clemens). Jeter had a strong case at least twice and not only did not win, but in his best season came in sixth, receiving just 1 first place vote.

      As for the HOF, the Yankees have their share of borderline or very questionable enshrinements, but in the past 30 years or so, I think the only entrant who is probably undeserving is Rizzuto, and there was a campaign to get him in. But he is certainly not any more outrageous a selection than many others who have been elected during that time frame. And many Yankees who might be in that borderline category-Munson, Guidry as examples-have been virtually ignored while recent candidates like Mussina did not seem to get much of a boost from careers in NY despite his obvious qualifications. Nor has Bernie Williams received much support. I doubt that Posada will find much traction either when his time comes.

      • weaselpuppy - Feb 15, 2014 at 7:45 PM

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear. The bias I speak of is the perceived gap in ability between Jeter and Trammell based on press coverage. I agree that the awards aren’t biased.

      • largebill - Feb 16, 2014 at 9:53 AM

        Part of the problem in using MVP awards to prove or disprove east coast bias is fact that on a loaded team like the Yankees of Jeter’s career it is harder for a writer to come up with the carried his team narrative. The other problem is the MVP voting is done by two voters from each city with a team. The Hall of Fame voting has no such limitation. Without doing any research I can safely claim that the New York area has far more HoF voters than the state of Michigan. I believe the majority of voters try to cast an unbiased ballot, but I have no doubt they are much more aware of players they covered than ones from other markets. It doesn’t impact the Albert Pujols type obvious Hall of Famers. However, a Blyleven or Trammell who don’t show up as a no-brainer can easily be over looked.

      • vinniller - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:01 PM

        you don’t have a clue

  2. 4cornersfan - Feb 15, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Shame on you for not mentioning Ernie Banks. He not only had awesome power but was a very good defensive player during his 9 years at SS, better than Jeter, not as good as Trammel. His WAR of 8.5, 9.5 and 10.2 in 1955, 1958 and 1959, eclipse both Trammel’s and Jeter’s best years, and only Ripkin even comes close to his 512 HR. His 500 SLG% beats Ripkin by over 50 points, and of the 3, only Jeter’s 828 OPS approaches his 830. Banks knees went bad and he was moved to 1B in 1962, but given that he played at a time when there were only 16 teams and the pitching in the league was not diluted, he was better than Ripkin, Jeter or Trammell during his 9 years at the position. The fact that he played his entire career for the hapless Cubs makes people forget that he was the best SS of the post-WWII era.

    • weaselpuppy - Feb 15, 2014 at 7:50 PM

      Technically he’s a 1B, as he played more games there. His SS d was average then declined due to his knees. Points off thought for moving to a less demanding physical position regardless. Being an elite SS means playing the position the vast majority of your career…thus points off for Yount as well. Still great players, still HOFs…but guys like Jeter and Tram get extra credit for sticking it out through their decline phase and having their numbers suffer from it to varying degrees.

      Again though, it’s not really about individual players, as we’re talking about the best of the best and not how some Hall of Sorta Good guy like Dave Righetti for example is getting shafted… this is about the BBWAA being to historical integrity and accuracy what Sharknado is to cinema.

  3. rdav29 - Feb 15, 2014 at 3:03 PM

    It’s pretty close. The only minor difference is Jeter being the driving force for 5 world series championships. Other than that it’s a toss up…

    • Tim OShenko - Feb 15, 2014 at 4:07 PM

      Comparing their postseason track record is just a wee bit unfair, in that Jeter played during the era of expanded playoffs. During Trammell’s heyday, the Tigers finished 2nd or 3rd in their division six times. Looking back, they likely would’ve made the playoffs an extra three or four times, under the modern format. Of course, that’s a big what if, and it’s no guarantee that Trammell would be the driving force of those teams. Still, it’s worth noting that he could have narrowed the gap, had he had the benefit of our current playoff structure.

      • txspartan95 - Feb 16, 2014 at 2:32 AM

        Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Yankees would consistently buy the best team in baseball to put around Jeter as well. Baseball, regardless of the focus on individual statistics, is truly a team game.

  4. djpostl - Feb 15, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    Did you just try to compare the speed elemnt of the game as if it was even close between these two?

    Laughable.

    Trammell didn’t even have a 2-1 SB-CS ratio while Jeter was nearly a 4-1 ratio.

    Trammell had one season where he swiped 30 bags. Jeter had 4, and almost a 5th.

    The years Jeter stole 30 he’d get caught 4-5 times. Trammell was caught 10 times is 30 SB season.

    Stop being disingenuous while tryign to prove your own pre-determined narrative.

    I think Trammell was an incredible player, arguably a HoFer himself.

    But 20 pints in average, obp and ops isn’t a “close”. It’s in the neighborhood, but it isn’t “close”.

    Honestly, the power numbers aren’t all that close either. If Jeter doesn’t hit another HR this season he’ll still have 70 more than Trammell in the exact same number of seasons played.

    The steals/speed aspect isn’t even worth mentioning let alone “a push” like you tried to imply either.

    Then there are is the small mater of 1000 more hits.

    And the big post-season moments.

    And I know you can’t fault Trammell for not having been to the playoffs more than once, but you also cannot deny the fact that it’s a whole lot easier to have one great post-season run on a “hot team” than it is to maintain a .308/.374/.465/.838 slash line over 158 games, 700 PA’s in the post-season while providing some incredible moments both in the field and at the dish.

    So sorry. Trammell was an incredible player, himself worthy of at the very least HoF discussion, maybe even a bronze plaque.

    But to say he is in the some rarified air as Jeter is comcially incorrect.

  5. eatitfanboy - Feb 15, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    I love the Sabermetrics era. But can we usher it in without completely obliterating intangibles like leadership?

    It has to matter more that Jeter was the de facto and de jeur leader of a team that won 5 World Series. I get all the metrics that Trammel didn’t have the people around him that Jeter did, that the playoffs were expanded, etc..

    But if we are to make any sense of our history, tough cuts have to made. Trammel < Jeter, and to keep any purity whatsoever to the argument, you have to accept that as fact.

  6. mikhelb - Feb 15, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    So Jeter played in a time with more power-hitters than when Trammell played, would that mean that Trammell had an easier time fielding slow grounders than Jeter having to field a higher percentage of line drives? We know that in the time Trammell played, 80% of balls were put into play and in Jeter’s time 77% were put into play which translates to about 1000 less chances for Derek’s contemporaries (1995-2013).

    I asked Bill James two or three years ago on something I’ve noticed in the fielding stats regarding the neutralization in that it was made taking into account averages including the stats of the subject of study and his teammates and defensive metrics were not really taking into account the type of pitchers a SS is playing with… James said he didn’t think it would make a difference… until he saw my calculations and opted not to opine.

    and here’s the thing: both Trammell and Jeter were similar defenders. Trammell had a success rate of 97.7% fielding a ball while Jeter has had a 97.2% so far, 92% of the balls Trammell got to ended up with at least one out, Jeter’s success in that regard: 91%. Trammell played behind a pitching staff that induced about 10% of balls hit towards the SS while Jeter has been playing behind pitching staffs that induce about 8% of balls hit towards the SS, it could be because it is viewed as easier to hit towards RF in YS II and YS III that most try puting the ball into play towards that zone in half of Jeter’s total games… and that’s been pretty much a constant over the years once you average league stats WITHOUT counting Jeter and NYY pitchers and comparing those averages to Jeter and NYY stats.

    In the end i think it is better to have a SS who can properly field 97% of balls he gets to and records at least one out 91% of the time than a SS who gets to more balls but can properly field 87% of those balls he gets to and records an out in 90% of them.

  7. howdydoodyisalive - Feb 15, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    I swear, some of you need to take off your blinders and learn to read and follow a common sense discussion. The man isn’t saying Trammell is better than Jeter and makes that very clear, ohhh about a dozen times. All he is asking is, if Jeter is the “King of the World”, how in the world is it that someone like Trammell, who has stats that are not that far behind the “King”, languishes in the not-deserving-to-be-in-the-hall-of-fame category? And he does an excellent job of making his point by comparative analysis. Now settle down, Jeter is still “King of the World”.

  8. j2m1958 - Feb 16, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    Maybe Trammell played 20 meaningful games in his career, while Jeter played 20 every year.

    • howdydoodyisalive - Feb 16, 2014 at 6:06 PM

      And your point is what? That makes a difference in Trammell’s qualifications to be in the Hall of Fame how? How many meaningful games one plays in a career has more to do with your teammates than it does you. And you are conveniently ignoring the fact that if Trammel had played in the Jeter era, with an expanded playoff system, his meaningful game total would be much higher. Nice try, but it’s a meaningless stat regardless.

  9. chinahand11 - Feb 17, 2014 at 11:10 PM

    If Trammel was a Yankee, with his career, would he be in the HOF?

  10. phillyshouldsignmaclin - Feb 18, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    Jeter is a good person, but never struck fear into any opposing pitcher and has limited range at SS. Too often people let the good person overshadow the on field results. Jeter is not Cal Ripken

  11. evanhartford - Feb 21, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    People really shouldn’t compare players from different decades. Its pretty stupid. Even when you compare guys like Jeter and Trammel (with a wee bit of overlap), you’re still talking about too many differences and too many hypotheticals.

    And is anyone else sick of the GOAT arguments? I mean cmon. Before we start comparing Mickey Mantle to Derek Jeter, we should first figure out which is the greatest Battleship of all time. Is it the Bismark? Heavens no! Its gotta be the Merrimack. Wait a sec, what about the sub from Das Boot or the U.S.S. Enterprise (the aircraft carrier)? Can we agree that its has gotten beyond ridiculous? I hear this stuff all the time with Lebron James and Michael Jordan. And then some douche steps in and brings up Bill Russell. I’m sorry, but there are probably 200 players with equal or better size and athleticism as Bill Russell in today’s NBA. In all likelihood, he’d be a dime a dozen. But of course, he’s the greatest of all time…

    Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, comparing players across generations. Stupid. Stop doing it.

    Did Trammel get robbed? Maybe, but the HOF is a popularity contest. There are advantages and disadvantages of playing in a small market. Of course, from a legacy standpoint its a pretty big disadavantage to play in a small market. What’s the moral of the story? If you’re a great player and you care A LOT about your legacy, play for a big market franchise. The end.

  12. almostfreemoney - Feb 28, 2014 at 8:50 PM

    Great article. It’s easy to overlook Tram because he was never flashy and well… he didn’t play for the Yankees or Red Sox. He wasn’t on national TV very often, either.

    I have always been a huge Trammell fan growing up in MI, but I still forgot how good he was. It’s great to be able to look at his numbers and see them compared to Jeter, who will deservedly be a 1st ballot HOF. Even so, even if you go beyond the numbers, the two were very even in ability. I have seen both of them play hundreds of games. They were very similar offensive players. Tram got just as many big hits to win games as Jeter. Tram was an even better defensive SS than the numbers portray. He had to have been the most accurate throwing SS I have ever seen. Not as flashy as Ozzie, but just as good overall.

    Nobody questions that Jeter was a great SS. Well, actually, he was a great player and a below average SS, but that is beside the point. The point is that the writers who vote for the HOF are idiots and Tram should have easily gotten into the HOF.

  13. Crippy - Apr 13, 2014 at 11:36 PM

    Reblogged this on Flashin' Leather and commented:
    Was Trammell as good as Jeter?

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