I’m watching SportsCenter right now, and they mentioned how Derek Jeter went sixth in his draft. It is kind of impressive, I guess. But not too impressive. Good players go later in the first round all the time. It's just part of the nature of the MLB Draft. Heck, going by WAR, Jeter isn’t even the best #6 overall pick of all time (he’s second, but not really close to the best).
Then, they went and said how it’s incredible how so many teams passed on “arguably the greatest player of his generation”. Oh boy. They were doing so well there. At least they threw the “arguably” in there, right?
How arguable is it, though? Well, let’s start by defining “generation”. Let’s say you want to give Jeter the best case possible and say his generation only counts the years that Jeter has been playing, or 1996 to 2012. Well, going by Fangraphs, Jeter still only ranks fifth among position players* in that time span, barely ahead of Scott Rolen (75.9 fWAR to 73.6)** despite a nearly-500 game advantage. Ahead of him are Chipper Jones (85.6), Albert Pujols (87.9), fellow #6 pick Barry Bonds (94.3) and Alex Rodriguez (114.1). And, of course, this isn’t counting the time that some of these players have (or will have) that falls outside of Jeter’s career.
*Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson also rank ahead of him if you include pitchers, with 80.6 and 81.9 fWAR in that span, respectively.
**I add this as a huge fan of Scott Rolen. In case you haven’t realized, Rolen has been good. REALLY good. Keep that in mind when his Hall of Fame case comes up.
However, a large part of that has to do with Jeter not being a great fielder. fWAR docks him around 12.5 wins in his career for lackluster fielding. Let’s say that Fangraphs is wrong, and Jeter has been only as bad as, say, Chipper Jones. Jones has been about 83 runs better, so add an extra 8.3 WAR to Jeter, bringing him to 84.2 or so. That takes him above the Big Unit and Pedro, but it doesn’t improve his placement among hitters.
What about giving him extra credit for playoff appearances? Well, part of that is a function of playing on the Yankees for so long, so we can’t fully credit him for that. He’s had a full season or so of at bats in the post-season, and they’re more or less at his career averages. Let’s say that adds 5.0 WAR or so to his case; that seems like a decent guess. Well, you would still have to add playoff value to the four players ahead of him, and all four of them are reasonably close to their regular season number.* By my guesses, they would all add somewhere between 2 and 4 WAR to their values.
*Yes, even noted “chokers” Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds. Neither are dead on with their career numbers, but they also have the least playing time in the post-season, and are well within the realm of reasonable variation due to chance.
Again, this is all REALLY rough estimation, but I think I added as follows:
So, how are the fWAR rankings looking with playoffs added?
And if we say Jeter was a much better fielder than any fielding stat gives him credit for?
Well, what if you say Jeter actually was one of the best fielders of his time rather than merely Chipper Jones-level adequate? Well, than you could probably get him above Pujols and maybe Bonds, but that still leaves A-Rod pretty far ahead of him. And even then, I would like to remind you that we have already added all of the following criteria JUST TO GET HIM TO SECOND:
-The “generation” in question only refers to playing time and stats accumulated during Jeter’s career.
-Add in playoff value, something that Jeter has a clear advantage in by virtue of being a career Yankee.
-Ignore all fielding stats saying the Jeter is a bad fielder.
-Pretend he is actually, in fact, a great fielder.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how a player can be both underrated and overrated at the same time. I’ve seen so many people say that Jeter is good, but not great, that nobody would know who he was were he not a Yankee,* or that he’s not even a Hall of Famer.
*Actually, that one might be true, but it wouldn’t be Jeter’s fault. See, for example, Craig “I Didn’t Hear a Lot About Him When He Played, So He Probably Wasn’t a Hall of Famer” Biggio. No really, you won’t believe how many times I see people say things like “No, he’s not worthy” or “Maybe he’s worthy, but he’s not first-ballot material.” I would recommend this article; after all, as MLB.com writers, they should be more knowledgable than most, and yet, not even all of them say they’ll definitely vote for Biggio. However, I won’t recommend it, as a depressing number of them say they will refuse to vote for anyone “on principle” or some similar nonsense. Kudos to Hal Bodley for making an early run at worst ballot of 2013, though.
These are all ridiculous claims. Jeter is a clear first-ballot, inner-circle Hall of Famer, even without resorting to post-season stats, “clutchiness” or other things. However, isn’t that enough? Does he need to be “greatest of a generation” too?