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Bonehead Jeter-Writer Award
Derek Jeter, second greatest shortstop of all-time?
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com

February 14, 2010

We once ran a monthly feature on BaseballEvolution.com entitled, "The Boneheaded Sportswriter of the Month Award."  The feature was exactly what it sounded like.  We discontinued the award in part because some months had a preponderance of boneheaded articles while others contained slim pickings.  It also wasn't quite fair, as we read some publications more regularly than others, and could turn to the same outlets and writers regularly.  Heck, we could have just called it the Bob Nightengale of the Month Award, as he is the sportswriter who precipitated the award and is usually good for at least one head-scratcher every few weeks.

We still pick apart the occasional boneheaded article when the idiocy moves us.  Most frequently, this happens when someone heaps blind praise upon Derek Jeter.  That happened again recently, as I noticed that David Schoenfield of ESPN.com wrote that Derek Jeter was the second greatest shortstop of all-time (ESPN Insider content).

If Schoenfield's name rings a bell to any of our Boneheaded Sportswriter fans, it's because Asher one went out of his way to praise a Schoenfield article for not being boneheaded. (As an aside, I disagreed with most of Asher's analysis).   This time, Asher and I can both agree to disagree with Schoenfield.

For those of you without ESPN insider access, here are the nuts and bolts of Davis's article, entitled, "Jeter better player overall than Ripken" under the Hot Stove Topic of "Why Derek Jeter Is Already The Second-Greatest Shortstop of All-Time." (Excerpts from Schoenfield's article are in italics).

The multiple titles are already confusing.  Even if Schoenfield succeeds in convincing us that Jeter is better than Ripken is, what does that tell us about whether he is the second-best shortstop of all-time?  Isn't that rather like saying that Jeter is the second-best Yankee of all-time because he is a better player than Dave Winfield was?  I warn you, it gets even more confusing as we delve in further:

A consensus ranking of best-ever shortstops (not including Negro Leaguers) goes something like this:

1. Honus Wagner. Won eight batting titles with the Pirates a long time ago.
2. Cal Ripken. Two-time MVP, 18-time All-Star, quite durable.
3. Arky Vaughan. Terrific hitter with the Pirates in the 1930s (hit .385 one season).
4. Robin Yount. Two-time MVP, but spent half his career as a center fielder.
5. Ozzie Smith. Best fielding shortstop ever, won 13 Gold Gloves.
6. Ernie Banks. Hit 40 homers four times, but played more games at first base.
7. Barry Larkin. Twelve-time All-Star and 1995 NL MVP.

I'm not sure what panel agreed on these shortstop rankings, but I suspect that Robin Yount's niece was a part of it.  Let's compare this consensus to the Baseball Evolution composite rankings made last summer (overall player ranking in parenthesis):


Joe Cronin. Ever heard of him?

1. Honus Wagner (7)
2. Alex Rodriguez (26)
3. Arky Vaughan (38)
4. Joe Cronin (72)
5. Luke Appling (76)
6. Derek Jeter (81)
7. Barry Larkin (82)
8. Cal Ripken (84)
9. Robin Yount (97)
10. Ernie Banks (101)

Basically, we had three shortstops ranked way ahead of the pack, three shortstops ranked ahead of both Jeter and Ripken that Schoenfield fails to mention in his consensus raking, and Jeter already ranked slightly higher than Ripken, making his revelation that Jeter may in fact be superior to Ripken not terribly newsworthy.

Ah, but we were ranking these players holistically; Schoenfield wants to evaluate these players only on the portion of their careers spent at shortstop:

In comparing Jeter to the seven players above, what if the question of "greatest shortstop ever" is approached like this: You get to consider only a player's career while he played shortstop. Isn't that logical on a certain level?

Okay, we'll play Schoenfield's game, ignoring for the moment that the title of his piece was "Jeter better overall player than Ripken" rather than "better overall shortstop."  We'll also look the other way on the fact that Alex Rodriguez was a far superior defensive shortstop than Jeter when he got traded to the Yankees and could have easily been the one to spend his entire career there with Jeter shifting over to the hot corner.  A-Rod, by the way, has been mentioned four times already at this point in the article, but no explanation is yet given as to why he does not appear on the "consensus ranking."  Anyway, what is Schoenfield's methodology?

If we add together the batting, fielding and baserunning runs, we get the following totals:

Wagner -- 604
Ripken -- 384
Vaughan -- 377
Larkin -- 304
Banks -- 300
Jeter -- 222
Smith -- 189
Yount -- 159

Oh... never mind.  Jeter ranks as the sixth best shortstop based on Schoenfield's methodology, a methodology inherently beneficial to Jeter on the basis of eliminating all non-shortstop seasons from the discussion.  He isn't particularly close to the top five, either.  Furthermore, we should consider those three shortstop omissions.  A-Rod totals 336 batting and fielding runs during his seasons as a shortstop.  Cronin's 241 batting runs alone surpass Jeter's overall run total while Appling's mark of 216 is likely only shy because of the time he spent in World War II.  We don't have Baseball-Reference fielding run totals for either Cronin or Appling, but the 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia puts them at 53 and 68, which would bring their totals to 294 and 284.  I can't find these elusive baserunning runs anywhere, so I'm assuming zero baserunning runs for all three omitted shortstops, which probably short-changes them a bit.

How does Schoenfield bolster Jeter's 222 runs into something better than the ninth-best shortstop of all-time when the eighth-best had roughly 284 runs and missed almost two full seasons to military service?  Schoenfield wisely questions the validity of the fielding runs metric in defense of Jeter.

[I]f the fielding metrics are imperfect, if you find it odd that Ripken was moved to third base while still rating as a good defensive shortstop, if you believe you can fudge the numbers a bit, drop Ripken down 30 runs or so and raise Jeter 30 runs or so, then the two are now much closer in overall value.

Except that they still aren't close.  Even at 354 to 252, Ripken wins out by more than 40%.  In fact, that 60-runs swing still wouldn't put Jeter ahead of Appling.

Look, Jeter still has some work to do to catch Ripken.

Evidently, but then why was the topic of your piece, "Why Derek Jeter Is Already The Second-Greatest Shortstop of All-Time?" 

If you want to say Vaughn was more valuable than Jeter, I'd have a hard time disagreeing with you.

Okay, so we'll just ignore those article titles and the central thesis of the piece altogether.   Before we close the browser on this travesty of analysis, David, care to comment on the omission of Alex Rodriguez from your comparisons?

As for Alex Rodriguez, it's safe to assume that we've seen him play his final game at shortstop. At this point, he's played 1,272 games at short and 868 at third base. He'll likely end up with close to 2,000 games played at third.

Perhaps, but we were just comparing the players as shortstops, weren't we?  What could Jeter possibly do in the remainder of his career that would make it more valuable than A-Rod's eight-plus years as a shortstop?

[W]ell, let me start over.

Good call.




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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