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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.