Ever since the 2020 MLB Hall of Fame ballot was announced, the player under the microscope the most has been the one no one is doubting should be in: Derek Jeter. When Jeter hung up his cleats in 2014 after manning the shortstop position in The Bronx for 18 years, he was a consensus first-ballot Hall of Famer. At the time, some even believed he would be the first unanimous member of Cooperstown – an honor given last year to his longtime teammate, Mariano Rivera. However, as the age of analytics rushed in, the perception of Jeter shifted. His Hall of Fame candidacy is more complex than it initially appeared.
MAKING JETER’S HALL OF FAME CASE
Jeter was a career .310/.377/.440 hitter with a 119 wRC+, 3,465 hits, and 73.0 fWAR. While it’s partly a matter of accumulating and playing longer than others, out of all the men to ever step foot in a batter’s box, only five have more hits than Jeter. His numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, but they don’t tell the whole story to the greatness of Derek Jeter. The Hall of Fame honors the best players, of course, but it does so much more. The point of the most wonderful place on Earth in Cooperstown, New York, is to produce the history of America’s pastime. That history is incomplete without Derek Jeter. While I am a firm believer that postseason success is not an indicator of a player’s talent, instead of the team around them, Jeter took home five World Series rings, including a World Series MVP. Also, his flair for the dramatic was truly unbelievable. Almost every big moment from 1996-2014 of Yankee baseball involved The Captain. The Jeffrey Maier “Home Run.” The Flip. Mr. November. And that’s just the playoffs. Jeter hit a home run for his 3000th hit. He hit a walk-off in his last game at Yankee Stadium. The man’s career was straight out of a Hollywood script. So, even though, as you’re about to read, Jeter’s numbers may not be unanimous worthy, the legend of Derek Jeter must be enshrined in Cooperstown forever.
SORRY JETER I STILL LOVE YOU, BUT…
I am a born and raised, die-hard Yankee fan. Derek Jeter has and will always be one of my favorite players ever to touch the field. That’s why it took me so long to come to grips with the fact that Jeter is not the best shortstop of all time. Really, he’s not very close. Offensively, Jeter was a great hitter. Absolutely. However, slap hitters like Jeter, Pete Rose, and Ichiro, tend to be overrated. Their high batting averages and “clutch hitting” blind the typical baseball fan from the one-dimensional nature of their offensive game. But, in reality, they aren’t the kind of hitters that should be in the greatest of all-time conversation. Jeter’s career wRC+ of 119 is tied for 466th among all qualified MLB hitters in history, right with Hideki Matsui, Troy Tulowitzki, and Mike Napoli. The thing that separated Jeter from the others was his ability to hit at a high level for 18 years. His 332.7 career offensive runs above average (108th all-time), and 3,465 hits (6th all-time) still show that he was a great hitter, just not one that belongs in the best ever conversation. Defensively, however, it’s a whole other story. The five-time Gold Glover didn’t deserve a single one. While there is something to be said for playing arguably the hardest position on the diamond for 18 years, Jeter just did not do it well. Defensive Runs Saved only dates back to 2002, but, in that time, the now 45-year-old ranks dead last with an atrocious -152 DRS. While defensive statistics are ever-changing and far from perfect, there is no doubt that, when a player’s number is that far of an outlier, a slight change in the formula won’t shift anything too much. Yankee fans will swear by the eye test, but it was very untrustworthy for #2. His signature jump throw was a product of his subpar range. It took him longer to get to balls, resulting in a rushed jump throw, and the appearance of a great play. Jeter was the epitome of making easy plays look hard. He was a bad fielder, no other way to put it.
Two Hall of Fame voters have already elected to release ballots with only one box checked off: Derek Jeter. When thinking about the level of greatness needed to be alone on the stage, Jeter doesn’t come close. The case can be made for a bunch of different players on this ballot being better than him. His offensive numbers weren’t uncanny. His defense was horrible. Nonetheless, he is a Hall of Famer. Why? Because he’s Derek Jeter. For almost two decades, the first name that came to mind when you thought of baseball was Derek Jeter. He won five World Series in the biggest market in the nation. He was The Captain. People who never watched a baseball game in their lives knew Derek Jeter. He’s Jeter, and that’s why he’s a Hall of Famer.
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