Andy Kirkaldy: Catch the news about the Yankee captain retiring?
Hey, has anybody else heard that Derek Jeter is retiring?
No, really, it’s true.
Captain Clutch, the Man With the Calm Eyes (I think Tim McCarver trademarked that phrase), the man New Yorkers voted the city’s Greatest Athlete Ever in a 2011 Quinnipiac University poll (in a tie with Babe Ruth), and the man the readers of the New York Post in a 2011 poll decided was the Greatest Yankee Ever will hang up his cleats.
OK, really, anybody who has picked up this or any other sports section probably has been bombarded with the hype about the retirement of the hitter who has the worst combined slugging and on-base percentages (OPS) in the Yankee lineup this season. You can look it up, as a former Yankee manager might say.
Sorry, that was snarky, and I am a Sox fan. Jeter was an offensive force in his prime, even if he is now bogging down the Yankees out of his apparently inherited No. 2 spot in the batting order.
Still, there is no question we Sox supporters would have been happy to see Jeter in a Boston uniform over the years, especially while watching the revolving door at shortstop after Nomar Garciaparra’s career flamed out. Baseball writers will make Jeter a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he will deserve it.
And Jeter has avoided scandal, even if the New York and national media have given him too much of a pass for refusing to move off shortstop when Alex Rodriguez — a far better defender at the position by every available statistic — came aboard, or going up to manager Joe Girardi now and saying, you know, I’m not really getting on base very often or driving the ball any more, why don’t you hit me seventh?
His refusal to do those things make me wonder about his vaunted leadership, as does the fact the Yankees have won just one championship since he was named captain, while also making history for becoming the first baseball team to blow a 3-0 postseason series lead. And all that while the Yankees have had the highest payroll in baseball every year by about $50 million.
One also wonders about leadership, if one defines it at least in part by putting the interests of the team first, if a player announces his retirement a year in advance and creates a circus.
The latest in that spectacle is that all Yankees are required to wear two patches honoring Jeter for the remainder of the season.
I’ll let Drew Silva from NBC Sports’ “Hardball Talk” address the patches: “It’s usually an honor reserved for players who have recently had their number retired, or been elected to the Hall of Fame, or died. But the Yankees want to sell some merchandise, people.”
The patches are readily available for $14.99. Added Silva, “That patch will be on the jerseys and caps. If you really want to honor Jeter, you’ll purchase both.”
Not all believe a retirement tour is the best route. This is what Boston’s David Ortiz told Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com:
“What Derek Jeter is doing is fine because he’s Derek Jeter,” Ortiz said. “But I don’t know if I’m going to go through all that. I’m not going to wake up and be like, ‘I’m going to play this year and then not anymore.’ To me, it’s going to be how things go through the season and how I feel and then I’m going to be like, ‘Mama, it’s over.’”
OK, let me repeat, Jeter is really, really good. Hall of Fame good. One modern way of measuring the quality of a player is to look at Wins Above Replacement value, or “WAR.” There are different methods of computing WAR; I’ll stick with baseball-reference.com’s. Basically, WAR computes how many wins a player adds to a team compared to a league-average replacement player.
According to baseball-reference.com, Jeter’s career WAR, combining his offensive and defensive WAR stats, is 85.9. That’s damn good. Excellent players like Yogi Berra and Dwight Evans don’t break 60.
But no, Jeter isn’t more valuable than Yankee greats Ruth (173.4 career WAR, including 20.6 as a pitcher), Mickey Mantle (105.9) or Gehrig (103.2). I would argue in favor of Joe Dimaggio, also, who lost three prime years to World War II and still amassed 76.4.
Where it gets interesting is comparing Jeter to other excellent middle infielders, none of whom are in the Hall of Fame. Jeter comes out on top, but not by as much as one might imagine.
Craig Biggio, an Astros second baseman; Bobby Grich, an Angels and Orioles second baseman; and the Detroit double-play combo of second baseman Lou Whitaker and shortstop Alan Trammell all played at least 16 years and have career WARs of at least 71.2 and OPS-plus numbers comparable to Jeter’s 115.
OPS-plus measures how players’ combined slugging and on-base percentages compare to the league average. Jeter’s 115 for his career essentially means he has been 15 percent better than the league average during an offensive era.
Biggio amassed 71.2 of WAR over 20 years and recently retired with an OPS-plus of 112.
Grich played 16 seasons in the 1970s and ’80s, amassing 78.3 of career WAR (16.2 of it defensively; Jeter’s is -9.5 on D, for those who have watched him waving at rollers up the middle) and compiling an OPS-plus of 125.
Whitaker played 19 years from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s, finishing with 82.1 of WAR, 15.4 defensively. His career OPS-plus is 117.
Trammell, a former MVP, played shortstop for 20 years at the same time as Whitaker. His career WAR of 84.4 included 22.0 of defensive value; he was a brilliant, underrated shortstop. His career OPS-plus was 110; like Jeter, it suffered in his later years. Trammell belongs in the Hall of Fame, inducted in a joint ceremony with Whitaker.
Of course, we all remember the retirement tours of these wonderful players.
Hey, wait a minute …
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]
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