Regular readers will know of my unabashed writer-crush on Joe Posnanski. Just as advanced metrics miss some of the brilliance of Derek Jeter, Poz's cabinet full of awards undersells the consistency and range of his awesomeness. Often, I'll read Poz on baseball or tennis or music, and think "damn, I've been trying to articulate that for a year."
This time however, I already had the thought that Derek Jeter's farewell tour is going to get overly saccharine for me pretty quickly. While Jeter is probably a first ballot Hall of Famer, he's not the best player of his generation, and if he was hitting the ballot this past year stacked alongside Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, and Mike Piazza, or next year against Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, Jeter might have had to wait a year. Look, I grew up with Jeter and I don't think the Yankees would have won as often as they did with another shortstop, but I'm pretty sure that flowers don't spring forth in his wake when he passes over the infield. So I'm fine to read a writer willing to inject some realism into the paeans and hosannahs.
But it goes too far when a writer like Poz compares Jeter to Alan Trammell. Or, I guess, not too far in the comparison; I can compare Matt Thornton to Sandy Koufax, but the comparison has to end with "Damn, I wish the Yankees had Sandy Koufax coming out of the pen to face lefties instead of Matt Thornton."
I definitely support Trammell for the Hall of Fame--great player, face of a franchise, criminally underrated because as his career was winding down, a new breed of power hitting shortstop was emerging. (An aside: I support Omar Vizquel, too, but you've got to think back to the late '90s Vizquel who was playing Tim Raines to Ozzie Smith's Rickey Henderson, and not the late career utility man.)
Furthermore, I love advanced statistics as much as the next guy. I've been on board with moving Jeter to centerfield since Joe Torre was running Bernie Williams' withered husk out there. But the thing that set Jeter apart, for me, is one of the things that the advanced metrics don't really capture: health.
Yes, WAR is a counting stat, so playing more gives a player more time to accumulate a higher number, so that's halfway there. But one of the things that we're just beginning to understand is the value of depth and versatility. A Nick Swisher, who can play right field or first base is more valuable to a team than an equally skilled player able to man only one of those positions. And a Derek Jeter, who you could count on for at least 148 games in 15 of his 18 seasons, has more value than an equally brilliant player who reached that same mark only 4 times in 19 seasons. To be clear that I'm not cherry picking that 148, here's a chart:
We're only just beginning to understand health as the sixth tool. There are random injuries; collisions are unpredictable, whether between a player and the ground or between two players. But we're learning that the other kind of injury is more built into the player. Joba's elbow, A-Rod's hips, CC's knee; all of these are injuries that could be predicted if we know what to look for and have the technology to see it.
Something about Jeter kept him on the field more than anyone else. And we're still undervaluing that.
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