You should like Derek Jeter. Really, you should. Derek Jeter is pretty cool. The New York Yankees shortstop is exact type of immensely popular, wildly successful sports star fans are prone to hate, because of the market he plays in, because of the media fawning, because of the championships. But make no mistake: Jeter is one of the best players of this era and deserves to be regarded as such as his career starts to wind down. He has been really good for a very long time.
On Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field, Jeter put on a show. The 38-year old finished 4-for-5 atop the New York order and moved into a tie for 11th place all-time in hits with a sixth inning homer off of White Sox reliever Hector Santiago. For a night, this was vintage Jeter: fouling off tons of pitches, finishing a triple away from the cycle. The White Sox had no answer for him. I thought to myself, 'Derek Jeter has had a great career. Derek Jeter deserves all of the praise'.
And then Phil Rogers wrote Jeter should be the MVP of the American League. Like, this season. In 2012. This isn't good.
The immortal Fire Joe Morgan once decreed "Derek Jeter is a good baseball player who brings out the worst in baseball writers" and this has yet again proven to be one of the biggest truisms in sports media. In an ideal world, there would be a light we could shine to trigger to the presence of Ken Tremendous and co. Something akin to a Bad Baseball Writing Bat Signal. This column is enough to deserve their lofty attention. But while Michael Schur presumably spends the day writing a script for Andy Dwyer to act out scenes from Terminator 2, I'll accept the responsibility and do my best to tear this sucker down.
We won't go line-by-line, because I'm not that good or funny. But if we were to go line-by-line, holy hell, this is quite the opening line.
If a shortstop can do it, Derek Jeter has done it.
Well, with one exception.
He never has received the honor that was bestowed on his teammate Alex Rodriguez back in 2003, when Rodriguez was with the last-place Rangers.
It took him 29 words, but Phil Rogers has finally compared Jeter to A-Rod. Because this always works so well.
Are you familiar with WAR? It is one of the those fancy formulas put together by people much smarter than you or I to determine the worth of a baseball player. In the '70s, or something, a baseball player's worth was largely determined by his batting average. Pete Rose would get pissed when he had to take a walk. Over time, people wised up and realized this is probably not the best way to go about things.
Being good at baseball means avoiding outs. It means you play good defense, run the bases well, hit for power. WAR is a stat that puts all of these things together in one number. It shows exactly how many wins a player is worth, assuming a win equals 10 runs. It isn't flawless, but it's essentially the perfect tool for figuring out who should win MVP.
WAR is a bit hard to understand, but don't fret: it's a good stat. Don't worry about what goes into it, worry about what comes out of it. WAR scares people, but it shouldn't. There are some big brains behind this.
So: in 2003, at the height of his steroids-induced power, Alex Rodriguez posted a WAR of 9.3. This means, by himself, Alex Rodriguez accounted for over nine wins. A-Rod was really quite good.
A-Rod finished that season with a triple slash of .298/.396/.600. He hit 47 homers, scored over 100 runs, drove in over 100 runs, even stole 17 bases. This was probably the third best season of A-Rod's sure-fire Hall of Fame career. I think it's safe to say he deserved that MVP.
It's true: Jeter has never been named Most Valuable Player. This is hardly a strike against him. You don't need to win an MVP to be an all-time great, you just need to be the best player in baseball for one season. Derek Jeter has been close a couple times, but he's probably never been quite good enough.
He is definitely not good enough this season. Here are a few fun facts heading into last night's game, before Jeter's four-hit night against my White Sox moved him up a few spots:
Derek Jeter's WAR in 2012, according to Fangraphs: 2.6
Derek Jeter's league-wide WAR ranking, according to Fangraphs: 79 (ed. note: he's No. 62 now)
Notable Chicago baseball players with a higher WAR than Derek Jeter, according to Fangraphs: Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Alejandro De Aza (damn, also not true anymore after last night. But close).
Number of Darwin Barneys with a higher WAR than Jeter: One.
Number of New York Yankees players with a higher WAR than Jeter, according to B-R: Eight.
Number of Houston Astros with a higher WAR than Jeter, according to B-R: Four.
The monetary value of Jeter's season, according to Fangraphs: $11.8 million
The monetary value of Jeter's actual contract: $16 million
It would be OK for a firefighter from Minooka to argue that Derek Jeter is the most valuable player in the American League this season, because a firefighter from Minooka has more important things on his plate. He has real life concerns. But for Phil Rogers? Rogers' job is to enlighten the public about baseball.
WAR is calculated differently by Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference, which is why you'll notice Barney is rated among the 10 most valuable players in baseball (because of his elite defense) by B-R, yet is around No. 70 by Fangraphs. We'll stick with Fangraphs for the point of this exercise because it's a bit easier to work with.
Numbers for batting, fielding, base running, value over replacement and positional value make up Fangraphs' version of WAR. Jeter, you'll notice, is third in the American League with a .326 batting average. So why is his WAR score so pedestrian? Because not only is Jeter the worst defensive shortstop in the majors at the most important position on the diamond, he's also one of the worst defenders in the game, regardless of position.
This is why I LOL'd upon reading this from Rogers:
The Rangers' Josh Hamilton has piled up stats in a streaky fashion, but his value largely stops when anyone else is in the batter's box. The beauty of Jeter is what he gives you just by showing up. He and Curtis Granderson carry DNA that makes everyone around them better, and that has been a key to the Yankees thriving despite a run of adversity that began before they left spring training.
Trust me: Jeter's value also stops when anyone else is in the batter's box. He's a very good hitter, but he is a bad, awful, atrocious defender. There are numbers for this, and they are not particularly difficult to understand.
This is all a very long-winded way of saying Mike Trout should probably win MVP in the American League this season. Trout is hitting .343/.405/.608 with 24 home runs and 39 steals in 99 games. He wasn't even in the majors to begin the season; a month ago, he wasn't legally allowed to buy alcohol. However: Mike Trout is the best player in baseball this season, so Mike Trout should win MVP.
While Jeter's fielding rates as a -13.6 this season, Trout's D comes in at 5.2. Trout has done this, and he has also done this. Trout's OPS is .200 points higher than Jeter's. Even if you want to go by batting average, Trout is .17 points better.
Back to WAR: Mike Trout leads baseball with a rating of 7.4. He has been worth more than seven wins this season, Jeter has been worth two.
Jeter is having a great season at the plate for the Yankees, and he's had a Hall of Fame worthy career. He definitely shouldn't win MVP, though.