Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Jeet vs. The Greats

With Derek Jeter poised this week to pass Lou Gehrig on top of the list of the most all-time hits as a New York Yankee, a lot of people are saying in New York that Jeter will officially gain his spot in a few days on the "Mount Rushmore" of the top all-time Yankee greats. One thing that I do think is huge about Jeter's upcoming accomplishment is that it is one of the first real hard numbers you can point to that Jeter has amassed that begin to capture his true greatness. For the most part, Jeter has been a guy that those outside of New York are all too quick to call "overrated" and these people always love to point to Jeter's lifetime stats. Or more specifically, the fact that there is nothing truly amazing about his lifetime stats when looked at in a vacuum. Well after this week, there will be. Having more hits than any other New York Yankee is to me a really big deal. And this coming from someone who is not only not a Yankee fan, but I am quite a Yankee laugher-at for the most part for how much money they spend and the (relative) ineffectiveness that they seem to spend it on in most years. But with all the greats who have worn the Yankee uniform over the years -- from Ruth and Gehrig, to DiMaggio and Mantle, Maris, Berra, Mattingly and many, many more -- for Derek Jeter to be able to have more hits as a Yankee than all of them? Amazing. And put that all together with what any true baseball fan knows about Derek Jeter -- the incredible coolness under the pressure, the clutch hitting, the integral leadership of four World Championship teams, and of course pretty much the two best defensive plays in huge spots of the entire Joe Torre - Joe Girardi era (the real fans know exactly which two plays I'm talking about), and you're looking at one serious hell of a ballplayer.

But all that being said, does this Yankee hits accomplishment really vault Jeter to the "Mount Rushmore" of all-time Yankees? On this one I think I'm gonna have to call bullshit. Just take the four best all-time Yankee players on that list above -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle -- and let's take a quick look to see how Jeter compares over his career.

For starters, in my view all arguments about the best ball player who ever lived start and end with Babe Ruth. Putting aside the fact that the Babe pitched 107 complete games in 163 career starts while compiling a studly 1.16 WHIP and 2.28 career ERA as a pitcher, Ruth's offensive stats will always be the most clownish stuff of all time. Over 2503 games, Babe Ruth finished his career with a lofty .342 batting average, 714 home runs, 2211 RBIs and a lifetime slugging percentage of .690. And just look at some of these individual seasons, all of these with the Yankees.

1920: .376, 54 homers, 137 RBIs
1921: .378, 59 homers, 171 RBIs
1923: .393, 41 homers, 131 RBIs
1924: .378, 46 homers, 121 RBIs
1926: .372, 47 homers, 145 RBIs
1927: .356, 60 homers, 164 RBIs
1928: .323, 54 homers, 142 RBIs
1929: .345, 46 homers, 154 RBIs
1930: .359, 49 homers, 153 RBIs
1931: .373, 46 homers, 163 RBIs
1932: .341, 41 homers, 137 RBIs

And keep in mind, Ruth was hitting 59 home runs in years when the 2nd-most homers hit by anyone was in the single digits. And he was a very accomplished pitcher in his own right. And Ruth's Yankees won seven AL pennants and four World Series, so he's a champion many times over to boot. For my money, Babe Ruth will always be the greatest player who ever put on a baseball uniform, and he obviously blows away Jeter in basically any area you want to compare the two players.

Next, we move on to Lou Gehrig, one of the most under-appreciated of all the Yankees' all-time greats. In addition to setting the iron-man standard by playing in nearly 2200 consecutive games, Gehrig also piled up the offensive numbers while he did it, including finishing with a .340 lifetime batting average and a .632 slugging percentage, with 495 home runs and 1995 career RBIs over 17 seasons, all with the Yankees. As with his teammate Babe Ruth, Gehrig put up some absolutely sick single-season numbers, including Gehrig's real bread and butter which was RBIs. Take a look at this 11-year stretch of season RBIs for Gehrig from 1927-1937: 175, 142, 126, 174, 184, 151, 139, 165, 119, 152, 159. 150+ RBIs in 6 out of 8 years in a row? Sickness. Gehrig also won a triple crown in 1934 (.363, 49 homers, 165 RBIs) and narrowly missed another in 1931 (.341, 46 homers, 184 RBIs), and the Iron Horse won 6 titles with the Yankees over his 17-year career. As good as Jeter has been, to even compare him to numbers like these is to me downright silly, as Gehrig is simply one of the small handful of all-time greatest hitters this game has ever seen.

Now if you jump ahead less than a generation or so, there is Joe D., he of the marrying Marilyn Monroe fame. In just 13 seasons, Joe DiMaggio won two batting titles (1939 -- .381 and 1940 -- .352), and even more impressively, three MVPs (1939, 1941, 1947). He led the league twice in RBIs (1941 -- 125 and 1948 -- 155), twice in home runs (1937 with 46 and 1948 with 39) and twice in slugging percentage and three times in total bases. When you realize then that World War II stole three years smack in the prime of Joe D.'s life, to think that he still managed to put up these numbers is truly sick. DiMaggio retired with a .325 lifetime batting average and 118 average RBIs per season, numbers which, along with his three MVPs and his never-to-be-broken 56-game hitting streak in 1941, almost any major leaguer today would salivate over. Add in that Joltin' Joe only struck out 369 times in his career -- that's well less than Ryan Howard's total strikeouts just over the last two seasons -- and you can really see just how great DiMaggio was both in terms of power as well as control at the plate in a way that really nobody else ever has been. And most important of all I think in the analysis is that Joe DiMaggio is like the Bill Russell of the American League -- in his 13 seasons in the bigs, the Yankees won 10 AL pennants and an astonishing 9 World Series titles. When you compare the incredible offensive statistics, both in power and control at the plate, his great defense in the outfield and the amazing championships he won, again I am left with the thought that Derek Jeter simply cannot be compared to Joe DiMaggio in terms of his career statistics as a Yankee.

Lastly, there is Mickey Mantle, who basically started his career with the Yankees right as Joe D. was ending his in the Bronx. Mantle posted a lifetime .298 batting average with 536 home runs and 1509 RBIs over 18 seasons, all in New York, which included leading the league in runs scored six times over the eight years from 1954-1961. He also won the league title in triples once (11, in 1955), home runs four times in six years from 1955-1960, RBIs once with 130 in 1956, batting average once (.353 in 1956), on-base percentage three times, slugging percentage four times, OPS six times and total bases three times. In 1956 the Mick won the triple crown in the American League with a .353 batting average, 52 home runs and 130 RBIs, winning his first of three MVP awards which came in 1956, 1957 and 1962 and putting the capper on a truly great offensive career. And in addition to this obvious offensive prowess with a bat, the Mick also had a splendid eye at the plate, leading the league in walks five times between 1955 and 1962. And once again, Mickey won where it really counted, with his teams nabbing 12 AL pennants and 7 World Series titles during his 18 years with the Yankees. When you throw in those three MVP awards, the triple crown in 1956, and all the offensive numbers along with the 7 world championships, there is just no way Jeter's lifetime numbers compare to the Mick's in my view.

No matter what happens from here on out with Derek Jeter, his full impact during his all-Yankees career will never come close to being captured by his lifetime stats. The man has never hit more than 24 home runs in a season, only knocked in 100+ runs once, and despite a very solid .317 career batting average he just doesn't come close to comparing to the all-time Yankee greats even in his ability to get on base and score runs. Jeter has doubtless been perhaps the most clutch player in the major leagues since the mid-90s, and "The Flip" against the Oakland As in the 2001 ALDS will always live in infamy in the minds of all the Jeter haters out there as one of the single greatest mental plays I have seen on the field. And as I said above, becoming the New York Yankees all-time hits leader is to me a huge accomplishment for Jeter's career as a whole. But to elevate him to "Mount Rushmore" status for the Yankees is I think taking things much too far, moreso because of the incredible list of all-time baseball heroes who have spent most or all of their careers with the best franchise in professional sports history. A franchise, by the way, which is on the path towards its first World Series title in ten years here in 2009 unless something unexpected happens to derail that train.

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Blogger Bayne_S said...

All the other Yankees you mentioned played in an era of 154 game seasons and no playoff games to reach the World Series giving Jeter a nice edge in accumulating hits.

Jeremy Giambi slides and Jeter being out of position on relay throw goes un-noticed.

1:58 AM  

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