Today’s announcement comes as no surprise. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted Derek Jeter into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with 99.7 percent of the vote. Jeter’s not the only new entrant to the Hall, by the way. In addition, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and the late Marvin Miller will join Jeter.
Jeter’s election makes it the second straight year a prominent Yankee receives a plaque. Last year, the Captain’s longtime teammate and co-member of the Core Four, Mariano Rivera, was unanimously chosen. Like Rivera, Jeter’s Hall of Fame case was a slam dunk:
3,465 career hits (6th all-time)
5 World Series rings
1996 American League Rookie of the Year
2000 All-Star Game MVP
2000 World Series MVP
Clearly, it wasn’t a matter of if he’d make it on the first ballot. Rather, would he also be a unanimous entrant? Nope. Just one of 397 voters did not vote for Jeter. Can’t wait to see whose bright idea that was.
Looking to attend Jeter’s induction? This year’s ceremony is at 1:30pm on Sunday, July 26th. It should be a massive turnout given the proximity of the Yankees’ fanbase and Jeter’s popularity.
Yesterday, I took a look at Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame candidacy, specifically arguing that he should be a unanimous selection. That kicked off what will be a series of articles examining the candidacies of each of the players on the 2020 ballot with connections to the Yankees. Up today is Bobby Abreu, who actually has a pretty compelling case for Cooperstown. Much more compelling than you might think, in fact.
Abreu, along with Cory Lidle, came to the Yankees at the 2006 trade deadline in a deal for C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, Carlos Monasterios, and Matt Smith. He remained a Yankee through the 2008 season. Although these years memorable for the wrong reasons, Abreu was a star in pinstripes. He hit .295/.378/.465 (124 wRC+) with an 11.6% walk rate in more than 1,600 plate appearances for the Bombers. In hindsight, this is one of the better trades in recent Yankee history. He was also very fun to root for. I have fond memories of the Yankee version of Abreu.
His production with New York was just more of the same for the right fielder, who was a bonafide star for the better part of 13 seasons. In just under 2,500 career games, Abreu hit .291/.395/.475 (129 wRC+) with a 15% walk rate, 288 home runs, and nearly 600 doubles. Adding to his value, he stole 400 bases and is a two-time member of the 30-30 club. That is a damn impressive career.
All of this is why Abreu logged an even 60 bWAR (58.2 fWAR) in his career. He was a 5+ win player in seven consecutive seasons (1998-2004), worth 41.6 wins in his seven-year peak. As Bill Baer pointed out the other day, the only outfielders more valuable in this stretch were Barry Bonds and Andruw Jones. Abreu had a no-doubt Hall of Fame peak.
All told, this adds up to a 50.8 JAWS. He ranks 20th all-time among right fielders by the metric, sandwiched in between Dave Winfield and Vladimir Guerrero, both of whom are enshrined in Cooperstown. Many other enshrined players sit below him on the list of right fielders, including Enos Slaughter, Willie Keeler, and Harry Hooper.
That, though, is Abreu’s problem: none of those players suited up for a game after 1959. Standards changed. If elected, Abreu would have one of the weaker resumes for his position. That’s true even with some of his more sabermetric bonafides.
Another point against him is the lack of traditional hardware. He was only twice an All-Star and only won one Silver Slugger. He did not an MVP, nor a World Series. This matters less to me than others–most of this is out of his control–but it is worth noting. It suggests, after all, that he was never the best at his position. It’s only fair to note, though, that he was always among the best.
And then there is defense. Abreu’s reputation for being “afraid of walls” has taken on a life of its own, and it is true he was never the sturdiest defender. That will only count against him, too. Like with Jeter, though, a lack of defensive value is calculated into WAR. (Again, to be fair, Abreu did win a Gold Glove.) With that in mind, by WAR, Abreu has a case, one that stands up against other Hall of Fame outfielders.
Taken in total, Abreu was a fantastic player, often among the game’s best. He essentially reached base 40% of the time in 2,500 professional games– Abreu excelled at simply not getting out. This is not a skill to take lightlyHis career counting stats are equally impressive and he played for 18 seasons. He is a true borderline case, though he falls just a bit short for me, though I could be convinced otherwise.
Corner outfielders with high on-base skills often get underrated or overlooked by fans. Abreu is no different. Fans outside of the sabermetric community typically scoff at the idea of his enshrinement. That is not fair to Abreu: he was the sort of player who any team would want. We all saw that as Yankee fans, even several years after his peak. He is very reminiscent of Bernie Williams in this regard: a damn fine player who falls just a bit short of the Hall of Fame.
His election would not be an outrage, unlikely as it may be. In fact, I’d cheer it–it would be yet another sign that voters are taking a more nuanced approach to their process. That’s good news. Overall, his case is a complicated one.
At the end of the day, though, Abreu’s case falls just a bit short for me. On the other hand, “was an outfielder better than Bobby Abreu” feels like an appropriate question to ask for potential enshrinement. If the answer is yes, then that player is worthy of the Hall; if no, they are not. That is a high compliment to Abreu, and it is worthy of a player whose career is very much worth remembering.
With last year’s election of Mariano Rivera, voters rid themselves of an arcane, self-imposed burden: finally, for the first time in 86 years, they had unanimously enshrined a player in Cooperstown. The practice has long been ridiculous and inexcusable, and it is time for it to become nothing but a relic of history and not merely an accident of the perfect player. Fortunately for voters, another candidate worthy of unanimous enshrinement is on the ballot for the first time: Derek Jeter. This is a chance for voters to continue to right old wrongs.
Now, it may seem self-evident that a blog whose banner image captures the aftermath of one of Jeter’s most iconic moments would argue this case. And it is true, of course, that I am a Yankees fan to my core. I watched more than 150 Yankee games in 2019, and in every season before this one for as long as I can remember. It’s fair to say that I am more than a bit biased.
What is not biased, on the other hand, is Jeter’s candidacy. He straightforwardly belongs in the Hall of Fame. Consider his lifetime offensive achievements, devoid of all context. In nearly 3,000 MLB games and across more than 12,000 plate appearances, he hit .310/.377/.440 (119 wRC+). His 3,465 career hits rank 6th in baseball history. (He added another 200 in postseason play, and is responsible for some of the sport’s most memorable moments during his career.)
That alone is worthy of the Hall. Add in positional context and it becomes clear that Jeter was especially unique. His 72.4 bWAR ranks 6th all-time among players who spent 75% or more of their time at shortstop, according to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index. His 73.1 fWAR also ranks him 6th among FanGraphs’ leaderboard for shortstops, which accounts for a slightly different group of players.
Among either group, he has the most hits, a top 10 batting average and a top 15 on-base percentage. His career 115 OPS+ sits 7th all-time among shortstops with 5,000 or more career plate appearances and first among those with 10,000 or more.
The difference between Jeter and many on these lists, though, is that he never moved positions. Of course, he deserves some blame for this, not praise: he refused to make room for Alex Rodriguez, a superior player in every regard. This harmed the Yankees and, as we’ll see below, also hurt Jeter’s own value defensively.
In any event, either due to his obstinance or the Yankees’ unwillingness to challenge a franchise icon, Jeter is one of only 46 players in baseball history to play more than 1,000 games and have 95% or more come at short. Here are his rankings among that group:
Hits: 3,465 (1st, next closest Luis Aparicio with 2,677)
Batting Average: .310 (1st, next closest Ozzie Smith at .290)
On-Base Percentage: .377 (1st)
Home Runs: 260 (1st)
bWAR: 72.4 (2nd)
Slugging Percentage: .440 (3rd)
OPS+: 115 (3rd)
Slicing up the data in this way, accounting for both the more common 75% or more group and rarer 95% or more group, does bring home a key point: Jeter is one of the best shortstops in baseball history. By Jay Jaffe’s JAWS method, he ranks 12th all-time. There is no mistaking it.
Where all of this gets murkier, of course, is on the defensive side of the ball. Jeter’s defense has long been a running joke, and one with some merit. If it were possible to make a word cloud of every phrase John Sterling has ever uttered on air, “Past a diving Jeter” would probably rank third, behind just “Well, Suzyn, I thank you” and “It is high, it is far, it is gone”.
If I spend so much time on his bat, then I must also note his defensive deficiencies. Jeter was sub-par with the glove by every available defensive metric. By Baseball-Reference, no player has ever cost his team more runs. Zone-based fielding analyses hate him. He almost certainly did not deserve his five Gold Gloves. All of this is true.
There are two caveats, though. The first is that, while Jeter was certainly not a good defender, defensive metrics are problematic to say the least. Can we confidently say that Jeter cost his team more runs than Phil Rizzuto, Dave Bancroft, or Herman Long cost theirs? All of those players also played more than 1,600 games at short. Only Rizzuto retired after the Korean War; the others before the Great Depression. Given the volatility of advanced defensive metrics, I do not think that we can. But hey: call me biased.
The second is that his time spent at shortstop means his value was calculated against many of the game’s top defenders. A more honest reading of his value, according to Jeff Sullivan, formerly of FanGraphs, finds him to be more average than horrendous. See more on that argument here. Either way, Jeter is not a Hall of Fame defender. On that, everyone can agree.
In any case, both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference account for this deficiency in their calculation of WAR. Again, he is sixth among those with 75% or more games at short; first among those with 95% or more. Therefore, even after taking his glove into account, we are left with the same conclusion: Jeter is one of the best shortstops of all time.
Ultimately, isn’t that the point of all of this? By any calculation, Jeter ranks as a unique player in the game’s history. So, taking all of this into account, two things become clear. One, Jeter is an absolute no-doubt lock for Cooperstown. Two, there is no honest reason why a voter could or should leave him off his or her ballot.
To be fair, Jeter faces one additional criticism: that he was a Yankee. The argument goes that his high-profile status on the dynasty Yankees inflates his value and led to media adulation, both of which is probably true. Spare me this thought experiment, though, because if Jeter was drafted a Royal or a Red, then his 3,465 hits would still rank 6th all-time. So would his WAR.
That cuts to the heart of the matter for me. Voters should vote without consideration for 5% thresholds or other cute justifications for leaving no-doubters off their ballot. They should simply compile the best ballot they can, and in every scenario, the best possible ballot includes Derek Jeter. To put it bluntly, that means he should be a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame.
Doing so will not correct the egregious mistakes of the past. It is outrageous that Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson, and so many others were not unanimously elected. But that, ultimately, is irrelevant. Voters cannot change the past, but they can finally rid themselves of the ridiculous arrogance it takes to leave an inner-circle player off a ballot. Lucky for them, they have a chance do to so right now, and it starts with Derek Jeter.
Today at 1:30 pm, Yankee legend Mariano Rivera and Yankee great Mike Mussina will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They’ll be honored alongside Phillies/Blue Jays great Roy Halladay, Mariners great Edgar Martinez, and Cubs great Lee Smith, and Orioles great Harold Baines. That’s a pretty great collection of talent right there. Should be a fun day in Cooperstown.
Mariano, of course, is the most dominant relief pitcher of all time and the first-ever unanimous Hall of Fame inductee. There are no shortage of mind-boggling figures out there to illustrate Rivera’s incredible career, but I love a good excuse to fawn over Mariano, so here are a few:
His career 205 ERA+, which ranks him against his peers by adjusting for league/park factors, is the highest all-time among all pitchers. (Clayton Kershaw and Pedro Martinez rank 2nd and 3rd all-time, at 158 and 154, respectively.)
His career 56.59 WPA ranks 1st among relievers and 5th out of all pitchers, placing him behind just Warren Spahn, Greg Maddux, Lefty Grove, and Roger Clemens and just ahead of Tom Seaver, Pedro Martinez, and Randy Johnson.
His career 33.63 Situational Wins Saved (Win Probability Added/Leverage Index) ranks 1st among relievers and 21st all-time among all pitchers, just 0.02 behind fellow inductee Roy Halladay despite 1,466 fewer career innings pitched.
His 652 career saves ranks 51 higher than 2nd place Trevor Hoffman, 174 more than 3rd place and fellow inductee Lee Smith, and 215 more than 4th place Francisco Rodriguez.
In 141 postseason innings pitched, Rivera owned a 0.70 ERA, allowed just 86 hits, 13 earned runs, issued just 21 walks, recorded 42 saves, and allowed only 2 home runs.
He won 5 World Series, recording the last out in 4 of those victories. He is also the only man in MLB history to throw the final pitch in 4 consecutive World Series (1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001).
I could go on, and on, and on, and on, of course. There was simply nobody like Mariano Rivera. Jay Jaffe’s Hall of Fame case on FanGraphs is a read to which I find myself returning quite often, so check it out yourself if you haven’t already. A-Rod also spoke with ESPN about playing with Rivera this week, which was fantastic. Check that out, too.
Mike Mussina had a mighty impressive career in his own right, though he was far from the clear-cut case that Mo was. His road to Cooperstown was winding and long, but plenty of sabermetric-minded writers and fans advocated for years for his inclusion. I have been a big proponent of Mike Mussina’s Hall of Fame candidacy for years, and it was a lot of fun to watch his vote percentage climb over the years.
And let’s be clear: Mussina is absolutely deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown. His career, which was often marked by near-misses and close-but-not-close-enough, was made up of nearly two decades of consistent, dominant performance in the steroid-era American League East. Moose was my favorite pitcher on the mid-2000s team (a formative era for me, personally) and I’m psyched to see him get this honor today. Again, Jay Jaffe really went deep into Mussina’s candidacy this year (and led the charge for years), so check that out.
These two great Yankees will receive one of the highest professional honors of their life today alongside some of the esteemed competition. For those of us not in Cooperstown today, we can check out the festivities at www.baseballhall.org, which will show the ceremony via webcast.