Home > Uncategorized > Jeter Five Gold Gloves, no MVPs…

Jeter Five Gold Gloves, no MVPs…

A girlfriend I had about a million years ago bought me a softball glove.  This was probably in 2004, three years after Derek Jeter had made that insane flip play against the Oakland A’s; it was a year after the Boss had named him the 11th Yankee captain; and it was the same year that he dove into the stands, bloodying his pretty mug to make a game saving catch against the Sox.  At the time I was, as I am today, an avid Jays fan, so I hated the Yankees, but that didn’t stop me having a serious man-crush on the Captain.  He played baseball the way I wanted to play baseball.  He was a winner, he was a great fielder*, he did all the little things, he could hit for average, power, run the bases, and he was clutch.  So, naturally, there was only one name for my new glove… Ruben Rivera.  No, I kid, I kid, I named my superstar glove with a superstar name: “Jeter.”

Unfortunately, over the next year or two, like many other fans of my age and disposition, I became fascinated by Sabermetrics and my love of Jeter crashed head first into dogmatic logic.  A war began, not just with me, but with fans everywhere, in which Jeter was alternately overvalued and undervalued.  Ironically, it wasn’t always (although it was mostly) the stat mavens against Jeter and the “clutch” crew for him.  He was torn to shreds by stat mavens for his defence, but won four (now, most absurdly, five) gold gloves.  On the flip side of the coin, he was credited for being the consummate, ultimate team player, but failed to win an MVP in 2006 when his WAR almost doubled that of eventual winner Justin Morneau.

Therein actually lies one of the most interesting things about Derek Jeter’s phenomenal career, the way the same group that typically overvalues him has also been the ones keeping an MVP award just beyond his outstretched hand (the way all those ground balls roll past him as he dives to his right).  There were four years in Jeter’s career in which his performance was distinctly MVP worthy.  Two years ago Jeter posted a WAR of 6.5, producing a batting line of .334, .406, .465, while leading a Yankee offense that scored a league leading 915 runs.  He deservedly finished behind MVP winner Joe Mauer ( 7.9 WAR), but also finished behind teammate Mark Teixeira (5.9 WAR) who was given bonus points for “improving the Yankee defense” and leading the league in those “reliable” old stats, home runs and RBIs.

That’s of course why he lost to Morneau in 2006.  The Twins slugging first baseman had all those home runs (34) and all those RBIs (130), never mind that his rate stats (.934 OPS) for a first baseman were good, but hardly Pujolsian.  You can’t really fault the voters, I mean 130 runs batted in… Wow, that’s shinny.  That year Jeter almost won, because he surprised people with his play and he would have been a worthy winner, however he also probably should have finished behind Mauer (7.0 WAR) or  Grady Sizemore (7.3 WAR).  Still, if Jeter had won that year, nobody among the stat community would have been apocalyptic.  I actually think that if that vote had happened even three years later, when the shine of the RBI had been smudged, and the value of a shortstop (even one who can only move one way) having a .900 OPS had seeped into the psyche of some of the electorate, Jeter probably would have won.

Jeter’s two best seasons came during the statistical dark ages known as the 90s.  So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that despite a very impressive 8.0 WAR in 1999, Jeter finished sixth in the MVP voting.  Of course, that was the season when Pedro Martinez was robbed of the award.  Pedro you might remember finished with more first place votes than eventual winner Pudge Rodriguez, but two voters left Martinez off their ballot completely, both costing Pedro the award and the Baseball Writers of America some modicum of respect.  As a shortstop with a .349, .438, .552 line Jeter was certainly deserving of the award.  Of course, Roberto Alomar was almost as good at second base, Manny mashed a 1.105 OPS.  Plus, Pedro did have that 2.07 ERA and his FIP was a preposterous 1.39.  I don’t want to make grandiose statements that I have no intention of backing up, but given the era, Pedro’s 1999 season was probably the greatest season by a pitcher in baseball history.  So, Jeter certainly could have won that year and he was the most deserving candidate amongst position players, but if Pedro had walked away with the prize, nobody would have complained.

The real kicker, the real year that his “clutch guard” let him down, was 1998.  That year Jeter wasn’t quite as good as he would be in 1999, but his 7.8 WAR was second only to ARod’s 7.9.  What should have pushed Jeter ahead of the pack that season, is that his Yankees won 114 games.  Juan Gonzalez won the award because he had 157 RBIs and if Morneau’s 130 were shiny in 2006, imagine how shiny Juan Gone’s 157 were in 1998.  Still, Jeter was the best player on the NEW YORK YANKEES.  He was the best player on a team that had won a then AL record 114 games.  A team that won 26 more games than Gonzalez’s Rangers.  Understand that I’m not saying any of these things should matter, only that to voters they do seem to matter.  When the Mariners won 116 in 2001, their great record pushed Ichiro above deserving candidates Jason Giambi and Roberto Alomar.  That’s how these things usually work.  1998 was the year Jeter should surely have won an MVP.

Ultimately, none of this really matters.  MVP or no, Jeter has been one of the ten best players in baseball over the last 15 years.  He has 5 titles, 2926 hits, 11 all star appearances, five gold gloves (cough-bullshit-cough), he has the captaincy, a career WAR of 70.1, career earnings in excess of 200 million dollars.  All in all, I’d say that it’s hard to feel sorry for Derek Jeter, but it is interesting that for how much the old guard loved Captain Clutch, for how many times managers have dropped gold gloves into his lap, that they never bestowed the biggest hardware on the man.

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