Thursday, September 06, 2007

Is Jeter A Hall-Of-Famer?

Inspired by this post by Noyam, I'd like to take a look at Derek Jeter's qualifications for HOF membership. But first it's important to note that the question "is Jeter a HOFer?" is really three distinct questions:

1) Should Jeter be a HOFer? This question, which is normative, requires looking for a standard which someone would have to reach in order to be a HOFer. It does not consider the admission of other players dispositive. So while Phil Rizzuto's induction might be relevant, it does not definitively answer the question.

2) Will Jeter be a HOFer? This questions looks to who is already in the Hall and gleans a standard from the current inductees. This question is more descriptive: based on who already made the Hall, does Jeter reach that standard? Unlike the first question, Rizzuto's induction is definitive because it shows that the standard is low enough to encompass shortstops who aren't even average major league hitters.

3) Will the writers vote for Jeter? This question is purely predictive. While there is overlap between the predictive and descriptive questions, they are not the same. Rafael Palmero might be a HOF based on who is already accepted into the Hall, but the voters will likely vote to keep him out because of steroid suspicions.

I believe the answer to all three questions is yes. I'm going to answer the to answer each question starting with the 3rd.

Will the writers vote for Jeter? Absolutely. This one is a no-brainer. Here's the evidence:

1) 3,000+ hits with a .300+ batting average (at worst).
2) 3+ Gold gloves.
3) 4+ rings.
4) A penchant for coming up big in the clutch.

The voters will see a very good hitter (somewhat warranted), a very good defender (not even close), and a winner. Seems like the quintessential HOFer in their eyes.

2) Will Jeter be a HOFer? This question is pretty easy too. Middle infielders such as Rizzuto (93 OPS+), Bill Mazeroski (84), and Pee Wee Reese (99) are in the Hall, despite mediocre to bad offensive numbers. Jeter's OPS+ is 123, which means, given modifications for era and home park, Jeter is 23% better than the average player and much better than the above players. Sure they were better defensively (in some cases much), but they weren't Ozzie Smith, who was a first-ballot HOFer. So Jeter will make it considering the other players who made it before him.

3) Should Jeter be a HOFer? This question is the most difficult and requires defining some standards. The HOF should be a place for the "best" players, and the best players are the ones who are the most valuable. Value is often position dependant, which means players playing SS should not be compared to 1B and LF. A SS can be just as valuable with worse offensive numbers solely by playing SS adequately.

So Jeter's candidacy does not hinge on his ability to hit like Pujols, Frank Thomas or Barry Bonds (three contemporary HOF-worthy players). He just needs to hit well enough to, with his position, be considered valuable enough to be considered good enough to make the Hall.

Obviously this question will overlap with the last question a bit. In order to determine who is valuable, we must look for some paradigms. In other words, who are the shortstops who should be in the Hall? Well at the top there's Honus Wagner (150) and Arky Vaughan (136), both of whom were far better than Jeter and are probably the top 2 SS in major league history (although if ARod had stayed at SS, he might have had something to say about that).

Let's look at two first ballot HOFers, Cal Ripken Jr. and Robin Yount. Both were surefire HOFs and fall within the top SS of all time. How does Jeter compare?

Ripken's OPS+ was 112, probably below where Jeter will end up when he retires. What about more advanced stats such as EQA and WARP3? Ripken's EQA is .285, which is way below Jeter's .303. While Ripken's WARP3 is 170.7 to Jeter's 101.1, Jeter still has another 7-8 years left and while he probably won't catch Ripken's WARP3, he'll be close.

Yount, of course, moved to the outfield later in his career, like Ernie Banks (.288 EQA), who also switched positions (and hopefully one day Jeter). Yount's EQA was .287, closer to Ripken than Jeter, and his WARP3 was 136.8, which Jeter should be able to top.

I've searched in vain for many SSs with a .300+ EQA. Here's a list of all the SS in the HOF. Only Wagner and Vaughan qualify. Only Luke Appling even had a .290 + EQA. In other words even if Jeter's decline is drastic and he ends up at around .290, that'd still put him in the top 4 offensive SS in major league history.

Yes, Jeter's defense is far worse than most of the players on that list. But his offense is so much better, that it's hard to imagine him falling below those players. Even if we set the line for induction at .280 EQA and/or above average defense and get rid of players such as Reese or Rizzuto, even if we take into account Jeter's terrible defense, and even if we assume a drastic drop off in performance as he gets older (which I doubt), it's hard to imagine Jeter not being as good when everything is said and done as Appling, Yount, or Banks. His numbers will basically be a carbon copy of their careers.

Sometime around 2020 Jeter will have his own well-deserved plaque in Cooperstown.

No comments: