Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Derek Jeter and the MVP

With Joe Mauer each and every day putting his stamp on the 2009 MVP trophy, and with the very real possibility that Derek Jeter may never win an MVP, the question begs: Does not winning an MVP tarnish Derek Jeter's legacy?

By any definition, Jeter is a lock for the Hall of Fame. He is a four-time World Champion, won the 1996 Rookie of the Year, the 2000 World Series MVP, the 2006 Hank Aaron Award (the year he got jobbed and didn't get the MVP). Jeter is also the all-time Yankee hits leader, closing in on 3,000 hits, and he has an outside chance for 4,000. All of this—plus the fact that on Bill James' Hall of Fame monitor, where 100 is the threshold for being inducted into the Hall of Fame, Jeter has 268—spells an easy entry to the Hall of Fame.

All well and good; however, if Derek Jeter retires without an MVP to his name, will that fact mar his legacy?

Some writers seem to think so. Go explore the web right now, or check out some baseball periodicals, and you’ll see how hard some of the writers around the league are pushing for Jeter to win the MVP despite Mauer's better numbers. Check out Hal Bodley of's article
, or Allen Barra's article in the WSJ. Or here. Or here. In almost every article, aside from claiming that Jeter should win the MVP, there are mentions of his longevity, his leadership, and his consistency. And the fact that he's never won the award before.

A great many writers want Jeter to win because they feel that he’s been so good for so long (remember the comparisons early in his career to Garciaparra?), he deserves one. That he should have at least one in his career.

And by the “Jeter should have at least one” logic, they feel going into the Hall without one tarnishes his legacy.

To be sure, the Hall of Fame does have some day-to-day players who never won the MVP: Duke Snider, Gary Carter, Bill Mazeroski, Bill Dickey, Kirby Puckett, Eddie Murray and Tony Gwynn.

But Jeter is different. He’s supposed to be this generation's Cal Ripken, Joe DiMaggio or Pete Rose. The defining player of his generation. Determination, hustle and greatness on the field and grace and class off it. As opposed to, say, Manny Ramirez (who's never won an MVP), but who, while a mega-talent, is a famous "dog" on the field and less than classy off it. Unlike Manny, Jeter appears in commercials with Roger Federer and Tiger Woods, an implication of his world-class status.

While arguments can, and have, been made to Jeter’s talent, one explanation of why he hasn’t won the MVP might be the characterization of Jeter outside of New York. In short, that he is overrated. Just type "Jeter" and "Overrated" into Google and revel in the hate. Here's just one example.

The Wall Street Journal's Allen Barra discusses the anti-Jeter bias outside of the New York City Area:

And yet Mr. Jeter has never been voted the MVP. In 1999, most baseball analysts thought that the Yankee, who batted .349 with 24 home runs and a league-leading 219 hits, was the best player. But sportswriters chose Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez. In 2006, the analysts again favored Mr. Jeter, who batted .343 and stole 34 bases, but the writers went with Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau.

"I think there's always been a bit of resentment toward Derek outside of New York, where he is worshipped," says Dave Fleming of Bill James ­Online. "There's an assumption that New York players have an unfair advantage when it comes to MVP voting, but in the case of Jeter and other New York ballplayers like the Mets' Carlos Beltran, I think you might say there's a ­counterargument: namely, that to play in New York might cost you votes."

The argument made by Mr. Barra has serious merit. In 1999, Jeter had a higher BA, a higher OPS+, more stolen bases, more runs, a ton more walks. Pretty much the only stat that year’s winner Ivan Rodriguez had on Jeter was home runs (of course, he played in Arlington), and even that only amounted to .006 slugging points higher than Jeter. Even still Jeter placed 6th in the MVP voting.

The same could be said for 2006, when Jeter had a higher BA (2nd in the league), a higher OBP (4th in the league), more runs (2nd in the league), a heck more stolen bases (7th in the league) and struck out at a lower clip than eventual MVP winner, Justin Morneau. Jeter also batted .369 with “2 out and RISP” situations as compared to Morneau's .303, and Jeter batted .325 in "Late & Close" situations compared to Morneau's .299.

However, the past is the past, and this isn't a "By the Numbers" defense of Jeter's greatness or deserving. It is just that one can't help wondering if this season was Derek Jeter's last, best chance for the MVP. Jeter turns 36 next season, and unlike some power hitters who can keep their power later into their careers, Jeter’s game isn’t designed for old age. And this season, with Joe Mauer running away with the MVP, the question seems to be looming, will Jeter, like Duke, Kirby and Eddie, ever get his award?

1 comment:

blmeanie said...

I don't think he is "league" MVP worthy, he may be "team" MVP worthy though. Contradiction, perhaps, but I am one that the stats generated pure and simple do it for me for MVP. I believe MVP should be renamed to be Best Year/Stats or something along those lines.

He is a lock for the HOF, no doubt about it. No need to worry about the lack of a MVP trophy.