Derek Jeter announced today that the 2014 season will be his last, bringing an end to a career that will have spanned 20 years. And while Jeter may be most famous in the statistical community as the poster boy for modern defensive metrics, the reality is that even with his lack of range at shortstop, he’s still easily one of the greatest players of all time.
The basic numbers: Among players who have played at least 25% of their games at shortstop — the qualification needed to show up at the position on our leaderboards — Jeter ranks 6th in WAR. Of the five guys ahead of him, three played (at least in part) in the 19th century. One of the others spent nearly as much time at third base as he did at shortstop. Essentially, over the last 100 years, Cal Ripken is the only full time SS we’ve seen that has posted a higher career WAR than Jeter.
So maybe the mainstream media has overrated Jeter over the last 20 years, but if they have, they’ve slightly exaggerated the greatness of one of the greatest players of all time. This isn’t a Ryan Howard or Jack Morris situation, where the narrative has turned an okay player into a superstar based on myth and legend. Jeter is a legitimate legend on his own merits, with no embellishments needed.
We don’t need to do any kind of career retrospective now, since his career is not yet over, but as a member of the community who has often pointed out Jeter’s defensive deficiencies, I will happily point out that even those flaws don’t keep him from being one of the premier players of his generation. Congratulations on a terrific career, sir.