Comparing the Captain: Jeter vs. Trammell

On Wednesday, February 12th, Derek Jeter announced that he will be retiring at the end of the 2014 season. This has taken over baseball headlines, and rightfully so. Jeter, a lifetime New York Yankee, is their captain and has been their starting shortstop since 1996. He is a 13 time All Star, 5 time Silver Slugger award winner, 5 time Gold Glove winner, and a 5 time World Series champion. On top of all that, Jeter has long been considered one of the true class acts of the game. In 2020 when he is eligible for the Hall of Fame, he will almost certainly be elected to it with close to a unanimous vote. Derek Jeter’s playing career was nothing short of spectacular.

On the other side of the comparison we have Alan Trammell, who played his entire career with the Detroit Tigers. Manning shortstop from 1977 to 1996, Trammell is a 6 time All Star, a 4 time Gold Glove winner, a 3 time Silver Slugger winner, and a World Series champion. He is not in the Hall of Fame and is barely holding onto a spot on the ballot. His career was also spectacular.

When you compare the accolades that each earned, Jeter easily beats out Trammell. Funny thing about all of those awards mentioned above is that they are either voted on by a committee or earned with 24 other guys on the roster. The only way to truly compare their careers is to delve into their individual advanced statistics, so let’s do exactly that!

Let’s start with with the offensive side of the stats. Through 11,986 plate appearances, Derek Jeter has a career OPS of .828, a wOBA of .365, and an average wRC+ of 121. Jeter is also a member of the 3,000 hit club. In 9,375 career plate appearances, Tram has an OPS of .767, a wOBA of .343, and an average wRC+ of 111. Alan Trammell does not have 3,000 hits, coming up short with 2,365.

Shortstops are generally considered to have the least amount of offensive production among position players. Based off of the numbers from Scoresheetwiz, the average shortstop OPS is around .749. According to FanGraphs, in 2011 the average wOBA for shortstops was .303. The average wRC+ for shortstops during Trammell’s career fluctuated between 68 and 93, and 80 and 97 during Jeter’s career according to SABR. Among shortstops, all of Jeter and Trammell’s numbers are considered well above average, but the Captain clearly has the edge.

For Hall of Fame shortstops, both of their numbers stack up quite well. Among Hall of Famers, OPS fluctuates between .653 and .859, wOBA between .296 and .409, and wRC+ between 83 and 147. Jeter will be near the top in all three of those hitting categories when he enters the Hall, while Trammell would be more towards the lower middle. Needless to say, both have earned their spots among the all time greats based off of their performances at the plate.

Comparing Derek Jeter’s defense to Alan Trammell’s is where this article gets tricky. Defensive metrics have come a long way since Trammell’s day. Today, sabermatricians use advanced metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR). I’ll mention Jeter’s UZR, but I won’t use it to compare him to Trammell. The statistic I will use, which is widely considered to be the most accurate way of measuring defensive ability from 1954-2001, is Total Zone (TZ).

Alan Trammell’s TZ for his entire career at shortstop was 80, while Derek Jeter’s is -129. Total Zone isn’t as accurate as a defensive metric such as UZR, but when you have a 209 run difference, I think it’s fairly easy to distinguish the better fielder. Trammell only had a negative TZ in 5 seasons out of his 20. The only years that Jeter posted a positive TZ rating were 98′, 04′, and 09′.

The metric that I used to compare both of these players to other Hall of Famers was Defensive WAR. The lowest career Def in the Hall of Fame is 27.3, held by Robin Yount. The high Def is 375.3, which is from Ozzie Smith. Alan Trammell would actually be tied with Honus Wagner for 13th on the list of Def with 184.4, while Derek Jeter would be in last place with a Def of -25.7.

I am well aware of some of the seemingly spectacular plays that Derek Jeter made in the field. Unlike Trammell, I grew up watching Jeter. Yes, Jeter made some eye popping plays throughout his career, but people fail to acknowledge that there were numerous plays that he didn’t make. Judging by Jeter’s UZR, he cost the Yankees -67.8 runs throughout the more recent bulk of his career. He may have made some big plays along the way that will be remembered, but he cost the Yankees way more runs that theoretically could have made it so the big plays weren’t even necessary.

Bottom line, Alan Trammell was a much better defensive shortstop than Derek Jeter despite having fewer Gold Glove awards. Judging by Jeter’s advanced metrics, he really wasn’t that good of a fielder at all.

Total Value
Oh no, this is where I bring out that WAR mumbo jumbo. If you’ve read anything from me before, you probably know that I am an advocate of using Wins Above Replacement to analyze a player’s total value. While it shouldn’t be the end all, be all statistic, it is great to use when comparing two players’ total contributions on the field.

Derek Jeter has a career WAR of 73.7, and Alan Trammell has a career WAR of 63.7. Despite Jeter’s poor defense throughout his career, he hit well enough to still prove more valuable than Trammell. I think that’s a testament to how truly great of a hitter Jeter was. When compared to other Hall of Famers, both WARs fit in nicely. Honus Wagner holds a large lead for WAR at 138.1, while John Ward is in last with a 39.8 WAR. When Jeter enters the Hall, he will be 4th on the list, and if Tram was in the Hall, he would be 11th.

Overall, Derek Jeter had a better career than Alan Trammell, but both are much deserving of spots in the Hall of Fame. To almost any baseball fan, Jeter is considered a first ballot Hall of Famer. Why then, is Allan Trammell being completely overlooked? The voters in the BBWAA need to sit down and reexamine Trammell’s career. Trammell didn’t have the New York media following that Jeter has gotten to experience throughout his legendary career, but media coverage shouldn’t be what decides who goes into the Hall and who doesn’t. Allan Trammell deserves justice, and when you compare his numbers to the greatest players to ever play his position, you will see that he ranks right up there with them.

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21 year old amateur blogger who writes about the Detroit Tigers at Bless You Boys.

4 Responses to “Comparing the Captain: Jeter vs. Trammell”

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  1. Eric hill says:

    Nice comparison. The only thing I feel it misses is comparisons to each era. I agree both are Hall of gamers but remember how weak hitting was in trammels era.

    • Preston says:

      That’s what wRC+ is for. It measures offense against league average numbers. Jeter was 21% better than an average hitter during his career, even given the inflated offense of the era, Trammell was 11% better than the average hitter in a much more depressed offensive environment. Jeter was the better hitter. There isn’t really any question about it.

  2. jim S. says:

    Absolutely. Trammell should be in.

  3. Ian R. says:

    “…while John Ward is in last with a 39.8 WAR.”

    To be fair to John Montgomery Ward, that’s because he spent a good portion of his career as a pitcher. If you just look at his WAR at a position player, he comes in well shy of the Hall’s standards. Add up his shortstop WAR and pitching WAR, and he’s suddenly a deserving Hall of Famer. The larger point is that he’s not really a great point of comparison when we’re looking at career shortstops.

    The worst pure shortstops in the Hall of Fame are most likely Phil Rizzuto (41.3 WAR), Rabbit Maranville (42.5 WAR) and Hughie Jennings (44.9 WAR).

    Tangential points aside, this is a great comparison. I agree with your reasoning – Jeter had a better career than Trammell, but by a small enough margin that if Jeter is a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer, Tram should be in as well.