Last night was Derek Jeter's final game of his playing career at Yankee Stadium, and boy, did the Captain go out with a bang. Bottom of the ninth, runner on second, one out. I'll give you a second to guess who was the next man to bat... It was a situation that not even Hollywood could have penned better. As you already know, Derek Jeter took the first pitch and sent a line drive past a diving Steve Pearce into right field. Nick Markakis fielded the ball, came up throwing, but just missed nailing pinch runner Antoan Richardson at home. Game over. Derek Jeter walked it off. Storybook ending to a great career.
This is an article that I wrote a few months ago right after Derek announced his retirement. I am not a giant Derek Jeter fan, but I respect the guy as much as I respect any professional athlete based off of the example he has set on and off the field over the course of his long career. Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, I never got to consistently watch Jeter play. I've seen him numerous times in the playoffs, but I have not watched him enough to have an opinion on his playing career based off of the eye test. I am only eighteen years old, so I never got to watch Tiger great Alan Trammell play either. I mean no disrespect to Derek Jeter in this article. This article is purely a statistical analysis of two of the greatest shortstops of all time, with hopefully a minimal amount of Detroit Tigers bias (I'll let you be the judge of that). All of the statistics I use go up to the start of the 2014 season.
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, five-time Silver Slugger award winner, five-time Gold Glove winner, and a five-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 six-time All Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner, a three-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 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 the average shortstop's OPS is around .750. According to Fangraphs, in 2011 the average wOBA for shortstops was .303. The average wRC+ during Trammell's career fluctuated between 68 and 93, and 80 and 97 during Jeter's career. 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, sabermetricians 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).
For those unfamiliar with Total Zone, it is a defensive metric that calculates the plays made above average and converts that into runs saved using situational run expectancies. The higher the Total Zone, the better. 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 five seasons out of his 20. The only years that Jeter posted a positive TZ rating were 1998, 2004, and 2009.
The metric that I used to compare both of these players to other Hall of Famers was Fangraphs' defensive rating. The rating, abbreviated as Def on their site, is the statistics of fielding and positional adjustment combined above average. 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 have had the pleasure of seeing Jeter play. 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 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.
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 fWAR of 73.7, and Alan Trammell has a career fWAR 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 fourth 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 Alan 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. Alan 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.
Editor's note: Please welcome Cameron to our staff! You can read his previous work at T-Town Tiger.