Why New York Yankees Ageless Star Derek Jeter Is Not a Top AL MVP Candidate

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Why New York Yankees Ageless Star Derek Jeter Is Not a Top AL MVP Candidate
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Derek Jeter for MVP? Nope.

Longtime New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has done a lot of things during his career, but one thing he's never done is win the American League MVP award.

He's come close a couple times. He finished third in the voting in 1998 and 2009, and he was the runner-up in the voting to Justin Morneau in 2006. He's also finished sixth in the voting once and 10th three times.

Despite all the close calls, he hasn't won it yet. Some find that to be strange. Outrageous even.

There's a train of thought out there that Jeter's luck may finally change this year. Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com wrote back in July that Jeter's 2012 season is worthy of serious MVP consideration, and Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune wrote just a couple weeks ago that he'd vote for Jeter if he had a vote.

I get asked all the time whether I think Jeter is a top candidate for the AL MVP, most often in the comments sections of my weekly top five rankings for the award (this week's rankings were published on Tuesday).

My answer has been the same for several months at this point:

No.

Not even close, really.

It's been a long time since I last considered Jeter a top-five candidate for the AL MVP, and at this point I doubt whether he would make the cut for the top 10 if I were to expand my weekly rankings. 

Since I'm tired of explaining why I'm so unimpressed by Jeter's season in the comments section, I figure it's past time to dedicate an article to the subject. This is the best way to set the record straight.

But before we go any further, let's be clear on one thing: This is not a Derek Jeter hate fest. I don't hate Jeter. Nobody hates Jeter. Hating him is (probably) scientifically impossible. My opinion of his season has everything to do with his numbers and nothing to do with him as a person.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
For what it's worth, Jeter is leading MLB in singles with 137.

And I'll admit, on the surface Jeter's numbers are pretty good. His .316 batting average is good for fifth in the American League, and he leads all of baseball with 179 hits. He has a shot to finish with over 215 hits for just the second time in his career.

These numbers are made all the more impressive by the fact that Jeter, 38, is an old man by baseball standards. And yes, he does have a chance to make some history, as no 38-year-old has ever recorded more than 208 hits in a single season (h/t Baseball-Reference.com). 

One also has to dig the revival of Jeter's power. He's hit 14 home runs this season after hitting just six home runs in all of 2011. He hit six homers in August alone this season.

Based on his batting average, his hit total and his resurgent power, a lot of people out there think that Jeter is one of the American League's top offensive players. In fact, it should be pretty obvious, right?

Um, no. Jeter may be having his best offensive season since 2009, but he's nowhere close to being one of the elite offensive producers in the Junior Circuit.

The tell-all stat is weighted on-base average (wOBA), a FanGraphs stat that essentially measures a player's total offensive value.

John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
Gordon, a .298 hitter, has technically been more productive offensively than Jeter.

This season, Jeter has a wOBA of .348. That's above-average, but it just barely places him within the top 30 offensive performers in the American League this season. Jeter actually has the same wOBA as Josh Reddick, who is only hitting .258 this season. The list of players with higher wOBAs than Jeter includes Alex Gordon, Shin-Soo Choo, Nick Markakis and many others.

Jeter also fails to measure up in weighted runs created, a stat that quantifies a player's offensive value as measured in runs. Jeter's wRC+ is 117, which ranks 29th in the American League.

Where Jeter really measures up is in relation to his fellow shortstops. His .348 wOBA and 117 wRC+ are tops among qualified American League shortstops by a fairly wide margin. Only Elvis Andrus and Asdrubal Cabrera are close to being in the same ballpark as Jeter offensively.

The catch: Jeter does not lead his fellow AL shortstops in WAR. Andrus leads all AL shortstops with a WAR of 4.2. Jeter is actually tied for second with Jhonny Peralta.

You read that correctly. Technically, Jeter is worth just as many wins as a player who is hitting .252 with a .315 on-base percentage.

This has everything to do with Jeter's defense, which has been the exact opposite of good this season.

Despite what his five Gold Glove awards may say, Jeter has never been an excellent defensive shortstop in the spirit of Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel. And this year, he rates as the worst defensive shortstop in baseball with a -14.0 UZR and a DRS (defensive runs saved) of -15, according to FanGraphs.

Sure, he's only made nine errors, but it's easy to avoid making errors when you can't get as many balls as the other players who play your position. That's Jeter's problem. 

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Jeter's defense has been bad enough to the point where the Yankees need to consider moving him.

So contrary to popular belief, Jeter is not one of the top offensive producers in the American League this season, and he is certainly not the best shortstop the American League has to offer.

These two facts alone are what stop me from including Jeter in the top five of my MVP rankings every week, but we can dig even deeper here.

An additional problem is that Jeter isn't even the best player on his own team. That honor belongs to Robinson Cano, who ranks in the top 10 in the AL in both wOBA and wRC+. He's also a stellar defensive player.

FanGraphs has Cano's WAR calculated at 5.9. The only player with a higher WAR than him in the AL is Mike Trout.

Elsewhere among Yankees players, Jeter's 2.8 WAR is equal to that of Nick Swisher and just 0.1 points better than that of Mark Teixeira. Both of them have been just as productive offensively as Jeter, and neither of them is as hopeless as Jeter is defensively.

"Yeah, well, Jeter is clutch!"

Yes he is, but only to a degree. His .304 batting average with runners in scoring position is good, but not elite. The same is true of his .286 batting average in late and close situations. He's also a mere .205 hitter in the ninth inning.

"Yeah, well, he has intangibles that the Yankees need!"

I have no doubt that he does, and I'll agree that every team in baseball could use a player with Jeter's intangibles.

Alas, we have no way of knowing how many wins Jeter's intangibles are really worth in the grand scheme of things. What we're learning right now is that they're apparently not worth all that much, as the Yankees are losing games even despite the fact Jeter is still bringing his intangibles to the ballpark every day.

Intangibles are great, but production is better. The Yankees have lost seven of their last 10 games, and in these games Jeter has hit a mere .200 with a single extra-base hit.

You may be thinking that this proves that the Yankees absolutely need production from Jeter in order to win games, thus making him one of the most vital players in the American League.

This isn't really the case, though. The Yankees enjoyed their best month back in June when they went 20-7 and grabbed what at the time was a firm hold of first place in the AL East. They did this despite the fact Jeter hit a mere .232/.295/.313 with a .608 OPS.

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Jeter didn't carry the Yankees to that 20-7 record in June, and to say that he's carried them this season in general would be denying Robinson Cano and the team's pitching staff due credit. Players like Swisher, Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Eric Chavez have also helped carry the load.

In fact, it's taken more of a collective effort than ever before for the Yankees to pile up wins this season. Jeter's certainly done his part by pulling his weight, but the perception out there that he's carried more weight than his pinstriped teammates is flawed.

And indeed, the perception that he's carried just as much weight as players like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Josh Reddick, Austin Jackson and others is downright silly.

There's a lot to like about the season Jeter is having, to be sure. He's doing things that 38-year-old players don't normally do, and in doing so he's given rise to the notion that he might just be able to further cement himself as one of the greatest players ever by surpassing Pete Rose's all-time hits record before his career is over.

But an MVP-caliber season?

I think not.

 

Note: In addition to FanGraphs, some stats were pulled from Baseball-Reference.com.

 

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