Where Derek Jeter Ranks Among the Best Players of His Generation

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2014

Where Derek Jeter Ranks Among the Best Players of His Generation

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    A year after Mariano Rivera called it a career for the New York Yankees, another legend is set to hang it up, as shortstop Derek Jeter announced on Wednesday that he will retire at the end of the 2014 MLB season.

    The 39-year-old announced the news on Facebook, and he will likely enjoy a similar farewell tour to the one the league put on for Rivera last season now that he has made his plans known before the start of the season.

    Various leg injuries limited him to just 17 games last season, but all signs point to him being healthy this spring, and he'll be looking to go out on top with one last productive season.

    Jeter will no doubt be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and his No. 2 is headed for Monument Park, but where does he stand among the greatest players of his generation? What follows is my best attempt at ranking him among his peers.

     

    It should be noted, this is not meant to spark a debate about the Steroid Era, and PEDs were not taken into consideration for the sake of this article. This is simply the 10 best players of Derek Jeter's era based on their performances on the field.

Honorable Mentions

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    15. 1B Jim Thome

    I'm not sure how a player quietly hits 612 career home runs, but it's fair to say that Jim Thome flew under the radar for much of his career. The slugger topped the 30 home run mark an impressive 12 times, and his .956 career OPS is good for the 19th-highest mark in MLB history.

     

    14. LF Manny Ramirez

    He was slow, didn't play much defense and rubbed fans the wrong way on a number of occasions, but Ramirez could flat-out hit. He wrapped up his career with a .312/.411/.585 line, and his 555 home runs and 1,831 RBI place him in the top 20 all time in both categories.

     

    13. SP Pedro Martinez

    Martinez does not have the impressive career numbers of some of the other top pitchers of his era, but his run of success from 1997-2003 was nothing short of incredible. Over that span, he went 118-36 with a 2.20 ERA and 1,761 strikeouts in 1,408 innings.

     

    12. RF Vladimir Guerrero

    With a strike zone from his helmet to his shoes, Guerrero was the definition of a free swinger, yet he consistently hit over .300 while doing it. Also an elite base stealer early in his career, the cannon-armed right fielder finished his career with a .318/.379/.553 line to go along with 449 home runs and 1,496 RBI.

     

    11. 3B Chipper Jones

    One of the best third basemen of all time and an elite switch hitter, Jones was a rock in the middle of the Atlanta Braves order for 19 seasons. He finished his career hitting .303/.401/.529 with 468 home runs and 1,623 RBI.

     

10. RP Mariano Rivera

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    The most dominant reliever the game has ever seen, Mariano Rivera wrapped up a phenomenal 19-year career in style last season. He's the all-time saves leader by a wide margin with 652 for his career, to go along with a career 2.21 ERA and 1.00 WHIP.

    He built his legacy in the postseason, though, as he converted 42 of 47 save chances and went 8-1 with a 0.70 ERA over 96 appearances. It's hard to compare the value of a relief pitcher to position players or even starting pitchers, but he earned his place here in the top 10.

9. RF Ichiro Suzuki

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    Ichiro took the baseball world by storm when he signed with the Seattle Mariners out of Japan in 2001, as he captured AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP honors while leading the AL with 242 hits, 56 steals and a .350 batting average.

    That would be the first of 10 straight seasons in which he rapped out 200-plus hits and batted over .300, and he piled up a ridiculous 2,244 hits in his first 10 seasons. He was already 27 years old when he finally made his way to the US, but he has over 4,000 professional hits in his career, and he's more than deserving of a spot here.

8. SS Derek Jeter

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    The Captain checks in at No. 8 on our list, as he will go down as one of the greatest shortstops to ever play the game and a true legend on a Yankees franchise that has had their fair share of them through the years.

    His .312/.381/.446 line speaks for itself, and his 3,316 career hits currently place him 10th on the all-time list. With Jeter, though, it was as much about the intangibles and leadership he brought to the team as it was his on-field performance, and he always seemed to take his game to another level in October.

    In 650 career postseason at-bats, he put together a .308/.374/.465 line with 32 doubles, 20 home runs, 61 RBI and 111 runs scored. The team has won seven AL pennants and five World Series titles with Jeter as its shortstop, and he was truly a once-in-a-generation talent.

7. SP Roger Clemens

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    Roger Clemens falls down this list a bit because some of his best seasons came as a member of the Boston Red Sox back in the 1980s, a decent amount of time before Jeter ever broke into the league. Nonetheless, he was still among the best in the game for much of the time Jeter played, and he belongs in the conversation here.

    Were it not for the PED cloud hanging over him, he would have been a shoe-in, first-ballot Hall of Famer, as he finished his career ranked ninth all time in wins (354) and third all time in strikeouts (4,672). He has seven Cy Young Awards to his credit, and a pair of World Series rings won during his time as Jeter's teammate in New York.

6. 3B Alex Rodriguez

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    His reputation is in shambles at this point, but this article is not meant to address the PED debate. Instead, it's simply a look at who the best players in the game were over the past couple decades, and it's hard to argue against the numbers Rodriguez was putting up in the prime of his career.

    He topped 30 home runs and 100 RBI every year from 1998-2010, including six straight years over the 40 home run mark and a pair of 50-homer seasons. His bat went quiet in the postseason more times than not, and his last few seasons in New York have been a mess, but a .942 OPS and 654 career home runs speak for themselves.

5. CF Ken Griffey Jr.

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    The face of the MLB during the 1990s, there are few players in any sport who have been more beloved league-wide than Ken Griffey Jr. Had it not been for a series of injuries cutting into his prime, he may have gone down as the most productive hitter in baseball history, but as it stands his career was still an awfully good one.

    He topped the 140-game mark just twice after his age-30 season but still managed to pile up 524 doubles, 630 home runs and 1,836 RBI over the course of his 22-year career. On top of those numbers, he was a fantastic defender in center field, hit for a solid average and had perhaps the prettiest swing in baseball history, earning him the No. 5 spot here.

4. SP Randy Johnson

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    Few pitchers have been as intimidating on the mound as the 6'10" Randy Johnson, as his scraggly hair, whip-like release and devastating fastball/slider combination made him an absolute force. He goes down as one of the best pitchers to ever toe the rubber and is in the conversation for best left-handed pitcher of all time.

    All told, he finished his 22-year career with 303 wins, a 3.29 ERA and 4,875 strikeouts, and he led the Arizona Diamondbacks to a World Series title in 2001 alongside fellow ace Curt Schilling. Throw in five Cy Young Awards, including four straight from 1999-2002, and all that gets him the No. 4 spot on this list.

3. LF Barry Bonds

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    PED use aside, has there ever been a more dominant force at the plate than Barry Bonds from 2001-04? That stretch of seasons began with his record 73-HR campaign and ended with a fourth straight NL MVP award, with Bonds getting on base at a ridiculous .559 clip and slugging .809 in that span.

    Bonds' place in baseball history remains unclear at this point, as he saw his Hall of Fame support dip to just 34.7 percent in his second year on the ballot and many still consider Hank Aaron the rightful home run king. Still, if you're putting together a list of the best players of the past 20 years on performance alone, it's impossible to say Bonds doesn't belong.

2. SP Greg Maddux

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    Greg Maddux didn't have a blazing fastball or a devastating out-pitch. What he did have was pinpoint control and a mental advantage over almost anyone that stepped into the batter's box against him. That was enough to win him 355 games over his 23-year career, good for the eighth-highest total of all time.

    He won four straight NL Cy Young Awards from 1992-95 and was a key cog in the Atlanta Braves winning 14 straight division titles. On top of all of that, his 1995 season goes down as one of the best single-season pitching performances in baseball history, as he was 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA (260 ERA+) and 0.811 WHIP.

1. 1B Albert Pujols

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    It's been a rough first two seasons in Los Angeles for Albert Pujols, but that does nothing to detract from how incredible he was during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    He broke into the league with one of the best rookie seasons of all time in 2001, and that would be the first of 10 straight seasons in which he topped .300 BA, 30 HR and 100 RBI.

    All told, he finished his 11-year stretch with the Cardinals with a .328/.420/.617 line to go along with 445 home runs and 1,329 RBI. He won three NL MVP awards during that stretch and helped lead the Cardinals to three NL pennants and two World Series titles.

    The title of best hitter in the game today belongs to Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout, depending on whom you talk to, but it was Pujols who claimed that title for the better part of a decade, and he was the best player in the game in his prime.