Derek Jeter is poised to join the 3,000 hit club, a milestone that only 27 players before him have reached. Throughout his 17-season career, Jeter has had many dramatic hits, ones that have sparked a key rally or plated the winning run, but which ones have actually been his “greatest” hits?
We could easily go into any bar in New York City and poll a few hundred fans to get a list of his most memorable hits, but we’d rather settle the debate from a statistical perspective.
To do that, we can use a sabermetric tool called Win Probability Added (WPA), which measures the impact each baseball “event” (hit, stolen base, strikeout, etc.) has on the team’s chance of winning (or losing) the game.
For example, on May 22 in the rubber game of the Subway Series, Jeter came to the plate in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and Yankees trailing 3-1. In that situation (bottom seven, down by two runs, bases loaded, no outs), the home team typically wins the game 54 percent of the time.
As you may remember, Jeter hit a groundball up the middle, past a diving Jose Reyes, and two runs scored to tie the game at 3-3. Jeter's single sparked an eight-run rally in the inning as the Yankees went on to win 9-3. But how much did the hit actually help the team’s chances of winning?
With a man on first and second, in a tie game in the bottom of the seventh inning with no outs, the home team now has a distinct advantage and usually wins 72 percent of the time. So, Jeter increased the Yankees’ chances of victory by nearly 20 percentage points with that timely RBI single, and it proved to be the biggest hit of the contest.
Now let’s take a look at his all-time “Greatest Hits” in the regular season, as measured by WPA. Feel free to debate the selections and suggest others in the comment section below.
Special thanks to David Appelman, who runs the terrific website fangraphs.com, for providing the WPA data for all of Jeter’s regular season hits.
Derek Jeter, Top 5 Hits by WPA
5. July 17, 2003 vs Indians
The Yankees were down 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, with Raul Mondesi on second base and two outs, when Jeter came to the plate. Jeter drove a 2-1 pitch into the left-center seats to tie the game. Hideki Matsui eventually won the game with a walk-off solo homer in the ninth, but Jeter’s blast in the previous inning was the most important hit of the game.
Before Jeter’s home run, the Yankees had just a 13 percent chance of winning, but that blast increased it to 52 percent, turning the game in the Yankees favor and giving the momentum to the home team.
4. September 16, 2007 vs Red Sox
Fighting for a wild card spot as the season neared its end, the Yankees found themselves locked in a pitcher’s duel with their bitter rivals. Tied 1-1 with two outs left in the eighth inning, the Yankees had managed to get two runners on base ahead of Jeter, who then deposited a 2-2 splitter over the
Green Monster, giving the Yankees the lead in an eventual 4-3 victory.
The Yankees chances of winning the game went from nearly 50-50 to almost 90 percent with Jeter’s tie-breaking homer. Starter Roger Clemens remarked after the game, “It's an honor to watch the best clutch hitter in history do his thing…Jeter is one of the reasons that I got up off the couch and came back."
3. August 18, 2006 vs Red Sox
This was the second game of a day-night doubleheader, as the Yankees went for the sweep after taking the afternoon contest, 12-4. The nightcap was a wild game, with the Yankees jumping out to an early 5-1 lead, only to see the Red Sox storm back and pull ahead 10-7 after five innings.
The Yankees erupted for seven runs on six hits in the seventh inning, with none of those hits more important than Jeter’s two-out, bases-clearing double, which gave the Yankees a 11-10 lead in their eventual 14-11 victory.
The Yankees sent 11 batters to the plate in the seventh inning, but his go-ahead double was the biggest hit of the frame and the game, increasing the Yankees’ chances of winning from a mere 25 percent to over 65 percent.
2. April 11, 2006 vs Royals
Looking to set a franchise record with a ninth consecutive home-opener win, the Yankees had squandered a 4-1 lead and trailed 7-4 after seven innings. Jeter was hitless in the game when he came to the plate in the eighth, with two outs and two runners on, and the Yankees down by a run.
He wasted no time in giving the Yankees the lead, sending the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats, and capping a five-run rally in the inning. With that swing of the bat, Jeter improved the Yankees win probability from 30 percent to over 90 percent – making it a near-certain victory for the Bronx Bombers at that point in the game.
1. July 23, 1999 vs Indians
Making his first start since his perfect game, David Cone was far from perfect on this night as he allowed six runs in four innings. The Yankees bats picked him up, though, and the score was tied 7-7 as the game went into extra innings.
The Indians scored a run in the top of the 10th, but the Yankees rallied in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases before Number Two came to the plate with two outs and the team still trailing by a run.
Jeter sent a first-pitch slider over Manny Ramirez’s head in right-field, plating Luis Sojo and Jorge Posada to complete the dramatic comeback win. This walk-off single proved to be the biggest game-changing hit of his career in the regular season, as it increased the Yankees probability of winning the game by over 70 percentage points.
Captain Clutch certainly earned his nickname on this late July night in the Bronx, with statistically his Greatest Hit during the regular season, in a career now filled with nearly 3,000 of them.