Monday, January 25, 2010
Will Captain Jetes threaten Charlie Hustle?
By way of introduction, I'll just say that Johnny Damon still isn't signed and spring training's still a few weeks away. So there's no harm in engaging in a bit of pie-in-the-sky ...
A friend of mine, one who’s not a Yankees fan, recently said to me, “Derek Jeter has nothing left to prove. He’s done everything.” My thoughts immediately turned to one milestone that belongs in Cooperstown: The all-time hits record. I’m not here to debate whether Pete Rose deserves to be in the HOF. I am here to answer the question, “Does Jeter have any chance of catching Pete Rose?”
Through Rose’s first 14 seasons, he played in 61 more games than Jeter and accumulated only 15 more hits. For the sake of argument, we can pretty much say that Jeter is about in the same position that Rose was at this point of his career.
Rose went on to play 10 more years. He played in 1,378 games in those seasons, slapping 1,494 base knocks to give him a total of 4,256. Simple math tells us that Rose averaged slightly more than 149 hits per season on the back end of his career. Rose played until the age of 45, and his production didn’t begin to drop off significantly until the last four years of his career. The six seasons prior to that, he failed to have more than 170 hits only once (in 1981 when MLB experienced a work stoppage due to a player strike).
Despite all of the statistics, this argument unfortunately boils down to nothing more than speculation. I’ve learned over the past 14 seasons never to doubt or second guess Derek Jeter. When you do, he’s right there to prove you wrong. When people began to doubt his ability to be an above average defensive shortstop, he worked that much harder to stay sharp and get better. This has nothing to do with, “Is Jeter a better player than Rose?” Pete Rose, while he may have serious character flaws, was one incredible hitter. However, I believe that if Derek Jeter has the desire to continue playing baseball at the age of 43 — the age he would be after eight more seasons – and if the New York Yankees continue to put a championship caliber team on the field, and if he stays healthy, then Derek Jeter will join the 4,000 hit club and eventually surpass Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose for the most hits ever by a Major League player.
I know that we're supposed to throw reasoned discourse out the window when we're talking about Derek Jeter, and I'm happy to admit that his MVP-caliber 2009 surprised the mucus out of me.
But let's try, you know, to think about this with a modicum of rigor.
According to Bill James' Favorite Toy method, Jeter has not established a measurable chance to break Rose's record. That said, he does have a six-percent chance of reaching 4,000 hits. Which leads to the obvious question: Is 4,257 hits really so many more than 4,000?
And the obvious answer: Yes. When you're 43 or 44, 257 is an awful lot of hits.
The other problem is one of context. It's not just incredibly uncommon for a player to collect nearly 1,500 hits after turning 36, as Pete Rose did. It's also incredibly uncommon for a player to play regularly or semi-regularly into his mid 40s, as Rose did. And of course he was able to do that because a) he played first base, and 2) he managed his own team for the last 203 games of his playing career.
Now, let's think about how Derek Jeter's career is likely to play out. One, everyone seems to think that Jeter will retire as a Yankee; that they'll do anything keep him around and that he won't be interested in playing elsewhere. Two, he's a shortstop. There's essentially no such thing as a 42-year-old shortstop. Three, the Yankees have Mark Teixeira under contract through 2016, when Jeter will be 42. They've also got Alex Rodriguez under contract through 2017, when Jeter will be 43.
I bring up Rodriguez because he'll turn 42 in 2017. There's no such thing as a 42-year-old third baseman. If he's still good enough and healthy enough to play regularly, he'll be at first base or DH, and probably the latter.
My point is that because of the Yankees' ultra-long-term commitments to Teixeira and Rodriguez, the two positions Jeter might play in his dotage are both likely to be filled by younger (albeit old) players with more powerful bats. It's one thing to suggest that Jeter will still be good enough to play when he's 43 -- which is highly doubtful anyway -- but it's another to figure out where he would play.
With the Yankees, anyway. Jeter's halo is such that some other organization might consider giving him 500 plate appearances at that age, just for the sake of having him around. But I don't see him taking a huge pay cut, and I don't see him playing for another team.
What strikes me as infinitely more likely is that his next contract runs for four or five years, taking him perhaps through his Age 41 season. As the years pile up, he'll transition to some sort of utility role and will leave the game with a great amount of grace.
I would absolutely love to see Derek Jeter replace Pete Rose in the record books. But it says here that he'll finish his career with 3,692 hits.
(H/T: BTF's Newsstand)