Derek Jeter a Hall of Famer by any measure
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media April 14, 2014 9:19PM
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 08: Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees follows through on a third inning base hit against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on April 8, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 477579839
Updated: May 16, 2014 6:23AM
Evaluating a player’s career value can be tricky business. One must take into account longevity and peak value.
How much credit should a once-great player get for hanging on as an average player or less once his prime has passed? How much emphasis should be put on his peak seasons?
On the website Baseball-Reference.com, there’s a metric called JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score). It’s named for Jay Jaffe, who devised it at Baseball Prospectus in 2004. It’s especially useful in evaluating Hall of Fame-caliber players by balancing peak value with longevity.
Take Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, whose farewell season includes a series against the Cubs that starts Tuesday in New York. Jeter is a sure Hall of Famer, and his 71.7 career wins above replacement are well above the 66.7 career WAR of the average Hall of Fame shortstop.
But with a WAR of 5.0 or higher signifying All-Star quality, Jeter has been above 4.0 WAR only once in the last seven seasons. His 6.5 in 2009 was a highlight. Otherwise, he turned in solid WARs of 3.9 in 2007 and 3.0 in 2008 and, with 2.0 about average for a major-league regular, had seasons of 1.7, 1.1 and 2.2 in 2010-12. Injuries limited him to 73 plate appearances last season and led to a minus-0.7 WAR.
There has been value in Jeter’s longevity, but, as with most players, a large share of his total value came from his peak seasons.
To balance that, JAWS takes an average of a player’s overall WAR and his seven best seasons. In Jeter’s case, his best seven WARs total 42.2, with a peak of 8.0 in 1999. Add the 71.7 career WAR and the 42.2 peak WAR, and you get 113.9. We’ll round that up to 114, divide by two and get a JAWS of 57. That’s still above the 54.7 average for a Hall of Fame shortstop.
Sometimes a player with a very long career will have a higher cumulative WAR but a lower JAWS than a player with a shorter career but a higher peak. Enos Slaughter, primarily a Cardinal in a 19-season career, had a 55.0 WAR, well ahead of Ralph Kiner’s 49.4 in 10 seasons with the Pirates, Cubs and Indians. But Slaughter’s seven-year peak was 34.9, leading to a 45.0 JAWS. Kiner slugged his way to a 43.7 WAR in his best seven seasons for a 46.5 JAWS that tops Slaughter.
Kiner’s peak was much higher. Slaughter added value with longevity. JAWS gives us a method for comparing the two.
Similarly, former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith had a 76.4 career WAR that outranks former Cubs third baseman Ron Santo at 70.4. But Santo packed 53.8 WAR into 1963-69, third in the majors behind Willie Mays (55.5) and Hank Aaron (54.9) during that time. Smith’s seven peak seasons totaled 42.3. By JAWS, it’s Santo 62.1, Smith 59.4.
Jeter? Whether you use WAR alone or the JAWS balancing act, he’s above Hall average and deservedly headed for Cooperstown.