Jeter’s great, but he’s not one of the top five Yankees

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No doubt about it, Derek Jeter is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  He rates as one of the top 50 position players in major league history, and on Saturday, he became the first Yankee to ever reach 3,000 hits.

The Yankees, though, have had better position players.

Here’s how WAR ranks the top 10:

1. Babe Ruth – 149.6
2. Mickey Mantle – 120.2
3. Lou Gehrig – 118.4
4. Joe DiMaggio – 83.6
5. Derek Jeter – 70.1
6. Yogi Berra – 62.1
7. Bill Dickey – 54.4
8. Willie Randolph – 49.8
9. Bernie Williams – 47.3
10. Tony Lazzeri – 46.6

Pitching included, Ruth’s total is 172.0, barely edging out Barry Bonds for the top spot all-time.

But we already knew Ruth was No. 1. What about Jeter? WAR places him fifth at 70.1. That total places him 55th all time among position players.

I think I’d put him a bit higher than that on the league-wide list.  WAR is giving him plenty of credit for spending his entire career at shortstop, but it’s also punishing him a horrible defensive shortstop.  It says Jeter is 83.8 wins above replacement offensively, but 13.7 wins below replacement defensively.

And I don’t necessarily disagree that Jeter is that bad defensively.  But Jeter deserves some credit beyond the WAR.  He’s been a leading figure on five World Series champions, hitting .309/.377/.472 with 20 homers in 599 postseason at-bats.

WAR isn’t accounting for one bit of that.

So, why does the headline say Jeter isn’t one of the top five Yankees?

Because WAR is punishing Berra far more than it’s punished Jeter.

Catchers, because of their lack of playing time and hard-to-value defensive contributions, score poorly in WAR.  Johnny Bench is 52nd all-time. Ivan Rodriguez is 69th. Berra is 96th. Mike Piazza is 116th.

Berra is better than that.  He was a three-time American League MVP who played for 10 World Series winners.  He’s one of the top three catchers of all-time by any measure, and that trumps Jeter’s accomplishments.

I don’t think it’s too controversial to put Jeter behind Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio and Berra.  That’s quite a crew to trail.  He’d be the all-time great in some organizations, but on the Yankees, he’ll have to settle for coming in sixth.