Is Jeter the second greatest shortstop ever?

The stats we use: UZR
Open Thread: Win a trip to Cooperstown

In the eyes of Yankee fans, Derek Jeter can do no wrong. Even when it was apparent that his defense at short was detrimental to the team, most stuck by him because of everything he’s done for the franchise. I’m sure many will argue that he’s the greatest shortstop of all time, however David Schoenfield at ESPN ran through all the data, and shows that if Jeter isn’t the second best shortstop in baseball history (behind Honus Wagner), he’s darn close to it. His main competition for the title is Cal Ripken Jr., who of course played an entirely different game than Cap’n Jetes.

For what it’s worth, Ripken’s best seasons were far greater than Jeter’s best seasons. However, if he continues to defy age, Jeter will be right there with Cal at the end of his career.

The stats we use: UZR
Open Thread: Win a trip to Cooperstown
  • Rod

    Ripken turned into a league average guy after his age 31 season so while yes his peak was greater, a couple more years of productivity for Jeter should have him surpassing Ripken in career WAR. Now imagine if Jeter had played a step back on defense a decade sooner? It wouldn’t be much of a contest since Jeter has been a better offensive player over the course of their careers to include a higher peak wRC+ and career wRC+.

    • Rod

      Just to quickly add on this, Ripken was always a pretty ordinary to slightly above average OBP guy whereas Jeter has always exhibited far superior OBP skills. Ripken’s highest OBP years correspond to some of Jeter’s lowest.

      • Mike R. – Retire 21

        Getting on base wasn’t important in the 80’s.


        • Rod

          In that case, Ripken was a compiler.

  • Bill@TDS

    I refuse to pay for insider, so I can’t see how he came to the bizarre conclusion that it’s down to those two. I’ll take Arky.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      I’m not really comfortable with a 135 year old shortstop for next year, especially one that’s been dead for 54 years.

      • JMK The Overshare

        So…we should also avoid signing Barry Bonds’s father?

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          I’d still rather have him in LF this year.

          /cheap shot’d

          • JMK The Overshare

            Joe Jackson may be available. He won’t even need to read the contract!

            • Matt Imbrogno

              Haha, wonderful.

            • Andy in Sunny Daytona

              I believe he’s still banned. But I’ll check for sure…

      • Bill@TDS

        In that case, I’ll take Hanley.
        But those numbers are for Honus. Arky’s pushing 98…but has been dead for 57 years. So, not sure which is better, really. :)

        • Andy in Sunny Daytona

          Yeah my bad. If it’s between Arky and Honus, I’m going with Honus, 2 less years of decomposition is big in my book.

          • king of fruitless hypotheticals

            2 less years of decomposition is big in my book.


            that’s johnny damon’s argument, and you can see how far it got him this year.

            • JMK The Overshare


    • Moshe Mandel

      He said it is close, but that Vaughan was a starting SS for 11 seasons, Jeter will likely be for about 18-19 seasons.

    • MikeD

      Jeter is certainly in the top ten, and could be in the top half of the top ten. It really depends on how how we define who is the best.

      I’ll take A-Rod at short. He’s the greatest offensive force at SS, was a solid fielder and an excellent runner. He played a full eight years at short and ten years overall. Just because he’s playing third today doesn’t mean we forget the past.

      A-Rod was the best.

  • Salty Buggah

    Don’t you mean Jeter is #3 behind Jose Iglesias and then Wagner?!?!

    • pat


      • All Praise Be To Mo

        #4, you forgot Casey Kelly played there for half a season last year.

  • Steve H

    Wow. Cal’s 1999 was a huge outlier from his previous 7 seasons at 38. Once Cal hit 31 he was an average offensive player, even including that outlier (was he Brady Anderson’s roommate that year too?). For Cal’s 10 year peak he had a 127 OPS+, Jeter was at 126. For a 10 year peak it’s close, but once you get beyond that I think Jeter is definitely the better player over a 15 year span (even though he’s only played 14 full seasons so far). Anything Jeter does from now on just adds gravy to the argument, unless he falls off a cliff, Jeter should go down as the better player.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      What about defense, though? Ripken was pretty strong with the glove.

      • Steve H

        Haven’t you seen Jeter’s gold gloves? Yeah, Cal’s D makes the 10 year span a win in his favor, but for the career, I think Jeter’s sustained greatness (and consistency) makes him (or will make him) better than Cal. Not only did Cal’s offense become average, but it was average at 3B for the last few seasons of his career. Of course Jeter will likely move t0o, but if he can move while keeping an OPS+ of 110-120, he will eclipse Cal post-SS.

        • NC Saint

          His Gold Gloves are great, but to really appreciate his defensive greatness you need to look at astrology. His charts are incredible.

  • Steve H

    I just wish Barry Larkin got more ab’s so he’d be in this conversation as well. Better triple slash line than Cal, great defense and 5 seasons with 100+ games with an ops+ over 130.

  • NC Saint

    As someone else not paying for Insider, it would be nice if you guys included at least a hint of what the argument of the article is. I assume it has to be defense-based, or maybe just longevity, since Ripken is obviously not in this conversation on the strength of offense.

    I’m by no means convinced Jeter is second-best all-time, but I feel pretty confident his defense isn’t anywhere near bad enough to make Ripken in his league, with a career wOBA gap of 30 points.

  • NC Saint

    Also, if proper weight were being given to intangibles, Luis Sojo’s hundred-odd games at short would obviously be due for consideration.

  • Hey ZZ

    Where is the WAR data in the chart coming from?

    • Mike Axisa

      Sean (CHONE) Smith’s

      • Hey ZZ

        How reliable is that data?

        The thing that jumps out at me is Ripken’s 11, 9.2, and 8.3 (28.5 total) WAR seasons.

        Arod’s best three years are 11, 9.9, and 9.4 (30.3 total)

        Can we really say that Arod’s best years were less than 2 wins better then Ripken’s? Arod in his peak is potentially the best player of all time. I do not even think Ripken is in the discussion.

        Obviously a MUCH more in depth analysis would be needed to find out how reliable this data is, but just a quick glance makes me seriously doubt its validity.

        • Mike bk

          well WAR takes into account both offense and defense, so that might account for some of the differential that you see.

          • Hey ZZ

            I was accounting for Arod’s defense when I said that in his peak he is potentially the best player of all time. I was also factoring in Ripken’s defense when I said he is not even in the discussion

            If you want to make the argument that Arod in his peak would only give me 1.8 wins more than Ripken in his peak I would love to see that.

            • Steve H

              To add to that, Keith Law today said A-Rod at his peak is the best player he’s ever seen. I don’t think Cal Ripken is just a hair below A-Rod at his peak.

            • Sweet Dick Willie

              I was accounting for Arod’s defense when I said that in his peak he is potentially the best player of all time.

              Really? Seriously? I’m guessing you’ve never looked at this:


              • Dalelama

                And Arod can’t pitch either….LOL

        • pete

          maybe ripken’s best years were prior to the shortstop boom of the late 90s-early 2000s? Of course one can’t be sure, but maybe the WAR scales were more pro-shortstop then. Also, where is the pre-2003 defensive side of WAR coming from? can’t be UZR can it?

    • vin

      Although intersting, the WAR graphic definitely needs to be taken with a grain of salt… simply because Jeter is still playing. If he has another couple of years as good as his 6th best (certainly not impossible), then his middle and low end performances trump Cal’s.

      In the end, though, they’re really just different types of players.

      • AndrewYF

        I don’t know how anyone can tell me Ripken’s 1991 is better than Jeter’s 1999. Does WAR take into account the far greater importance of OBP over slugging? I’m guessing it doesn’t.

        • Bill@TDS

          It does. It just also takes into account what it sees as the ~30 run difference in defense.

  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    I think that if Hanley stays healthy and doesn’t switch positions (2 HUGE ifs) he will become the best SS of all time.

    • Mike bk

      hanley not switching positions has a greater probability now than it did a year ago with his improved defense last year at least in terms of cutting down on the errors.

      • Drew

        His contract is going to be A-Rodian.

        • Sweet Dick Willie

          Teixeirian maybe, but now way he gets 10/$300 mil.

          • Sweet Dick Willie

            “no way”

    • JMK The Overshare

      I think you’d need to play a decent SS to qualify, but that’s just me. He doesn’t overtake Wagner. Wagner’s career OPS+ is 150.

  • monkeypants

    Using WAR to compare Ripken and Jeter may be slightly misleading. Ripken’s competition at SS was less formidable, so the bar for replacement level SS was lower. Jeter played in an era with Nomar, A-Rod and Tejada, whose best years at SS overlapped with his own. In a straight up comparison (at least using the crude OPS+ stat), Jeter looks much better.

    Anyway, you wouldn’t go wrong with either Jeter or Ripken.

    • pete

      I said something to a similar effect above, but I’m not sure about it now. remember it’s being compared to replacement level, not league average for the position. I know that WAR factors in a positional correction for value, but I doubt that the standard for a replacement level shortstop has changed much in a decade. the cream of the crop has, but the replacement level is probably about the same

  • Drew

    H-Wags: 2 post seasons, 1 WS title.
    C-Rip: 3 Post seasons, 1 WS title.

    Derek Jeter: 13 post seasons, 5 WS titles.

    These numbers have nothing to do with stats but it’s fun to kick around.

    • Drew

      Get ready for a Mind Explosion!

      E-Hinsk: 3 post seasons, 2 WS titles!


      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        And he’s been in 3 WS.

        • Sweet Dick Willie

          Consecutive, no less, w/ 3 different teams.

  • pete luciano

    Jeter vs Ripken is’t close. Jeter has a far better batting avg on base percentage, far better speed, is a better defender, and most of all a winner. Five rings to zero. The right comparison some day from now is going to be Jeter vs Wagner, not Ripken.

    • Rod

      Uh, Ripken won a ring in ’83

  • Mango

    Jeter’s not even the best shortstop on the freaking team.

    • MikeD

      He is today.

      A-Rod would not be far worse defensively at short than Jeter. If the Yankees didn’t have Tex, I’d be thinking of moving A-Rod to first. Range is shot. Hopefully a year removed from surgery he can get back to average.

  • r.w.g.

    I’m a little surprised by the pretty significant gap in their wOBA.

    Ripken has some pretty serious home run numbers. The doubles numbers don’t look too off between the two guys either most years.

    So it’s surprising to me that Ripken’s career OPS and SLG aren’t so great. His BB% isn’t as good as Jeter’s most years it seems, but it’s not THAT drastic. Just goes to show that being able to maintain it around the double-digit % marks really adds up.

    Seems to me the biggest difference besides the OBP is just Jeter’s ability to hit for average (which would also rack up the OBP points). That inside out swing has allowed him to pile up the hits, whereas Cal has seasons where he posts good BB% but is done in by his low batting average.

  • pete luciano

    Ripken hit 276 his obp was 340 and slugged 447. Jeter even slugged better than ripken and his 317 388 and 459 are far better than Ripken. Ripken was a power hitter more than Jeter yet his ops was just 787 vs Jeter’s 847. With the ba 41 pts higher and on base % 48 pts higher this one’s not close. And I apologize for forgetting Ripken’s 1 ring, but Jeter has five and counting. When Jeter’s done he’ll be compared to Wagner, not Ripken, trust me.

  • bigpinklips

    Jeter dated Mariah.
    Jeter wins.

    • aj


  • Yages

    If it’s between Jeter and Ripken, I can’t see how you choose Cal. If Jeter continues at his average per=year pace and plays til he’s 40, as Ripken did, he’ll finish with numbers that Ripken could only dream about. Other than HR, it’s not even close. At his avg. pace, Jeter will have the following #s upon retirement (if he’s done at 40 – which I somehow doubt he will be)/compared to Ripken’s career #s: Runs: 2,169/1,647; Hits: 3,787/3,184; Doubles: 603/603 (odd); Triples: 78/44; Dingers: 309/431; RBI: 1,473/1695; Steals:420/36; Avg.: .317/.276; OPS: .847/.788

    Considering Jeter’s spent most of his career batting first or second, and Ripken was batting in the heart of lineups, the difference in RBI isn’t much. Ripken’s points over Jeter are his home runs and the consecutive streak.

    I know I’m biased, but on my all-time team, I take Jeter every time over Ripken. Sorry Cal.

  • MikeD

    Simple question in trying to decide if Ripken is better than Jeter.

    Knowing what you know about both players, if you went back in time and you could only select one — Ripken or Jeter — which one would you pick?


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  • Steve B.

    Comparing Ripken to Jeter ??…Apples and oranges, Mike. They play two differentt games. Two different type of players.

  • Charles Clark

    I read the article about Derek Jeter being the second best shortstop in baseball history and I cliqued on to read a great piece about Honus Wagner. To my shock, the article was talking about “the bronze statue at shortstop”, Cal Ripken Jr.
    In case you mental heavyweights didn’t know it, Cal Ripken batted less than .300 in 15 of his 21 years. He actually batted in the .250’s 6 times and closed his last year with a .239 batting average. When you add that to the fact that his range at shortstop was a scant 3-4 feet in either direction (hence, the nickname, “The Bronze Statue at Short”), how can you possibly get off calling him the greatest shortstop of all time?
    Honus Wagner won the batting title 8 times. He was a power hitter for the deadball era, playing shortstop. He was famous for scooping up handfulls of dirt, along with the baseball, playing the position with the little “mittens” they used at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, and was considered the best fielder at his position for his era.
    Derek Jeter IS the second best shortstop of all time. . . to HONUS WAGNER. Now, if you want to make some sort of combination of Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken, using Smith’s fielding and Ripkin’s power hitting, and you want to totally throw away the concept of batting or on-base percentage as a measure of excellence, then the Ripken/Smith combo can be listed somewhere behind Wagner, Jeter, Garciapara, Alex Rodriguez, Ernie Banks, Miguel Tejahada, Jimmy Rollins, and just a little bit ahead of Louis Aparicio. . .

  • Brian Wells

    I can`t totally agree with your assertion that Jeter continues to defy age.He batted .270 last year with only 10 homers and his range factor at short was even worse than usual.He has had a wonderful career in many ways though-great clutch player,outstanding base runner,.314 career batting average,hustles like crazy, but Alex Rodriguez is the second greatest shortstop of all times.Rodriquez`s career as a shortstop is the only one that can compete with Wagner`s.I`m not saying that Jeter is even third best ever,just that Rodriquez is next in line after Wagner.