Thursday, July 2, 2009

Derek Jeter: Almost an Astro

I often like to join most non-Yankees fans in pronouncing Derek Jeter as one of the most overrated players ever, and certainly there are some people who overrate Jeter. To be objective though, I probably underrate Jeter to a greater degree than others overrate him. From 2002 to 2008 (the years for which the data is available), Jeter has earned 85% of his large salary, in spite of his regularly below average defense. Even this season, at age 35, he has already earned $13 million of the 20 million that he will be payed this season by producing 2.9 wins above replacement. Surely, based solely on on-field contributions, Jeter does not deserve to be the face of baseball for the past decade, but he is a legitimately great player and is much better than I ever give him credit for.

All that this brings me to is a story recounted to me by a current Chicago Cubs scout and former Houston Astros scout who was at one of the New Britain Rock Cats games over the weekend. This scout was talking about Jeter and called him the best high school position player he had ever seen (Steve Avery was his choice for pitcher, in case you were wondering). He recounted to me stories of watching Jeter effortlessly fielding balls on the outfield grass and firing rockets over to first base. Having the first pick in the 1992 draft, this scout of course suggested picking the star shortstop from Central High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Astros were on a budget, though, and were not ready to spend the $750,000 it would take to keep Jeter from attending school. Instead, the Astros took Cal State Fullerton prospect Phil Nevin since he was willing to sign for only $450,000, Jeter slid to sixth where the Yankees picked him, and the rest is history. How would things have changed if the Astros had picked Jeter instead? Even if he had become the same player, Jeter would almost certainly not have become the same popular figure playing in Houston. Phil Nevin produced 4703 plate appearances of .814 OPS (though only 69 of those came with Houston, prior to a midseason trade to the Tigers), but one still wonders what would have happened to one of the most popular players of the last 15 years if the Astros had not been so concerned over $300,000.


  1. You know I love a good hypothetical but I think it's pretty predictable what would happen. Another (possibly over-hyped) star player would come along and join a big name team a la the Yankees or Red Sox or whatever and would have captured the hearts of millions of baseball fans. I think it's only natural that someone assumes a role of representing a sport on a national and an international level. Frankly speaking, I think there is also a level of necessity for a high profile player to fill that position as professional sports are also so driven by the fans, more so by how many fans and non-fans are tuning in. Look at how many people tuned into Wimbeldon finals last year with Nadal-Federer, two household names, providing such a great rivalry, and the popularity of the Williams Sisters (again this year, too). Tiger Woods may not be at the top of the leader board but he'll still be on that board because they know that people are tuning in more so just to see how Tiger is doing. Another great example is this years NBA championships. People wanted to a Lebron-Kobe final and that didn't happen and I'm 100% positive that they lost a significant amount of viewership this year. Basically, what my point is, if Derek Jeter became an Astro that year, we would probably have someone else in those commercials with Tiger and Federer, but there would still be someone there.
    Maybe I should have done a blog post as a response. The effect of popular sports figures on viewership...or something like that...

  2. If I got anything wrong, I apologize in advance.

  3. I despise you for admitting that Jeter is not a horrible player, and considered removing you from the blogging team for the offense.

  4. Drostie Jeter-- oops I mean Ryan-- I think this was a good post. Mainly because I understood it. Basically, I tell you your entry is good whenever somebody like me who doesn't know jargon can still get your point.

    PS How come I was not invited to the blogging team huh????? You know that I am an identical Twins baseball sabermetrics fly ball RBA expert!! Plus I love fowls :)

  5. Everything you said is right, Cortne, but the focus was really on what would have happen to Jeter himself, though the answer to that may be just as obvious (same player, less fame). Also, I was really just trying to have some sort of point to go along with telling the story that I heard from the scout.

  6. Yeah you let me know about the scout thing. My original comment was just going to be on how you overcompensate for people overhyping Jeter that you forget to admire the positive parts of his game but that last paragraph really got me thinking I guess.

    Check out!!!!

  7. Hey I came across your post some 4 years later, and as a Yankee fan I'd like to make a few points. Overrated-ness is a touchy subject in baseball. But if a very good player is very very popular, is it required that their stats justify their popularity? (And I'm making a thinly veiled reference to Kirby Pucket.)

    Also I forget the scout's name but I heard him interviewed on the subject of Jeter a few years ago, and he said despite the ability he had spoken to Derek on a few occasions, and the scout touted Jeter as a future team leader.

    I think Jeter would have been a very similar player with the Astros, and maybe even have led them to a championship. I guess we'll never know, and I'm not complaining.


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