On Thursday night, Derek Jeter recorded career hit number 3,283, tying Hall of Fame center fielder Willie Mays for 10th all time.
Detroit Tigers’ Hall of Fame pitcher Hal Newhouser was a scout for the Houston Astros in 1992. Living in Michigan, he watched Jeter play for Kalamazoo Central High School fairly often. And he fell in love. So much so that when the Astros didn’t select Jeter with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 draft, Newhouser quit.
However, while Jeter will surely end his career with far more hits than Mays, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Jeter is clearly one of the greatest players ever, but he is no Willie Mays.
Both Jeter and Mays have played premium, up the middle positions at shortstop and center, respectively. When looking at both players’ defensive numbers using Total Zone Data, developed by Sean Smith of BaseballProjection.com, it is clear who the better defender was, and it’s not a surprise. According to Total Zone Data, in his 22 years, Mays prevented 178 runs from being scored. Compare that with Jeter, who according to this statistic, has cost the Yankees 153 runs over his career.
Add in the fact that Jeter is consistently voted by his peers as one of the most overrated players in the game, and it is clear that defensively he is a below average at best. After all, these players can’t possibly think he’s an overrated hitter, can they?
This is not like when players vote that A-Rod is the most overrated player in baseball because they think he’s a jerk. In fact it’s the opposite. I’ve never heard anyone in baseball say anything negative about Jeter as a person, which is what makes the players’ vote so jarring. While voting Alex Rodriguez the most overrated player takes credibility away from the vote, Jeter’s inclusion adds it back in.
Offensively it’s not much closer. When looking at batting average and on base percentage, the two are basically neck and neck. Jeter has a career average and on base of .314 and .382 respectively, while Mays’ has a .302 and .384 line.
Then we start looking at power numbers, and once again, Mays pulls away. He has Jeter by over 100 points in slugging percentage and has 660 career home runs to Jeter’s 255. Unless Jeter finds a way to hit over 400 homers the rest of his career, he’s not going to quite tie Mays. If that were to happen though, Skip Bayless would be proven right, and the world just can’t have that.
This is not to say that Jeter is not one of the best baseball players ever. Surely he is. What this shows is just what kind of player Mays was.
It’s perfectly understandable to watch what Derek Jeter is doing right now and be in awe. No shortstop has ever put up the kinds of numbers he has this year at this point in their careers. Just don’t think you’re watching this generation’s Willie Mays. That guy might be playing for the Angels.