The following is a guest post from TYA reader Sam Menzin. Sam plays baseball at Swarthmore College, and has interned with a Major League Baseball team as well as a baseball agency, dealing with arbitration research and preparation. Sam can be reached at smenzin at gmail dot com.
A lot has been made about Jose Reyes’ 2011 season to date, and rightly so. By fWAR, he’s currently the second-most valuable player in all of baseball. Reyes’ surge has also been magnified by the drama of his impending free agency and his agent’s comments that they will not negotiate with Sandy Alderson and the Mets during the season.
The other dominant New York baseball storyline of late involves Reyes’ crosstown shortstop counterpart Derek Jeter, as he chases the 3,000-hit plateau while fending off the critics who point to the numbers and note that his expiration date as a useful player is rapidly approaching.
This is the first time in recent memory that both New York shortstops have found themselves at the center of the media’s attention during the same season; however, with Jeter nearing the end of the line and Reyes in the midst of his best season ever, the mood surrounding both players has been unsurprisingly disparate. Jayson Stark recently wrote an article about the lack of fanfare going along with Jeter’s chase of 3,000; meanwhile, Reyes’ fast start is the runaway hot topic this season. The latter got me thinking: is Jose Reyes’ season as unprecedented as it has been portrayed by the media? And is Reyes’ season better than Jeter at his peak? Jose Reyes is having a fantastic season, but let’s not forget about the other New York shortstop whose earlier career has been overshadowed by his recent struggles. Counting statistics may show how Reyes’ 2011 pace is one of the greatest seasons ever by a shortstop—but if you look beyond the traditional numbers, Derek Jeter’s career year of 1999 still reigns supreme at this point.
For the purposes of this post, I’m comparing Reyes’ 2011 pace with Jeter’s 1999 season. Reyes in 2011 and Jeter in 1999 are both subpar defensively according to UZR, but until the Field F/X data becomes available I’m going to rely solelyon offensive WAR (oWAR) to compare the two. This seems fair because Reyes’ 2011 has been hyped primarily due to his offensive output.
The following charts show:
1) Jeter’s 1999 traditional statistics vs. Reyes’ 2011 traditional statistics
2) Jeter’s 1999 advanced metrics vs. Reyes’ 2011 advanced metrics
- For both of Reyes’ charts, I doubled his statistics to reach his “pace” since he has played 80 games this season.
- I added a second row using the ZIPS projections for Reyes so we can spot regression from his pace.
1) Traditional Numbers
Looking at the traditional metrics, I highlighted the categories that were dominated by one player or the other and the ones that are essentially equivalent. I also included the ZIPS projections for Reyes to see if they were consistent with his current pace. ZIPS projects Reyes to regress as seen by the 8 categories in red. If we look only at the ZIPS projections, Reyes tops Jeter in only triples, stolen bases, and strikeouts. Jeter had significantly more HR, RBI, and BB, while Reyes had more H, 2B, 3B, SB, and fewer K’s when looking at Reyes’ pace. We now know of course that Reyes will likely not achieve his pace because of his recent hamstring injury and trip to the DL.
2) Advanced Metrics
While Jose Reyes is having an excellent year, it’s a bit premature to anoint him as the best shortstop we’ve ever seen. Derek Jeter’s 1999 is as good, if not better than Jose Reyes’ 2011 pace/projected numbers. Reyes strikes out less than Jeter did, and his wRC+ is 7% better—not a huge margin, but Jeter ranks ahead of Reyes in seven other categories, including wOBA and WPA by a significant amount.
If we examine the ZIPS projections, Reyes’ final numbers don’t even compare to Jeter’s 1999. Of course, this exercise merely juxtaposes each shortstop’s best offensive season. Quickly looking at their careers, Reyes has had only two 5-plus oWAR seasons. Jeter has had 11 seasons of 5-plus oWAR and has only three seasons in which he was not worth 4-plus oWAR. Reyes, on the other hand, already has six seasons in which he did not produce more than 4 oWAR. Even as Jeter is entering the twilight of his career and Reyes is the new back-page story, let’s not forget how great a player Jeter has been for a very long time.
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