One. One vote. One measly vote. Last Tuesday, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted Derek Jeter into the Baseball Hall of Fame, only one vote shy of becoming the second unanimously elected inductee. The first unanimously elected Hall-of-Famer, inducted last year, is Jeter’s career-long Yankee teammate, Mariano Rivera, who was arguably the greatest relief pitcher ever. But did Jeter get burned, or was the Sandman just one vote better? Let’s ask an even pricklier question: was Jeter deserving of the voting percentage that he earned, which was the second-highest ever?
To answer, we have to turn back to his teammate, Mo. During his 19 year career, Rivera pitched 1,283.2 innings. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR), a statistic that answers the question, “How many wins would it cost us if this player got injured and we had to replace him with a backup?” places Rivera first among pitchers with 1,600 or fewer innings pitched (FanGraphs Baseball, “Major League Leaderboards,” 01.24.2020). Rivera also allowed the lowest earned run average (ERA) among pitchers who tossed between 1,000 and 2,000 career innings and pitched primarily in relief. Not to mention Rivera has the most saves of all time. His greatness in unmatched in the niche that is relief pitching.
How does Jeter, a lifelong shortstop, stack up against the all-time greats at his position? He ranks sixth in WAR. Three of the hitters ahead of him played in an era when foul balls were not counted as strikes, vastly inflating their statistics. A fourth, Alex Rodriguez took steroids. After this, we’re left with only Ripken, who is probably the best comparison for Jeter because their careers overlapped for seven years. Ripken was a superior defender and accrued nearly 10 years’ more WAR than Jeter. He fell eight votes shy of unanimous election (Baseball Reference, “Hall of Fame Voting Percentages,” 01.24.2020). Jeter leads all shortstops in hits, a testament to his longevity. He also ranks sixth in home runs, 10th in average, 14th in OBP, and 20th in stolen bases.
Undoubtedly, Jeter was an excellent, well-rounded player, well-deserving of his spot in the hall of fame. But he and Mariano Rivera do not belong in the same category.