A Theory on Derek Jeter and the MVP

As I promised on Jack Steal’s podcast and in earlier posts, here is my (controversial?) piece on why I think the media and some Derek Jeter fans want to see him beat out Joe Mauer for the 2009 AL MVP. Now this is an opinion of mine, so:

  1. Understand that this is not fact.
  2. There are probably plenty of media members and Jeter fans that would disagree with me. That’s fine. I’m trying to explain either why people keep using certain arguments to support Jeter, or just to find an alternative reasoning as to why he deserves the MVP.
  3. I want Mauer to win, so I’m not trying to support Jeter here.

Tomorrow, the winner for the American League MVP will finally be announced. Although it sounds like Joe Mauer is a lock for winning, there’s still been some attention given to Derek Jeter. For a catcher, Mauer had a godlike unbelievably great season. Jeter’s was good also, especially since he plays shortstop, another defense-first position, but bloggers and sabermetricians alike have been quick to point out that Mauer has the better numbers at a tougher defensive position when compared to Jeter. So, supporters of Jeter have turned to other arguments to show that he deserves the MVP more than Mauer. On mlb.com, we’ve had Hal Bodley claim that setting the Yankees record for career hits sealed Jeter’s chance for winning (with Deadspin ripping the piece to shreds shortly after). There’s been a satire on how Jeter has more integrity than Mauer because Mauer agreed to go to Florida State, then changed his mind and signed with the Twins (Derek Jeter would never do that!). There are references to his improved defense. Some feel that the MVP would be a lifetime achievement award for him. But most of all, it’s the countless arguments that combine all of these together, showing that Jeter displays leadership, integrity, grit, determination, etc. on the field, off the field, and in the clubhouse.

To many people, Jeter is the greatest shortstop that has ever played professional baseball. Staying with the New York Yankees for his entire career, one of the oldest, greatest teams ever, has boosted his popularity. But like all professional athletes, the time to hang up the jersey will come. Julio Franco, a great example for longevity, wanted to play until he was 50 but eventually retired a year short when no team wanted to employ him any longer. Some, like Greg Maddux or Mike Mussina, feel that their time has come even though they still have the talent to succeed. Many others suffer career-ending injuries, albeit much earlier than Jeter’s current age of 35.

But we do not know what will be the cause of Jeter’s retirement. It could be one of these possibilities that I’ve listed, or it could be something else. He may play only 2 more seasons, or he might follow in the footsteps of fellow shortstop Omar Vizquel and play into his 40s. Nevertheless, it’s clear that for the majority of baseball players, you tend to lose ability and playing time as you approach Jeter’s current age. Again, he may be an exception, but we can’t guarantee that right now. It’s this uncertainty that leads me to why I think there’s been such a strong push for Jeter to win the 2009 AL MVP.

They can’t stand to see such a great player end his career without ever winning an MVP.

As I mentioned above, Mauer beats Jeter in many quantifiable statistics from the ’09 season. So the arguments in favor of Jeter have reinforced his leadership, integrity, improved defense (not necessarily the numbers directly, but just that he’s gone from below-average to above-average), career achievements, and consistency. There have been plenty of Hall of Famers that didn’t win Cy Youngs or MVP awards, but it doesn’t seem right for Jeter because so many people view him as the greatest shortstop ever.*

* I think Joe Posnanski pointed this out once. The Hall of Fame does not hold the career hits leader (Pete Rose), probably won’t accept the single season and career home run leader (Barry Bonds), probably won’t accept the former single season home run leader (Mark McGwire), and there’s plenty of other guys that did great things in their careers but won’t get in. Some voters cite the fact that this person didn’t win an MVP or that person didn’t receive a Cy Young, which in my opinion is completely unfair since both of those are dependent on other voters. I don’t think this will hinder Jeter’s candidacy for the Hall, but it certainly is a blemish.

Personally, I’m disgusted by the thought of an MVP representing a lifetime achievement award. The Hall of Fame is a lifetime achievement award, because that’s what it is…a congratulations for how great you were during your professional career. The MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, which is given to the player that was most valuable to his team* for a season, NOT a career, and definitely not for his achievements during his career. Without Mauer, the Twins probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs. Without Jeter, the Yankees would certainly take a hit as well, but I’d see them still winning the AL East.

* Wow, was that hard to figure out. *rolls eyes* If my brother heard that, he would respond with one of his favorite quotes: “Genius strikes again!” “No, really!” “Did you learn that at college?”

I believe another reason is how Yankee fans see that Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox won the MVP last year. No, it’s not the jealousy of seeing a Red Sox player win, but rather the comparable statistics between Pedroia last year and Jeter this year. Both had batting averages above .320, home runs in the teens, significantly less than 100 RBI, good stolen base numbers, etc. However, I didn’t agree with Pedroia winning last year (I preferred Carlos Quentin), and I definitely don’t agree with Jeter winning this year, so I’m not showing any favoritism here.

Will any of this matter? I don’t think so. I think that a combination of Mauer’s great season with many people from websites like FanGraphs and The Hardball Times have shown that Mauer was a much better and valuable player than Jeter this past season. I do feel that Derek Jeter is a great player due to his ability to consistently perform at a high level season to season, and he probably does deserve an MVP at some point, but a great season is more deserving of the award, not a couple handfuls of good seasons.

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One Response to “A Theory on Derek Jeter and the MVP”

  1. Josh Says:

    I will vomit if Jeter wins. Technically, he had a much better argument in 2006 against Justin Morneau.

    Jeter is fantastic, but you are absolutely correct in saying that his lifetime achievement will be the Hall of Fame. I see him playing a little longer so that he breaks 3,000 and sees if he can at least make a run at Cobb and Rose. You never know…

    Another thing that hurts Jeter greatly this year is that Mark Texeira played strongly and is going up against his own teammate, too.

    Mauer will win, but I’m sure Jeter will receive a couple #1 votes.

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