As a Red Sox fan living in the New York market, I have a lot of contempt for New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter. While the national sports media has made it explicitly clear that they adore the Cap’n, the regularity and ferocity of the ballwashing he often receives from the local media can get downright sickening at times, particularly if you make the mistake of watching Yankee games on YES, as I do.
A collection of timely post-season hits several years back along with the good fortune of playing in New York has caused Jeter to be embedded nearly unanimously on people’s lists of the top players in the Major Leagues.
The problem with that is that Jeter doesn’t put up great power numbers, doesn’t play a particularly great shortstop and doesn’t steal a ton of bases. He does tend to hit for average, however, so he at least has that part of the five tools covered (though he’s only batting .276 at this point in the season, well below his .316 career mark).
I think it’s pretty easy to see the potential for some backlash against Jeter from those who (rightfully, in my opinion) feel he’s wrongly being classified as among the game’s elite rather than what he is, which is a very strong offensive player at a position that was until very recently one where teams were willing to punt offensive production in favor of strong defense.
On the surface, then, it shouldn’t come as much of a shock that the Yankee captain was voted the most overrated player in Major League Baseball by his peers in a recent Sports Illustrated poll.
I say “on the surface” because the guy he beat out, Patrick Duffy’s nephew (not him), has flat out sucked for, conservatively, the past five years. He was so bad this year that the San Francisco Giants, who also flat out suck, opted to put him in the baseball equivalent of timeout earlier in the year, removing him from the team’s starting rotation and banishing him to the bullpen after he lost his first six starts. He did not make an appearance as a reliever in that time, but rather was left to sit there and think about what he’d done.
Did I mention he’s the highest paid pitcher in baseball?
This guy placed second.
Other top vote getters include Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew (okay, I can see this one since a lot of scouts like to compare him to guys like Mickey Mantle — having watched him take batting practice earlier in the week, I have a better understanding of why that seemingly ridiculous comparison was made — but it’s not like he’s really considered a superstar player by the masses), Mets third baseman David Wright, Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis (huh?) and most mystifying of all, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the reigning American League MVP, consensus top player in baseball and a guy who will likely set the all-time home run record.
After the jump, I rush to Derek Jeter’s aid (that’s right) by throwing Jose Reyes and a few other less deserving players under the bus.
Jose Reyes, SS (New York Mets)
This was the first name that sprung to mind when I read about a “most overrated” poll. I’ve watched hundreds of Mets games since Reyes was called up in 2003, and had heard great things about him long before that. And while he’s shown flashes of that greatness from time to time — he was particularly great in 2006 — he still doesn’t strike me as the superstar player he’s marketed as.
Yeah, he’s fast. Yes, he’s got a strong arm. And sure, his plate discipline has improved drastically in the last couple of years. But just from watching him play, particularly over the last two years, he strikes me more as an “athlete” than a “ballplayer.” Which is to say, improvements in discipline notwithstanding, Reyes makes some incredibly poor decisions on the field that negate what he can actually do athletically.
For someone with his speed, Reyes gets caught stealing way too frequently. In his first two seasons combined, he was thrown out just five times in 37 attempts for a success rate of 86 percent. That’s pretty damn good, and demonstrates he’s capable of judiciously stealing bases.
However, since 2005, as the volume of Reyes’ stolen bases increased, so did the number of times he was caught stealing. That trend continued through 2007, as his stolen base percentage progressively dropped from 80 percent in ’05 to 79 percent in ’06 and 78 percent last year. His success rate in 2008 is also 78 percent.
To me, there are two ways to deal with this. One way would be to try to rein him in and get him back to being smarter about stealing bases rather than making haphazard attempts to try to pad his stats. If they were able to do this, Reyes’s value as a leadoff hitter would see a significant increase.
Of course, Reyes is known to mope, so trying to limit his game in any way probably wouldn’t go over too well with him. The alternative, in my mind, would be to give him the green light but move him down to the 8th spot in the order. It may seem like a radical move, but the way I look at it is that the Mets are properly equipped to experiment with such a move. They have a better leadoff option, in my opinion, in Luis Castillo, to replace Reyes, and having Reyes’s speed in front of the pitcher would be huge. There’s been a movement in baseball over the past decade about placing an emphasis on the value of outs, and how sacrifice bunts are wasteful. Granted, pitchers as a whole aren’t particularly great hitters, but with the threat of Reyes running, opposing pitchers would have to be mindful enough to where they may be forced to throw fastballs, which would seem to be the easiest pitch for a novice hitter to make contact with.
Reyes might also thrive in the number eight spot due to his occasional proclivity towards trying to hit the ball out of the park in spite of his slight build.
The bottom line is that Reyes has his strengths, but he also has glaring weaknesses — I didn’t even get into his defense this season — that make him, and not the shortstop across town, the most overrated player in Major League Baseball.
Jeff Francoeur, OF (Atlanta Braves)
I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the love for this guy. From the very point he was called up, he was given unbelievable praise, drawing comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero. Yes, he has a strong throwing arm. Yes, he swings at everything. The difference is that, unlike Vlad, he doesn’t tend to make contact while swinging with everything. He also lacks Guerrero’s speed. And then there’s this:
Francisco Rodriguez, RP (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
Don’t get me wrong, K-Rod is still pretty great. But I think he’s gotten a lot more hittable over the past couple of years, and he’s also looked shaky from time to time in big spots. I’m not saying he’s as bad as this guy, but he’s not quite as much of a slam dunk as Rivera or Papelbon.
Mark Buehrle, SP (Chicago White Sox)
Everyone once in a while he’ll do something like throw a no-hitter and make you think hey, this guy is pretty good. But I advise you not to fall into that trap.
Buehrle, the alleged ace of the White Sox staff, does a fine job of eating 200 innings a year while posting an earned run average around 4.00. However, he’s another pitcher who, of late, has turned into a bit of a tightrope act. Unfortunately, the law of averages suggests that such an arrangement is far more likely to blow up in the face of a guy who throws 200 innings a year than the guy who tosses around 65. In this sense, Buehrle’s greatest strength has also evolved in his biggest weakness. At age 29, further evolution in that direction seems likely for the lefty.
Pretty Much The Entire Detroit Tigers Pitching Staff
If you hear anything positive about this crew, please disregard.
Honorable Mention: Eric Chavez, Paul Byrd, Tom Glavine, Bobby Abreu, Alex Gordon, Gary Matthews Jr., Manny Delcarmen, Chien-Ming Wang, David Eckstein