An old debate was given some new life on a Facebook group I follow; Derek Jeter versus Cal Ripken Jr. I saw some good points, and I saw some that were completely devoid of any logic. It inspired me to come up with this quick reference guide.
First, let’s get to the subjectivity; the accolades.
20 Seasons in MLB
Rookie of the Year, 1996
5x Gold Gloves
5x Silver Slugger
9x Top Ten MVP votes
3x Top Five MVP votes
5x World Series Champion
Cal Ripken, Jr.
21 Seasons in MLB
Rookie of the Year, 1982
2x Gold Gloves
8x Silver Slugger
2x American League MVP
2x Top Five MVP votes
So, lots of All Star games, some Gold Gloves, one with two MVPs, another with five rings.
Jeter had just three seasons with less than 600 plate appearances. Ripken had four.
Numbers time! Lets look at some charts, shall we? All data displayed will be relative to their age as they basically played in different eras.
We’ll start with batting average:
Jeter- .310 career BA
Ripken- .276 career BA
Next, we’ll move to walks per strikeout:
Jeter- 0.59 career B/KK
Ripken- 0.87 career BB/K
Now onto Isolated Slugging:
Jeter- .130 career ISO
Ripken- .172 career ISO
Lastly, we cover weighted on-base average:
Jeter- .360 career wOBA
Ripken- .346 career wOBA
An important factor to consider is Jeter’s .350 career BABIP against Ripkens .277. What that means is Jeter was able to hit into holes or gaps a lot better than Ripken did. So, you could say that Jeter had much more luck than Ripken.
Or did he?
BABIP league average sits near .300, so an average significantly higher or lower is usually attributed to luck. But, in this case, 20 or so years is plenty of time for that number to normalize.
You could argue the era that Ripken played in had much better defense than Jeter’s.
From 1981-2001, the league average fielding percentage was about .980, or roughly .0581 errors per game. Contrary to Jeter’s era (’95-’14) where the FP increased to about .983 with something like .0588 errors per game. Just something to keep in mind.
Staying with the defense discussion, most of the advanced fielding metrics we have today didn’t exist for Ripken, so it might be tough to nail down who played better. However, all you need to do is look at Jeter’s career defensive runs saved at shortstop; -152. I think its fair to assume Ripken would have a better number because, well, that’s not good (zero would be average).
What we can look at is fielding percentage, a stat I’m not partial to because it puts almost nothing into context as far as how well a player fielded; I digress. In any case, Ripken has Jeter beat by three one thousands of a point (.976 to .979). Errors you ask? Jeter (254) committed just one less error than Ripken (255).
Once we get to WAR, I think it will become very apparent who played shortstop better. More on that in a second.
Real quick, lets talk Win Probability Added.
Jeter- 38.5 career WPA
Ripken- 17.5 career WPA
How about WPA based upon situational leverage?
Jeter- 33.4 career WPA/LI
Ripken- 15.4 WPA/LI
Wow. Very significant. The only rebuttal I can come up with here is that Jeter played on much better teams and was put in high leverage situations much more than Ripken.
So you can deduce that Jeter was the better overall hitter. Ripken had more power but Jeter was more effective when he put the ball in play. Defensively, you could give the nod to Ripken.
Now comes the time when we use the most polarizing stat in all of baseball; the big, bad Wins Above Replacement (or WAR). This one isn’t even close.
Jeter- 78.1 career WAR
Ripken- 92.5 career WAR
You want to ‘mic drop’ with that, go ahead.
Again, with the huge difference, coupled with Jeter’s offense, Ripken was the far superior defender (as WAR takes defense into account).
So, we can safely ascertain that Ripken played his position much better than Jeter; I think the ‘eye test’ crowd would agree with that
Jeter was a champion, a great hitter who played mediocre defense, and had the moxie to lead just about any organization in baseball. Ripken was a solid hitter, played tremendous defense, was THE definition of a ‘iron man’ when it came to health, and had the utmost respect and admiration for him.
There’s the help. The choice is yours.