Pete Rose vs. Derek Jeter
A comment from brilliant reader DJ:
"Rose vs. Jeter per 162 games:
Jeter: 207 hits, 120 runs, 17 HR, 82 RBI, .316 BA .386 OBP .458 SLG
Rose: 194 hits, 98 runs, 7 HR, 60 RBI, .303 BA .375 OBP .409 SLG
Jeter wins hands down. It's not even close."
Now, let's me say as kindly as possible that even though the above comment is technically accurate there are about 200 things wrong with it. But before I get to those I want to say that DJ's main point is exactly right: It's fun to match up Pete Rose and Derek Jeter. They are such comparable players. Both hit for high averages. Both would give you 200 hits a year. Both got on base. Both played for great teams. Both willed those teams. Both were hugely popular. Both made stunning postseason plays. Both had detractors who thought they were overrated. Both did TV commercials. And so on.
And, honestly, I'm not sure which one was better. I think this makes for a classic argument, right there with Mantle vs. Mays, Clemente vs. Kaline, Maddux vs. Clemens, Kuiper vs. Kid Gleason, Cruise vs. Costner, Twix vs. Kit Kat, Cocoa Krisipies vs. Cocoa Pebbles and so on.
So, let's match 'em up. But first, yeah, we need to point out why this is much more complicated than DJ's statistical breakdown makes it seem. We'll reduce those 200 things down to two main points:
If you want to match up Rose vs. Jeter per 162 games, you need to do it fairly. Jeter is 34 years old and seems to be beginning his decline (though he has been his old self the last 75 games or so). Rose' s breakdown numbers, meanwhile, include his final 11 years, long after his prime. So, if you want to compare them per 162, the numbers are badly, badly skewed. Let's now look at DJ's same numbers through the age of 34.
OK, so that's much closer. And Rose had one more terrific year when he was 35 -- we'll see if next year Jeter will match the .323/.404/.450 season that Rose had in '76.
Still, even with all this, Jeter still does have a slight statistical advantage. But that brings us to Point 2 (you already know what's coming, of course).
Rose played in a much, much, much harder hitting environment. A run was much more valuable in the National League in the 1960s and 1970s when Rose was playing than it was in the 1990s and 2000s American League of Derek Jeter. We all know there are statistics that take this into account. Take a look at the Runs Created Above Average through age 34:
Take a look at the OPS+ through age 34.
Take a look at the Top 10 seasons of Win Shares (this incorporates defense, by the way):
Rose: 37, 34, 32, 32, 31, 30, 29, 28, 27, 27.
Jeter: 35, 32, 28, 27, 26, 26, 24, 24, 23, 19.
Take a look at the top five Equivalent Averages of each player by age 34:
Rose: .328 (1969), .324 (1968), .312 (1973), .311 (1972) and .306 (1975*)
Jeter: .332 (1999), .319 (2006), .310 (2000), .309 (1998) and .305 (2005)
Or you can look at the Baseball Reference neutralized statistics for the two men through age 34:
We can keep going like this ... Rose's numbers when seen through the wider lens very clearly measure up to Jeter's and, in many instances, are a little bit better. Now, I don't think that necessarily makes Rose better than Jeter. I think this is worthy of a long post -- and by coincidence one follows. But my point is that I think this is not something you can just write off with a blanket statistical statement and no further explanation.
*Did I mention I'm writing a book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds?