Revisiting Derek Jeter’s MVP case in 1999

Feb 6, 2023 - 7:00 PM
Sports Contributor Archive 2019
Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Derek Jeter is one of the greatest baseball players of ever. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, Number 2 is a legend in Yankee history, and his postseason accolades were such that he is discussed among the immortals of this great sport.

The old adage that you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain, oddly enough, comes in play here. There was such an overload of attention and recognition paid to Jeter that it led to a portion of the sport, whether it’d be former players, or other team’s fans, to come up with the sort of If He Wasn’t a Yankee narrative. To hear some tell it, Jeter was a good player whose weaknesses were overlooked because of the uniform he wore and the city he represented.

Yet, Jeter never won an MVP award. Jeter was never the slugger that his foil Alex Rodriguez was, and despite hitting for a high average throughout his career, Jeter never won a batting title, and a decent part of the mystique surrounding him, came from postseason heroics, rather than flat-out regular season dominance.

But he probably should’ve, at least once. Today, we’ll revisit a particular season in which he, at the very least, deserved much more consideration for the award, with the lack of recognition he received for this season forcing one to ask why the supposed Yankee bias wasn’t enough to get Jeter is only hardware.

Entering his fourth full season in the big leagues, Jeter was phenomenal in 1999, He ended up with only one first-place vote for the AL MVP, in a season defined by a very murky field with many worthy candidates, but no one truly standing out above the pack.

Jeter’s 1999 numbers

.349/.438/.552 - 134 Runs - 102 RBI

Jeter slugged at an outlier level, compared at his entire career, with his second-best mark coming in 2006 (.483). He hit 24 home runs, and ran a stellar 153 OPS+, an outstanding mark for a shortstop. He led American League hitters in WAR (8.0), hits (214), WPA (6.2), and was tied for second in runs scored (134).

He was, by all accounts. the best player on a 98-win team, which would go on to take home the World Series title, losing but a single game throughout the whole postseason.

So, how did come a shortstop with a near 1.000 OPS on the team with the best record in the AL get only one MVP first-place vote, you ask?

Pedro Martinez put up an all-time pitching season, and two stud duos in Texas and Cleveland absolutely raked.

List of players to receive a first-place vote for the MVP award in 1999

Pudge Rodríguez actually won the award despite getting one fewer first-place vote than Pedro, as the Rangers back-stopper tallied more overall points (252 to 239). Some of this can probably be attributed to a portion of the voters being more hesitant to hand out this particular award to a pitcher, regardless of how dominant he was.

Manny Ramirez and Roberto Alomar were both outstanding with 7+ WAR campaigns, but probably canceled each other out a bit, in the voting, and even Pudge almost lost out on the award with his teammate Rafael Palmeiro eating up into some of his votes.

At the end of the day, a solid argument could be made for any of these players. Jeter and Rodriguez were elite players at premium positions, though Pudge fielded his better, with Jeter superior at the plate. Martinez has a great case, having run a 2.07 ERA in high-offense era.

The point to get at is that in 1999, Jeter was, in every meaningful way, a Most Valuable Player, whether he won the award or not. It was his finest offensive season, at the peak of his powers, and probably his best-ever case at taking home an MVP.

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