As was widely reported last night, Derek Jeter has tied Lou Gehrig with the most 200-hit seasons by a Yankee. Each fellow now has 8 such seasons.

I got in a little Twitter debate last night about which guy has been more impressive in those 8 years.

(Jeter lovers, please read the very last sentence at the bottom before you leave a nasty comment.)

I started off thinking that by virtue of playing entirely in the 162-game era, Jeter has had a distinct advantage. Indeed, 4 of his 7 previous seasons with 200 hits had no more than 206 hits, meaning that without the benefit of the extra 8 games, he probably wouldn’t have had 200 hits.

It’s also true that Gehrig faced overall easier competition than Jeter.

And a quick check on run-scoring shows that both guys played in similar eras, with teams averaging a little less than 5 runs per game.

So, how should we evaluate this? I try a little bit below, but one thing that occurs to me is that 200 hits is, of course, an arbitrary number. If there were a player who had 199 hits for 12 straight years, that guy would likely be a Hall of Famer despite never having a 200-hit season.

Anyway, let’s start with this:

If we sum the data from just each guy’s 8 seasons with 200 hits, Gehrig holds an edge in total hits, 1682 to 1657. Furthermore, Gehrig did it in fewer at-bats–4669 compared to Jeter’s 5017. That results in a 30-point difference in batting average–Gehrig hit .360 over those 8 seasons while Jeter hit .330. (All of these numbers are through 2012 to date.)

But as mentioned above, Gehrig faced easier competition. So let’s look at OPS+. I calculated a PA-weighted average for each guy’s OPS+ during those 8 years and Gehrig holds a huge edge of 195 to Jeter’s 129.

That’s a pretty huge difference–I mean a 129 OPS+ is nothing to sneeze at. Again, if a guy does that over a 12-year career, he’s a Hall of Famer just like Jeter will be. But 195 is so much higher and so much more impressive (This does, of course, reward Gehrig for his significant power advantage over Jeter which, while real, is not central to the point of this post.)

Thus, I tend to conclude that Gehrig’s performance in these 8 seasons is more impressive. He had more hits in fewer plate appearances and although he faced easier competition, he demolished it compared to Jeter’s merely “excellent” performance.

Don’t get me wrong…I am not trying to say Jeter’s not excellent! Both guys are all-time great players.

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