Is Derek Jeter really that much better than Craig Biggio?


Derek Jeter with former Houston Astro Craig Biggio (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

There’s something I need to get off my chest before the Houston Astros take on the New York Yankees this week in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. It’s actually a question I want you to consider as you watch Derek Jeter take on the Astros for the final time in his career.

Is Jeter really that much better than Craig Biggio?

Ever since the former Astros great missed the Hall of Fame by two votes in January, I have been asking myself that question. I can admit I have a biased towards Biggio and the Astros, but I felt it was criminal to have left one of the best second baseman and leadoff hitters of all-time out of the Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, the MLB has done nothing but praise Derek Jeter throughout this entire season (his 20th and final year.) The 40-year-old shortstop has received gifts from teams, been in numerous commercials, headlined All-Star Weekend, and been on every sports highlight show since spring training. It’s obvious he will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, but, if that’s true, why wasn’t Biggio?

Don’t get me wrong: I think Jeter is a great player and easily one of the best shortstops of all-time. He is a 14-time All-Star, five-time World Series champ, the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996, and leads the Yankees all-time in hits, games played, stolen bases, and at-bats. Jeter is also a five-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award and has taken home five Gold Gloves. His ability to perform well in the playoffs (.308 career average in the postseason) earned him the nickname “Captain Clutch” or “Mr. Novemeber” and he just passed Honus Wagner for sixth place on the all-time hits list. Obviously, I know he is damn good at baseball.

However, let’s just look at the career numbers of Jeter and Biggio side-to-side. According to Baseball Reference’s Similarity Score, there is no player in MLB history that compares to Jeter more than Biggio:

Although they are similar statistically, Jeter has the intangibles and leadership qualities that give him the edge. He has put up some huge numbers and will always be one of the most decorated and beloved baseball players of all-time. However, Jeter has definitely reaped the benefits of playing in New York. The Yankees have always had players like Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and more in their lineup protecting Jeter. 

Biggio, meanwhile, was a seven-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner, and five-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award while playing his entire 20-year career in Houston. He ranks 21st all-time in hits and is the ninth player in the 3,000 hit club to get all his hits with the same team. Additionally, Biggio holds the record for most times hit by a pitch (285), most doubles by a right-handed hitter, and leads the Astros in games played, at-bats, runs scored, hits, doubles and extra-base hits. 

Biggio is one of two players in MLB history to have 50 stolen bases and 50 doubles in the same year (the other being Hall of Famer Tris Speaker in 1912). In 1997, Biggio became the first player in baseball history to avoid hitting into a double play while playing an entire 162 game season. He is also third in MLB history for leadoff home runs (53) and led the MLB in runs twice in 1995 and 1997 (something Jeter could only do once in 1998). Additionally, Biggio led the majors in doubles twice (1998, 1999), while Jeter very rarely led the league in any major statistical category (hits twice, runs once) and never accumulated more than 100 walks in a season.

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Biggio’s biggest problem? He holds the record for most regular season games played before his first World Series appearance with 2,564. That stat alone shows Jeter has clearly had the better career. However, winning in baseball is very rarely about individual players. You can have all-time greats, but still struggle to even make the playoffs (See: Mike Trout with the Angels the last couple years.) Jeter won those World Series rings on a Yankees team that had a giant payroll and loaded lineup.

Right now, there are only four members of the 3,000 hit club who are not in the Hall of Fame: Pete Rose (who is currently banned for life for gambling), Rafael Palmeiro (who tested positive for anabolic steroids late in his career), Derek Jeter (still active player), and Craig Biggio (because…?).

In the end, I get it. The winning, the dating of models/actresses, and the commercials. There is a lot to like about Derek Jeter off the field that deserves much more praise than Craig Biggio. But, if you just compare stats and individual accomplishments on the field, is Jeter really that much better than Biggio?