With all the hoopla and fanfare surrounding Derek Jeter's tying of Lou Gehrig's Yankee hit record last week, something may have gotten lost in the shuffle. Jeter — all-time Yankee great that he is — may not even be the best player on his side of the Yankees’ infield.
The Derek Jeter-versus-Alex Rodriguez comparisons go way back, to even before Rodriguez moved to third base in the 2004 season (after the Yankees’ traded for him) so that Jeter, the Yankees’ shortstop and captain, could retain his position. This happened even though Rodriguez was widely regarded as a better shortstop. The comparisons haven't stopped over the course of the past five seasons, and it seems unlikely that they will now.
While Jeter's accomplishments are impressive, Rodriguez's may be more so, at least this season. Despite having arthroscopic surgery and missing a good chunk of the early part of the year, Rodriguez is currently batting .287 with a .928 OPS in 111 games. He also has 25 home runs and 84 RBIs. By comparison, Jeter is hitting .330 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs in 140 games.
Arguments will be made that Jeter should take home the American League MVP, despite a strong season from Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer. But there is a case to be made for Rodriguez as well.
While most players coming back from surgery suffer a depreciable drop in their numbers, Rodriguez is on pace to hit his career averages. And for the most part, he's done it quietly this season.
Despite numerous offseason distractions — allegations of steroid use and the publication of Selena Roberts' book, A-Rod, in addition to the surgery — Rodriguez has managed to perform on the field without being affected by any extracurriculars. His bat also has helped anchor the Yankees’ lineup this season, and his steady fielding has been a boon. All of that will help come the postseason.
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