The shortstops for the New York Yankees and New York Mets are doing something rare this season. There have been few productive, quality shortstops in their late thirties performing at the level of Derek Jeter. And there have been few productive, quality shortstops 22 years old and under that have performed at the level of Ruben Tejada. Both are hitting over .300, and both have on base percentages above .350. That just doesn't happen very often with players at their position and their age.
No one following the Mets is pining for Jose Reyes these days. While Tejada isn't the all-around dynamo that Reyes is, and he doesn't possess his predecessor's speed or power, the present Met shortstop has better instincts for the game and plays with a savvy well beyond his years. His main talent is getting on base, which Reyes has struggled with for much of his career. Tejada's long, tough at-bats are becoming routine for him, and his situational hitting is above par. While Tejada only has one home run this season, without a triple, and a slugging percentage in the .300s, he's more in the mold of the vintage 1950s shortstops who led off and got on base consistently, such as Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese and Johnny Pesky, than the good-field, no-hit shortstops of the '60s and '70s, like Mark Belanger, Gene Michael and Roger Metzger. After a promising year last season,Tejada's veteran-like plate discipline and solid to spectacular fielding this year are signs he's just going to get better, with 2011 looking less and less like a fluke.
Jeter's 2011 first-half decline now seems like a slight bump in the road. He got off to a fast start this year, stumbled a bit, but now has settled into an above .300/.350 OBP groove. Looking at other all-time greats at his position and age, Honus Wagner was still producing at age 38 (.324/.395/.496) and Luke Appling was even fantastic when he was 42 (.301/.439/.394), but those were exceptions. Most were like Hall of Famers Lou Boudreau and Arky Vaughan -- retired -- or moved to another position, such as Cal Ripken and Robin Yount, when they were as old as Jeter (and in comparing some of these greats to Tejada -- not that he'll become an all-time great -- Appling and Wagner were 23 in their rookie seasons, and the summer Ripken turned 22, he had a .317 OBP). Jeter still plays every game as if he were a rookie trying to impress, playing the game the right way and hustling on every play. Nothing ever changes for him. (Unfortunately, his way of playing doesn't always rub off on his teammates, as we've seen with Robinson Cano's moseying-down-to-first, casual, nonchalent style of play and Alex Rodriguez's habit of standing at home plate and admiring every fly ball he hits, whether it be caught, bounce off the wall or go over the wall.) If Tejada comes from the 1950s, Jeter is more like the Robin Younts and Honus Wagners, who possess an all-around game, including power, speed and fielding.
Jeter and Tejada are two different types of players, but they're both thriving, at different points in their careers, when others who came before them couldn't.