Someone suggested to me the other day (January 6th. The day that I had dinner over at my friends Jason and Laurie's house) that Derek Jeter was a better player than Honus Wagner.
This just isn't true.
We can look at Fangraph's WAR graphs
and see that although they started off similarly between ages 21 to 25, Wagner put a lot of difference between himself and Jeter between ages 26 and 36. Jeter is still playing, of course, but his recent performances don't look like they will be enough to surpass (or get near) Wagner.
Another way of looking at this is WAR by age
Again. Jeter and Wagner were close in the early going but Wagner pulls away rather steadily.
One more WAR graph. This one shows WAR by highest season.
The distance between Wagner and Jeter is...rather large. Jeter's best season (almost 8 WAR) is roughly Wagner's average season.
Now. Not everyone likes (or understands) WAR. Let's look at some other things...
Closer...but still Wagner
These graphs and rough comparisons are actually skewed towards Jeter.
Wagner played in the deadball era when offense was much harder to come by.
For example, Jeter and Wagner have nearly identical On Base Percentages. But Wagner lead the league 4 times in OBP. Jeter never has.
Wagner 6 times lead the league in Slugging Percentage. Jeter never has.
Wagner won 8 batting titles. Jeter has never won a batting title.
Derek Jeter's career OPS+ (which measures On Base Percentage + Slugging Percentage divided by the league average) is 119. Meaning that Jeter has been 19% better than the average hitter over his career. Wagner's career OPS+ was 150. Wagner was 50% better than than the average player.
The game WAS a lot different in Wagner's day. A replacement level player in Wagner's time was surely less of a player than in Jeter's. The average player in Wagner's time was also worse than in Jeter's. But there is no other logical way to compare players across eras than to compare them to the players that they played against.
Jeter is a no-doubt Hall of Famer, but Wagner dominated his peers to a much greater degree than Jeter did.
And his baseball card is worth a lot more.