Not another post on the Yanks lineup!

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RAB Bracket Busters Update

The discussion of optimized Yanks batting order was a good one last week, even though an optimal batting order vs. the worst possible batting order only nets a team maybe one win over the course of a year. Still, this isn’t about being right; it’s about looking at an aspect of the game and talking about it, seeing where conventional wisdom goes astray and where it makes sense. Today, though, we’re talking about an aspect of lineup creation that could have a greater impact on run creation.

Last week, John Walsh of The Hardball Times wrote an article on the double play and its detriment to a rally. After recalling Bill James’s argument that Darren Daulton was particularly adept at avoiding the DP, Walsh makes an important notation: we should be looking for GIDPs vs. GIDP situation. That is, just because a player has a good GIDP to at bats ratio, as did Daulton, doesn’t mean he’s particularly adept. The reason is that some players simply come up more often in DP situations.

Derek Jeter grounded into 24 double plays last year, fourth most in the AL. This comes at a high cost to the team because he hits second. The leadoff hitter, Johnny Damon, posted a sparkling .375 OBP, but a few of those on base instances were wasted because of Jeter’s propensity to hit into the twin killing. Of course, Jeter could turn it around this year, but he’s in his age 35 season and has shown a higher GIDP per at bat ratio than he did earlier in his career. Unfortunately I’m not able to find his number of GIDP situations, but considering his spot in the batting order I’m fairly certain it hasn’t changed much over the years (but could easily be wrong).

Many have suggested this off-season that the Yanks flip Jeter and Damon in the order. The logic goes that Jeter’s grounders won’t cause two outs and kill a baserunner. But what about Damon? Yes, his GIDP rate is low, but is that a function of his being a leadoff man? One might think so at first, but a look at Walsh’s article shows that this is not the case. In fact, Johnny has one of the best all-time GIDP per situation ratios. In his career he’s faced 1,373 opportunities to hit into a DP, but has done so only 75 times for a rate of 0.055. That’s good for the fourth best rate on Walsh’s chart, behind all-time leader Joe Morgan, Mickey Rivers, and Darryl Strawberry. This has led to 79 double plays avoided, sixth all time.

As I mentioned in the open thread, there’s a bit Bill James has noted about Jeter that factors in here. His batting average on groundballs has steadily increased since 2002, up to .291 in 2008. Yes, that’s a career high BA on groundballs despite a career high in GIDP. Could Jeter hitting in the leadoff spot, where guys won’t be squeezing the middle, possibly raise his groundball BA by affording him more hits up the middle? Perhaps. Given the available data I don’t think you can draw a definitive conclusion. It’s something to consider with this argument though. (Plus, his rising BA on groundballs might be a product of hitting around fielders who are squeezing for the DP…who knows?)

Given Jeter’s increased GIDP rate over the past two years and Damon’s ability to avoid the twin killing, would it then make sense to flip them in the order? Given the available evidence, I’d say yes. Not that it would ever happen — and, just to make a point clear from the last discussion, this isn’t written with the intent of mailing it to Cashman and Girardi. It’s just an exercise in baseball knowledge. If you guy who hits into a lot of double plays and a guy who is historically among the best at avoiding them, wouldn’t you want the latter hitting in back of the former, rather than the other way around?

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RAB Bracket Busters Update
  • andrew

    Jeez, you weren’t kidding when you said you had a ton of content to post.

    Interesting concept, and I think the issue you bring up is the issue many of us hold with the counting stats. Stats like RBI’s, and in this case GIDP, are largely based on things out of the player’s control. Walsh’s article addresses that issue and is an interesting read, but with Johnny’s speed declining (I know his steals have stayed fairly constant, but there’s reason to believe given his age that he’ll start to slow down a little), maybe his incredible ability to avoid GIDPs will become slightly more pedestrian. Even if Damon does slow down a bit, it appears likely that he’ll remain far ahead of Jeter in his ability to avoid GIDPs. However, regardless of the issue of who has a higher GIDP, it would appear Jeter’s higher OBP, and Damon’s superior power numbers would make for an ideal switch for the two of them. As you said, we’ve come to the consensus that this switch will not occur, but the GIDP is another interesting bit of information and one more angle to add to the debate.

  • Rich

    Any manager who can’t see the multiple advantages of starting Swisher over Nady probably isn’t going to be thoughtful enough to flip Damon and Jeter, even though it makes sense to do it.

    • steve (different one)

      give me a break.

      one guy hit .305/.357/.510 last year and the other guy hit .219/.332/.410

      reading this, you’d think those numbers were reversed.

      we all know the arguments for why Swisher is a better player than that, but using Girardi’s initial preference for Nady as some sort of sweeping comdemnation of his decision making abilities is absurd.

      seriously, doesn’t Nady at least GET THE CHANCE to show that last year was a fluke?

      no, starting the .305/.357/.510 guy over the .219/.332/.410 guy is now considered stupid.

      take a step back. i love what Swisher brings to the table. but if we are being objective, i just don’t see how it’s this incredible injustice that Nady had an advantage going in based on their respective 2008 seasons.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        Steve – I’m totally with you on this one. Swisher my be the better player, but it’s completely unfair to kill someone (Girardi) for going with Nady to start the season, whether you agree with the decision or not.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          As one of Swisher’s biggest advocates on the board, I’m agreeing with you, Mondesi and Steve.

          I personally would give the job to Swisher, based on his better career track record and better spring. But I can see the logic in the other argument for Nady (better ’08, may be headed for a breakout season, value in showcasing him early for a trade/boosting his Type A status, etc.)

          I think picking Swisher over Nady is the smart play. That doesn’t mean, however, that starting Nady over Swisher is a “dumb” play, far from it. Both options have value and make sense. We’re splitting hairs.

          • steve (different one)

            i think we are all in agreement on the bigger picture.

            and i didn’t mean to pick on Rich, b/c i am reading this everywhere (NoMaas, etc), but knocking Girardi because he is initially going with the guy who MASSIVELY OUTPERFORMED the other guy in 2008 is kindof crazy.

            again, we all understand the underlying drivers of the numbers. but 2008 is in the books. it happened. we can’t change it.

            and one guy had 36 points of OPS+ on the other and 50 points of wOBA.

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              Yup. Like I said, I think Girardi should start Swisher over Nady, based on a multitude of factors. But it’s not like he’s choosing Melky Cabrera over Bernie Williams in his prime. It’s a virtual toss-up.

              The fact that Girardi looked at the options and picked a different one than the one I prefered doesn’t mean I’m going to start staking out his house, AIG-bonus-rage style.

              • Rich

                There is no good baseball reason to make the move.

                • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  Yes there is.

                  I’ll agree with you that the preponderance of logic is on Swisher’s side, but it’s far from a slam dunk. Far from one.

      • Rich

        Why are you myopically focused on one year?

        Cashman said the Yankees want to go back to being grinders:


        ISO D:

        Swisher: .108
        Nady: .055

        and better defensively:

        UZR and UZR/150 in RF:

        Swisher: 10.1/9.4
        Nady: -3.8/-1.4

        Girardi made a really, really dumb move.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          Cashman said the Yankees want to go back to being grinders:

          Whenever he said that, it was either A) stupid or B) in jest or C) blown out of proportion.

          Being a “grinder” doesn’t mean anything. Yes, Swisher is good at getting superior AB’s by having a higher pitches per plate appearance. Yes, he plays superior defense. Yes, there’s compelling reasons why he should start.

          But no, it’s not a “really, really dumb move”.

          We’re talking about two players who are fairly close in career production levels. Close enough that there are reasonable, rational cases to be made for either of them. I happen to agree with your choice, but you’re utterly disrespecting the validity of the other case and it’s hyperbolic and inaccurate. Xavier Nady is a good player. Again, we’re not talking about Melky v. Bernie here, we’re talking about two good players with good value, either of which can be a capable right fielder for us for 2009.

          Calm down.

  • dan

    I’m sure someone reading this site has some kind of connection to someone in the Yankees front office. If USSM can change Felix’s pitching habits, why can’t RAB help set the lineup?

    • andrew

      Wow, I just looked up that USSM article, pretty wild stuff. I’d love to hear Girardi in a press conference saying he got an idea from RAB, but the main difference here is that “even though an optimal batting order vs. the worst possible batting order only nets a team maybe one win over the course of a year. ” Felix’s issues were (from what I read) documented by the Seattle pitching coach, Chavez, and he was just looking for something to prove to Felix just how obvious he was being. Something along the lines of, “look kid, even these fans are onto you, maybe there’s a reason you get roughed up in the first inning every time out.” However, with the lineup decision, the difference from switching the order would be negligible and if Damon feels more comfortable leading off and Jeter feels more comfortable in the 2 hole, then let them stay there. Still an interesting topic though, and I loved reading the USSM article.

  • jim p

    If you got Gardner ninth, and he’s getting on regularly… another reason to bat Jeter behind him? Brett will sure distract the pitcher and open up some space on the diamond.

    Jeter’s baserunning has been going a little down lately. He’s actually made mistakes on the bases the last 2 or 3 years! Being leadoff alone might help refresh his instincts.

    • andrew

      “Being leadoff alone might help refresh his instincts.”

      There are plenty of reasons why Jeter should bat lead off instead of Damon, even your Gardner idea holds some weight. But Jeter refreshing his base running instincts is probably unlikely.

      • jim p

        Truthfully, he’s been seeming a little more inattentive to my eye the last 2 or 3 years. Could sharpen him up a bit. But I agree, I’d weigh that a , .5, .7 on a scale of 0.0 to 10.

  • Moshe Mandel

    Yeah, Im one of the many who have suggested this flip on various occasions. Being that Jeter is a decent bet to OBP at least as well as Damon, Damon is likely to slug bit better, Damon hits much fewer GB’s, and Damon has a better contact rate, it just makes sense. Also, Gardner batting ahead of Jeter every subsequent time through might help open up holes in the infield as they keep trying to cover second on SB attempts.

    • whozat

      But haven’t you heard? Damon is a “sparkplug” and “when he’s right, he’s the engine that makes the Yankee offense go!”

      That couldn’t be because he is a baseball player with a good OBP who tends to have plate appearances in front of other good hitters with fewer than two outs in an inning, could he? Nah. It’s because he’s a Proven Leadoff Man. How could you want to waste his Proven Leadoff Abilities by batting him second in a lineup?!?!?!

      • Moshe Mandel

        How could I have forgotten. And Jeter is the perfect #2 hitter!! Why else would he have hit second in the WBC?

  • Ari

    This has nothing to do with the article, but I just finished watching the finale of the WBC and Yu Darvish is sick. He was throwing 95 heat with movement, a Joba-esque slider, and a pretty good change, and I read that he’s got a curve and a split as well. And he’s 22. If there is any way to get this guy through posting, the Yanks should look at him (don’t mean to be the Yanks fan who thinks the team can get whoever they want, but this kid is sickly good!).

    • Spaceman.Spiff

      But with CC, AJ Burnett, CMW, Joba, Phil Hughes looking to be with the Yankees for the reasonable future, do we really need to pay an exorbitant posting fee for a pitcher who looked like Joba with less command? I really like him but the way we’re set up for the near future it doesn’t look like we’ll really pursue him that hard if he decides to test the U.S.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Two words:

        Eighth Inning.

  • Tony

    Incredible that someone can win 4 championships, (should be) 2 MVPs, and win a Silver Slugger in the worst season of his career, and take this much heat from a fanbase. There are PLENTY of other things to be worrying about, yet every day on RAB is a referendum on Jeter. Should Jeter move to center? Should Jeter bat first? Should Jeter be re-signed after 2010? Is Jeter getting enough work at the WBC? Should Jeter be starting at SS over Rollins? Is Jeter doing enough to defend ARod? Should we believe that Jeter really wanted to defend ARod? Are Jeter’s honey-landing skills declining?

    Fact 1: He’s still one of the best shortstops in the game
    Fact 2: That will continue to be true up to and beyond the expiration of this contract.
    Fact 3: Being Derek Jeter means you don’t get messed with re: “Hey, move to center so Ramiro Pena can come up and hit .230,” and “Hey, how about you re-sign for well under market value since some people think you’ve been overpaid since 2001 even though that probably isn’t true.”

    It’s like at some point a good part of the fanbase decided to start believing the BS people have slandered him with from day 1. He’s overrated, conceited, can’t field, doesn’t hit to some imaginary standard that is Hall of Fame caliber yet below what he’s “should be,” etc. The Silver Slugger Award is garbage, but he won it LAST YEAR. Give it a break.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Fact 2 is not a fact at all, but clearly an opinion.

      some people think you’ve been overpaid since 2001 even though that probably isn’t true

      Well, some people have done objective analysis to arrive at that conclusion:

      N.B. Just because he has been slightly overpaid for the past 7 years doesn’t mean he wasn’t worth it to the Yankees.

    • Joe R

      But he cant field as well as other shortstops. His UZR has been negative since 2003. I dont think anyones ever questioned his ability to hit, cause he’s always hit well. Just stating the fact that he hits into alot of DPs.

    • Joseph P.

      There’s always one of these in every Jeter thread. Apparently if you don’t lavish praise on Jeter you’re ripping him. I never understood this. How can you turn an article based on 100 percent fact (Jeter hits into double plays at a high rate, Johnny Damon is historically awesome at avoiding them) into ripping Jeter?

      • JobaWockeeZ

        Because obviously the article is a shot at Jeter.

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        I thought it was obvious to everyone hear that the top of RAB’s agenda is to tear down Jeter every chance you can?!?!?!

        In all seriousness, just because Jeter has been a very good player for a very long time doesn’t mean he should be immune from objective analysis. Lots of Yankee (and any other team for that matter) fans struggle to give up the hero worship that they had when they were younger.

      • steve (different one)

        seriously, this one isn’t even about defense.

        at least with defense, you *can* argue the validity of the metrics.

        this is GIDP. it’s the same a HR or a strikeout. it happened.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        It’s like the Jeter-lovers took the Bush White House playbook.

        If you say anything remotely non-flattering about Jeter, you’re a terrorist enabler.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Incredible that someone can win 4 championships, (should be) 2 MVPs, and win a Silver Slugger in the worst season of his career, and take this much heat from a fanbase.

      Out of curiosity, did you think we should have just handed a fat contract extension to Bernie Williams and given him the CF job for as long as he wanted it, because he won us 4 rings?

      Does every member of the 4 Rings Club get to name their own price and write their own name in the lineup card into perpetuity based on the fact they won championships for us a decade ago?

      • Mattingly’s Love Child

        Bernie Williams…most feared hitter since Jim Rice

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

          No argument there.

    • YankeeScribe

      “Fact 1: He’s still one of the best shortstops in the game”

      False. In the past two years, Jeter has fallen from the top-tier of shortstops(Rollins, Reyes, Ramirez, etc) to the second tier of mediocre ones. It’s sad to admit this but at age 34, he’s only going to get worse…

      “Fact 3: Being Derek Jeter means you don’t get messed with”

      The fact that the Yanks don’t have any other options on the farm or in the free agent market means, Jeter won’t “get messed with” for the time being. Inevitably, calls for him to change his position will grow as he gets closer to the end of his contract.

      • Tony

        I don’t even know where to begin on these comments.

        1. Bernie Williams was nowhere near the player Jeter is right now when he left.

        2. It would be pretty funny if I just wrote “Being Derek Jeter means you don’t get messed with,” so it’s a good thing the actual statement was written in the context of a sentence. What is this, Fox News?

        3. Jeter fell from the “top-tier” of shortstops that ends at #4, apparently. I’ll go back to this one:

        “…doesn’t hit to some imaginary standard that is Hall of Fame caliber yet below what he’s ‘should be,'”

        When the objective measures say he was still 5th at his position in all of MLB, you can cut the crap. It’s obviously not just about the objective measures because the objective measures say you have little to be complaining about. Players are generally viewed in comparison to (1) others at their position and (2) their potential replacements. That isn’t happening right now with Jeter.

  • Rob in CT

    I’ve been saying this for 2 years, at least. It’s nice to add the Hardball Times’ findings to the argument. Jeter hits a lot of hard grounders, is a righty, has a very good OBP but not much power. Damon is a lefty hitter and is more of a fly ball guy, with more power than Jeter and a lesser OBP. I mean… duh?

    The question was always “is the advantage so gained worth the disruption?” I think so, but one can argue that point. I don’t know if Jeter and/or Damon would complain. For all I know, they’d be perfectly fine with it, and after telling Francessa to shut his pie hole, everything would be fine.

  • Nichter

    I love the idea of leading Jeter leading off and batting Damon 2nd. A few years ago when Jeter was our leadoff man he actually had a better OBP than Damon. And thats saying alot becasue like you said Damon’s OBP is nothing to laugh at. All I’m saying is that I am getting really sick of seeing Jeter ground out to SS. And batting in the 2 hole that is unexceptable.

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