Has the Damon – Jeter switch worked so far?


We aren’t quite through a quarter of the 2009 season, so any serious analysis of the results so far will fall victim to many statistical pitfalls. There’s just not enough data on each player to draw meaningful conclusions at this point. Still, we can always look at statistics as results, rather than leaning on them for predictive value. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the pre-season decision to flip Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter in the batting order. This was a move we advocated just days before Girardi announced it. How has it worked out through the first 39 games?

Many baseball minds wanted to see Jeter in the leadoff spot heading into this year. A few wanted to see it before this season. Derek Jeter profiles as one heckuva leadoff guy: good average, high on base, low slugging. The main reason I brought up the switch back in March was because of an article which extolled Johnny Damon’s amazing ability to avoid the twin killing. As we saw last year, Derek was prone to it. He hit into 24 double plays, a career high, in 668 plate appearances, his career low other than his injury-shortened 2003 and his rookie campaign in 1996. This averages out to a double play roughly every 28 plate appearances.

Contrast this with Damon, who hit into just six double plays in 2008. Of course, he had the advantage of hitting first, so the opportunity didn’t present itself as often as for Jeter, the second hitter. Still, Damon averaged a double play every 104 plate appearances. That’s rather impressive. It’s even more impressive if you use baseball-reference’s GDP stat, which only charges Damon with 5 GDP. The 6 figure comes from FanGraphs.

Part of the reason Jeter grounds into so many double plays is that he has become more apt in recent years to put the ball on the ground. He’s seen a decreased line drive rate over the past few years, but rather than increasing his fly ball total he’s mainly put those once-line-drives on the ground. Last season 58.3 percent of his balls in play were on the ground. He’s done that even more frequently in 2009, at 61.2 percent. While we can’t say for certain, it would seem that Jeter would be even more prone to the double play this year, as he’s putting the ball on the ground more.

Since Jeter hits leadoff, he faces fewer situations where he can ground into a twin killing. His first at bat is a freebie, and after that he needs the bottom of the order to get on base, and not record two outs before doing so, to have a chance at a DP. If I had the data at hand I’d check Jeter’s specific numbers in double play situations. Unfortunately, all we have at hand are the aggregate numbers. Jeter has hit into just three double plays so far in 176 plate appearances, or once every 58 2/3 plate appearances. So far, he’s at an improvement over last season. This is better than even his last season hitting leadoff, 2005, when he grounded into a double play every 43.6 at plate appearances.

What about Damon? He’s been a leadoff hitter his entire career, so has been in a position to avoid double plays. However, as the aforementioned study notes, Damon has been stellar in double play situations, not just aggregate double play numbers. Again, since we don’t have those, we’ll go with what we do have. In 169 plate appearances this season, Johnny Damon has grounded into one double play. Just one. This is quite remarkable, even for Damon. It also means that the Yankees one-two hitters have grounded into four double plays in a combined 345 plate appearances, or one every 86 1/4 PA. Last season they grounded into one every 43 PA.

Again, because we’re not yet a quarter through the season these figures might not have predictive value. So far, though, we can say that the experiment has worked, at least as far as the double play concern goes. It would likewise be foolish to attribute Damon’s hot start to his move in the batting order, but there’s no denying his impact on the team this year. Jeter is seeing positive effects too, as pitchers are throwing him four pitches per plate appearance this year, as opposed to 3.76 last year. In other words, both Damon and Jeter have adapted well to their roles, at least in the early goings.

The idea to check in on the lineup switch issue came from Craig Calcaterra, a/k/a Shyster (though it was from a post on NBC), on the uselessness of lineup switches. He cites the same articles used in our lineup discussions over the off-season — one from Driveline Mechanics and one from Beyond the Boxscore. The main argument they make is that an optimal lineup, by the numbers, only yields about one run over the course of a season. Yet as we see with the Damon/Jeter switch, it can mean so much more than that. How many twin killings have the Yankees avoided by making the move? We can’t say for sure, but given the data we have at this point, it would seem that they’ve avoided a number of them. And that can make a huge difference in how a season plays out.

Categories : Analysis


  1. Fun Derek Jeter fact, courtesy of my buddies Tommy and Dave. Jeter’s off to what I would call a slow start this year. He’s hitting .276 through 156 ABs. So after running the numbers, it ends up that there is a 16.6 percent chance that a career .315 hitter would have a .276 average through 156 ABs. Bit of a slow start for DJ.

  2. Mike Axisa says:

    I wonder how much Damon’s hot start has to do with Tex batting behind him. I know that generally lineup protection doesn’t exist, but in the case of elite hitters I certainly think it does.

    • Bo says:

      Lineup protection doesn’t exist? Ask Tex how having A-Rod behind him matters.

      And anyone want to ask Big Papi what life is like with and without Manny??

      • jsbrendog says:

        but jason bay has become just as feared a hitter in boston and has become an mvp type player.

        for diamond cutters im peter gammons

      • Moshe Mandel says:

        Correlation =/= causation. Pretty much every statistical study on the issue has concluded that lineup protection is not a significant factor.

      • Good Mo, Sal/Bo/Grant, READ THINGS BEFORE YOU REPLY.

        Let’s restate. Emphasis is mine.

        Mike Axisa says:
        … I know that generally
        lineup protection doesn’t exist, but in the case of elite hitters I certainly think it does.

        Bo says:
        Lineup protection doesn’t exist? Ask Tex how having A-Rod behind him matters.
        And anyone want to ask Big Papi what life is like with and without Manny??

        WTF was that? Let’s try again. Condensed version.

        Mike: Lineup protection usually doesn’t exist, but for good hitters, lineup protection exists.


        As always, SalBoGrant, you are an epic FAIL.


        • Moshe Mandel says:

          I’m not so certain it exists. Most of these studies are done using the best hitters- they look at middle of the order guys, the best 60-70 hitters in the sport, and they find that at best, there is a very slight and weak benefit. JC Bradbury has actually found that there is no effect at all, in that the increased walks are balanced by increased strikeouts.

      • tim randle says:

        And anyone want to ask Big Papi what life is like with and without Manny teh juice??


    • LiveFromNewYork says:

      I smell a Christmas spirit/Santa Claus post coming on.

  3. Moshe Mandel says:

    I was pushing for this for a long time, and I think that it has worked, for the most part. Damon is clearly a better fit at 2 at this point.

    • Frank says:

      Agree with you. Damon seems very comfortable batting second and right now, he’s on fire. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

  4. lardin says:

    I look at it like this:

    Damon and Jeter are more or less the same player but from opposite sides of the plate. Damon has a little more power and a better eye. Both players play well in a big spot and both have contributed to Championship teams. Damon and Jeter can both Steal bases, and they both run the bases well. Damon and Jeter are both “intangible” players. Both players are criticized for defense(Damon for his arm, Jeter for his range). They are both strong club house guys. Jeter leads by example. Damon is the Court Jester.

  5. Brett says:

    I think it was two days ago the clowns on TV were talking about how the switch hasn’t really helped and they should switch back as Damon is used to being a leadoff hitter.

  6. Rob in CT says:

    I’d say this switch is working nicely. I’d been suggesting it on blogs since Damon signed with the Yanks, so I may be prone to confirmation bias here, but it sure seems to be working. It won’t have a huge impact, but it could mean a run or two in some close games. The Yankees have won a lot of close games lately.

  7. Jake H says:

    I think the switch also works becuase Damon can pull he ball into the hole if Jeter is on 1st base. Making it easier to get a base hit and put Jeter into scoring position.

  8. Drew says:

    Do we think Jete’s SB numbers are markedly higher because he’s the leadoff man? Or is this becuase Joe’s running him more or a coincidence? Or a combination?
    I’m saying Joe is running him more.

  9. LiveFromNewYork says:

    Something is working when fans (true fans not talking head idiots) aren’t screaming for it to change. Jeter in the 2 hole was a GIDP nightmare and we were all screaming for it to change. No one is screaming for him to not bat leadoff.

    And Santy Claus is all kinds of on-board with it as well.

  10. Am I the only Kevin? says:

    I am a fairly strong supporter of advanced metrics, but those studies seem to me to ignore synergy from certain lineup combinations and rely heavily upon one or two metrics. Every 250/350/450 player is not equal.

    The Jeter and Damon situation appears to be one. I also believe there are benefits to stacking guys who see a lot of pitches in order to give pitchers fits. I like putting a guy like Cano with high batting average but low walks in the 6-7 spot (before the automatic outs), instead of a guy with a slightly higher OBP (but lower BA) in order to maximize 2 out RBI potential.

    In any event, there is just no good way (currently) to quantify the impact of lineup changes, so people are left to rely upon convention and feel. No matter how empirically inclined I am, I can’t help but think that, for example, swapping Arod and Tex in the lineup would do a lot more that simply moving their respective OPS numbers from one spot in the order to another. Lineup shuffles affect players earlier and later in the order, opposing pitching, bullpen usage, and tons of other factors.

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