Thoughts on Gardner leading off

A-Rod slams A's, Yanks clinch series with 6-1 win
Possible trade target: Adam Kennedy

For the past two games Joe Girardi has written Brett Gardner‘s name first on the lineup card. Normally he doesn’t lead off the game unless Derek Jeter gets a day off, but for these two games Jeter has moved to the spot he knows very well. He has more plate appearances hitting second than in any other lineup spot, and given Girardi’s comments yesterday, we could see more of that in the second half. It certainly changes the dynamic of the lineup, at least against righties.

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

“[Gardner’s] on-base percentage against right handers is tremendous,” said Girardi. The manager does not lie. Gardner has faced a righty pitcher 205 times this season and has a .382 wOBA and .414 OBP. Combined with his speed, that makes for a tremendous leadoff hitter. Hitting in that spot will also give him a chance to take a base or two; it seems like he’s more apt to go with the No. 2 hitter up than the No. 3. We have only a minuscule sample to work with, so it’s not worth even running the numbers, but I think the anecdote holds up. It’s easier to send him when Jeter’s at the plate than when the big bats are up.

One of the reasons Girardi moved Jeter into the leadoff spot last year was his propensity to hit into the double play. By hitting leadoff he’d have fewer chances to kill a runner on base with a groundball to second or short. Wouldn’t moving him to the No. 2 spot then increase his double play frequency? A few weeks ago I wrote about the issue on FanGraphs and noted that even with two double plays the night before, Jeter’s rate was down from previous years. He has currently grounded into a double play nine times in 61 chances this season. That might not necessarily increase with Gardner hitting ahead of him.

Remember, Gardner has more PAs hitting ninth than any other spot in the lineup, so he’s frequently hit just before Jeter anyway. And, as we saw last night, Gardner’s speed can make that difference to break up a double play. Jeter hit into what looked like a tailor-made twin killing, but Gardner got to second base in time to make an impact on Adam Rosales’s timing. That bough Jeter the precious second he needed to make that extra step and beat the relay to first. Then there’s also the possibility of Garnder moving on the pitch, whether in a straight steal or a hit-and-run, further reducing Jeter’s double play opportunities.

The further effect of this move is to pile more power bats later in the lineup. Neither Gardner nor Jeter hit for a lot of power: they currently have ISOs of .112 and .122, respectively. Following them are Mark Teixeira (.191), Alex Rodriguez (.225), Robinson Cano (.221), Nick Swisher (.210), and Jorge Posada (.212). Then again, after the first time through the order this doesn’t make much of a difference, since Gardner normally hits ninth, right before Jeter any way. The only thing it really accomplishes, then, is getting Gardner more plate appearances — which, considering his production this season, does make sense.

Against lefties it could be a different story, but Gardner also owns a .355 OBP against them this year so he’s a viable option to hit atop the lineup every day if Girardi so chooses. But considering the Jeter and Swisher 1-2 combo against lefties — .387 and .415 OBPs, respectively — the Yanks would probably be slightly better off using them to lead off games, sticking Gardner in a spot further down the order. He probably shouldn’t hit ninth, as there’s no reason to bat Francisco Cervelli or Curtis Grandrson ahead of him. But if Girardi wants to move him down against lefties that seems like a fair proposition.

As we’ve pointed out frequently, lineup construction has little impact during the course of a full season — a win or so difference between the best and worst lineups. Since this will only happen for half a season it should have even less of an impact, especially because the lineup is basically constructed the same way, except with Gardner starting the carousel instead of turning it over. But given his stellar performance against righties this season, and given Swisher’s and Jeter’s excellent numbers against lefties, it’s tough to argue with the move. Gardner, it seems, has gained the Yankees’ confidence.

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A-Rod slams A's, Yanks clinch series with 6-1 win
Possible trade target: Adam Kennedy
  • larryf

    I love the guy at leadoff. I would hope Jete would take a pitch or two so the SB is a possibility as well as staying out of the double play. Great point about Grit allowing Jeter to beat the throw at first-a key play in the game.

    I am still frustrated by the occasional taking of EVERY pitch in an at bat when it results in strike 3 right down the middle. not much else bothers me about BG

    • tony

      I also agree with the above.if Gardy has one fault,it would be taken a 3rd.strike down the middle.every day I wondered when Mr.G. would put Gardy to lead off!!perfect lead-off guy..has anyone found it to be true Tampa got C.Lee???if someone knows,please let me know.there was a (3)way deal.thanks.

  • Rose

    Brett Gardner’s line batting cleanup for the Yankees:

    1.000/1.000/1.000 (2.000)

    I think you know where I’m going with this…

    [turns the channel to Matlock]

  • Evan in NYC

    Last night him and Jeter opened the game with seeing about 12-14 pitches if my memory serves me. That’s certainly better than the Jeter one pitch, one out scenario. BG has seen upwards of four pitches per at-bat (somewhere in the tops in the league I believe). This will give the rest of our guys a better chance to see what the starter has.

    • Evan in NYC

      BG – 4.55 pitches per plate appearance
      Jeter – 3.54 pitches per plate appearance

      • Klemy

        Jeter’s pppa is higher than I would’ve expected with the number of first pitch swings it seems he’s had this year. Maybe I’m just noticing the first pitch swings too much.

        • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

          I think it’s cause those mostly come in the first at bat of the game, so we notice them more. He takes more pitches later on in the game.

    • Apollo22237

      That’s true. Last night when Jeter was still up and Cahill already had 18 pitches I was giddy.

  • 12

    Even last night i believe it was bases loaded jeter up… he grounded it to 2nd and gardner tried to take out rosales at second and jeter ended up beating the throw and getting the rbi.

    • Klemy

      Which is why it was in the article. :)

  • Pete

    All of this.

    Lineup vs. Lefties:

    Gardner
    Jeter
    Teix
    A-Rod
    Robbie
    Swish
    JoPo
    Curtis
    Frankie

    Vs. Righties:

    Jeter
    Swishalish
    Teix
    Alex
    Robbie
    Jorge
    Curtis
    Frankie
    Brett the Jet (I’d rather him here than 8th because I don’t want Frankie’s recent .220/.250/.280 line standing between GGBG and the real hitters)

    • keithr

      Huh? Did you read the article?

      • Pete

        yes? What did I write that suggests I didn’t?

        • Sleepykarl

          Gardner is an especially good leadoff option vs righties, where you only have him leading off vs lefties.

          • Pete

            oh yeah sorry screwed that up. First one should be vs. righties, second vs. lefties. Just a typo

    • Rose

      Tom Tucker: Coming up next – Can bees think? A new study indicates that no…they cannot.

  • CS Yankee

    I commented on this about a month ago and got some flak for suggesting it, but with his performance to date it was only a matter of time.

    I prefer the watchful eye with speed in the leadoff role conbined with Jeter’s tendenancy to live in RF should lead to more pressure on the pitcher as long as Jeet takes a few (while Grit steals a few).

    Gardner is performing above expectations and I hope he continues to prove all the Damon worshippers & Crawford droolers that he is the better overall choice (age, speed, grit, etc) thereby saving 20-40M$ that will be needed elsewhere.

  • mikeypie

    You can take all the sabermetrics you want to make a case for Gardner, but i will trust my eyes. And my eyes tell me that there is now way on this planet that Gardner will stay at current levels for a full season. Luck plays a huge role in baseball and Gardy’s luck will soon run out as there is just no way all those weakly hit balls keep faling for hits. His speed is an obvious asset but this guys avg will be closer to .250 than .300 come seasons end.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      mikeypie, meet ten foot pole. not gonna touch you with it.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Not going to trust your predictions.

      • Slugger27

        LMAO

        joe always comes through with hilarious callouts

      • Klemy

        Completely owned. lol

      • Sleepykarl

        Thank God I don’t believe I’ve made any irrational predictions (mostly by avoiding predictions in general), that is one healthy recall.

        • Slugger27

          joe’s got us covered… whenever a troll changes up his handle to hopefully (for him) get new attention, joe searches the IP address and lets us know who he used to be. and in cases like this, when someone says something unnecessarily negative, or just throws out a baseless opinion with no facts, numbers, or evidence of any kind, joe drops a previous factless opinion that turned out horribly wrong.

          we’re in good hands

          • mikeypie

            First of all ive never posted under another handle touch hole. Second , what did i say that was negative? That Gardner hits the ball weakly? The major league avg of hard hit balls is 27% and Gardner currently sits at 18%. You really think all those softly hit balls are gonna keep dropping at a 37% clip when his historical avg is 31-32?And to say that a previously expressed opniion is horribly wrong, well ..Jobas 5.09 era and 1.44 whip and 38% hit % says im not, he is in the 8th out of default.

            • Rose

              Sometimes things do last all year though (see: 2008 Dice K)

              I just don’t see the reason to proclaim that it’s definitely going to take a turn for the worse. We all understand the circumstances and context clues that surround them. But as of right now, the team is winning games and Brett Gardner is hitting just fine. So who cares?

              Those averages are always going to be up and down for people. It’s baseball. It’s kind of like poker. You can know everything there is to know about the game but you’re still not always going to win. There are always going to be other elements that may or may not be uncontrollable.

      • mikeypie

        Are you serious? How often has he overpowered a batter? When was the last time you said to yourself that he just blew that guy away? Back in 07 he dominated. Be honest …dont you hold your breath every time he comes in? The gun shows mid 90’s again but it has zero life. If the bullpen wasnt a complete disaster somebody else would have the setup .

        • Rose

          I guess it all depends on what you’re expecting. If you’re comparing him to his small sample in 2007 and only wanting that and nothing else…then you’ll certainly be disappointed. If you take a larger sample size and realize he’s 24 years old who had an innings limit and had been flip flopped from reliever to starter to reliever, etc. over and over the past few years…you learn to be more understanding and rational about what’s going on and more hopeful for what’s to come.

    • Rose

      His speed is an obvious asset but this guys avg will be closer to .250 than .300 come seasons end.

      He’s currently batting .314 in 255 AB. He currently has 80 hits. Say he has another 290 AB in the 2nd half (totaling 545 AB) he would have to get less than 70 hits in the 2nd half. That would mean he would have to hit like .238 or lower for the rest of the season almost just randomly out of no where…

      Nah.

    • pat

      there is just no way all those weakly hit balls keep faling for hits.

      As a matter of fact, the weaker the gb the more likely it is that he legs it out for a hit.

      • ShuutoHeat (GGBG > DP)

        THIS

        Guys with speed don’t want the ball to reach a fielder quickly.

        There’s more to baseball than just pounding the begeebus out of the ball or throwing the ball as hard as one can throw it.

    • CS Yankee

      Sabermetrics >>>>>> your eyes

      BTW, Lenscrafters could have you glasses in about a hour.

  • Anal Hershiser

    Pieces like this and the one yesterday about Javy are the reason I hit this site so often. Thank you Mr. Pawlikowski.

    • Slugger27

      1st things 1st: your handle is hilarious. i havent laughed out loud at a handle in a LONG time, but yours is awesome

      2nd: your post is spot on, the work here is awesome, and the one on javy yesterday was especially informative. they work hard, and it shows.

      • Rose

        He’s posted here before and it’s one of the best handles I’ve seen. It’s a shame he just posts a few things here and there and disappears for a while. I enjoy seeing it light up my screen lol

  • SabathiaWouldBeGoodAtTheEighthToo

    While I like the idea of giving Gardner more ABs, the point that seems a little lost in this is that they are coming at Swisher’s expense (against LHPs anyway). Swish is OPSing over 20 points higher than GGBG against righties, more pop etc.

    I’m not saying the move is wrong, as it will provide some extra protection to the middle of the order to have Swish hitting 6 or 7 (why pitch to Cano/Posada if they are followed by Granderson, Cervelli, Curtis, Gardner?). Time will tell, but it is not like the extra ABs are coming out of thin air. They are coming from Swisher.

  • Rose

    If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

    • tony

      Well It’s broken & it needs fix’n….

  • http://theyankeeu.com Matt Imbrogno

    I’m not a huge fan of this, mostly because every bit of optimism I have with Gardner is coupled with a high amount of caution, but let’s at least give it a try. If it doesn’t work, go back to the way things were and the team’ll be fine. If it works to plan–Gardner gets on base and steals a bunch of times–the Yankees’ll score runs.

  • Eric

    I don’t know if I would do this myself, but discuss:

    1. Gardner
    2. Swisher
    3. Tex
    4. ARod
    5. Cano
    6. Posada
    7. Jeter
    8. Granderson
    9. Cervelli/Bench player Du Jur

    • pete

      If we’re talking about theoretical optimizations, I’d go with this:

      Gardner
      Alex
      Tex
      Swish
      Cano
      Jeter
      Granderson
      Posada
      Cervelli

      OR, with NJ healthy:

      Johnson
      Alex
      Tex
      Swish
      Robbie
      Jetesky
      Granderson
      Posada
      Gardner

  • kaywizz22

    Is it just me, or does it seem liek Gardner presses too hard when batting higher in the line-up. I believe he batted second for a while earlier this year and kind of slumped, and is only 1-8 so far in the lead-off.

    • CS Yankee

      SSS…sss…SSS

      1-8, OMG why isn’t he DFA’d?

      The bread is still baking on Grit…

      Reward his performance, if he goes 10 for 80 it is still a small sample size that means nothing! If Bernie came along today, i’m convinced that too many posters wouyld have him in Pittsburgh for a mid-4, middle-aged rag arm incapable of throwing two innings in an outing.

      • kaywizz22

        I’m not saying get rid of him..jeeze. I am just saying, he seems to press a lot harder when he is higher in the line-up. Its a very small sample size, but we might have to go through an adjustment period with him.

        • Mike HC

          well, if that is true, hopefully he will do a better job the second time around. I think it is safe to assume that Gardner will be able to handle the pressure of hitting higher in the lineup.

          It is a Joe Torre move to take 2 years before he thinks a young guy can “handle the pressure” of hitting higher in a lineup. I like that Girardi is willing to make a switch far quicker.

  • Mike HC

    Gardner has been looking great at the plate. I have no problem moving him lead off. Sounds like a good idea actually. It is not like Jeter has been on fire, so why not switch things up at the top.

    Love the move.

  • ShuutoHeat (GGBG > DP)

    Gardner is too awesome, they should bump AROD down/up and place Gardy in the clean up spot!

    /irrational fanboy

    • Mattchu12

      I dunno if I am equally irrational, but what about:

      1. Gardner
      2. Jeter
      3. Swisher
      4. Rodriguez
      5. Teixeira

      ?? Thoughts.

  • Brad

    You state the following:

    “As we’ve pointed out frequently, lineup construction has little impact during the course of a full season — a win or so difference between the best and worst lineups.”

    I didn’t see any reference to how you draw your conclusion…no link to a scientific analysis of data that proves your point…no framework for how you would even go about analyzing the issue appropriately. What sample size did you use to judge the data? What teams? What timeframe?

    Your conclusiong is one that doesn’t make sense to me based on what I have seen in my life, and I would be most interested in reading more about your findings.

  • Mattchu12

    I think my favorite thing about Gardner batting first is the effect on the pitchers as he is such a stolen base threat. This will make them throw more fastballs to Jeter, Teix, A-Rod with more risk of control issues as of the stress of trying to prevent Gardner from stealing, hence potential hanging pitches for our boys to mash.

  • Amol

    Remember back in the winter of ’05 the big media narrative was how Jeter was a natural #2 hitter, and was horribly miscast in the leadoff spot, so the Yankees absolutely had to sign Johnny Damon? Fun times.