Setting the table with Derek and Brett

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As Joe Girardi held forth this morning on the first day of camp, the Yankees plan to head into 2011 with their newly-resigned Captain as the team’s leadoff hitter. Despite his hitting a career-low .270/.340/.370, Jeter will not fall in the batting order.

“We signed him to be our shortstop and we signed him to be our leadoff hitter,” the Yanks’ skipper said of his captain.”he’s got a pretty good track history of what he’s done in the game of baseball.”

Girardi, very good at speaking for reporters in baseball platitudes, continued with his praise of Jeter. Noting that by September, Girardi believed Jeter to be back at his Jeterian levels, he expressed utmost faith in the current leadoff hitter. “He’s very in tune with what his role is as the captain of the New York Yankees, as the leadoff hitter of the New York Yankees and what he’s supposed to do,” he said. But all of this begs the question: Should Jeter be leading off?

By and large, American League teams were surprisingly bad at leading off last year. Overall, AL leadoff hitters reached base just 33 percent of the time. Five teams — including Boston — saw their one hitters put up a cumulative OBP of .320 or lower, and the Indians managed to put their number one hitters on base just 29.4 percent of the time. The Yanks’ .358 OBP out of the one hole was second only to Ichiro and the Mariners.

That lofty OBP was due to two factors: Jeter’s split in the one spot was .283/.348/.387 in 656 PAs — strange how he seemed to struggle more when not leading off — and Brett Gardner as the one hitter reached base 41.2 percent of the time. As much as Yankee fans groaned over Jeter’s 2010 struggles, as a leadoff hitter, he was better than average.

The numbers grow even more intriguing when we isolate only the first at-bat of the game. In essence, that’s when the leadoff hitter gets to shine, and both Jeter and Gardner — the only two Yankees to start a game in 2010 — did so. Showing no power, Jeter hit .304 with a .365 on-base percentage in 137 plate appearances to start the game while Brett Gardner reached base in 15 of his 25 leadoff ABs. That’s a whopping .600 on-base percentage in a very small sample. For comparison’s sake, the cumulative OBP for AL batters who started the game was just .311.

All of that is to say that the Yanks have two seemingly viable leadoff options. We can’t right now conclusively say that Brett Gardner is a better choice to bat first than Jeter. He’s not going to maintain a .600 OBP in the first inning over the course of 140 games, but his willingness to take a walk and his ability to work the count and make contact leads to good things. Jeter, on the other hand, is the long-time vet who hasn’t yet hit himself out of the spot in the lineup. If he struggles again this year, though, the Yanks have another leadoff hitter on deck.

Perhaps, though, the ideal lineup would allow Gardner to showcase his skills leading off. The Yanks slotted Jeter into the one hole to avoid the endless double plays into which he kept hitting, but by having Gardner bat first, the Yanks can use his wheels to keep Jeter from creating two outs with one swing. It’s a thought at least.

For now, though, the lineup will have a familiar look to it. Derek, the incumbent, will bat leadoff, and Brett the upstart will likely be breathing down his neck. Having two potential leadoff candidates should be a nice luxury for the Yanks this year indeed.

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  • Esteban

    There’s no way Jeter bats anything besides 1 or 2 this year.

    • mbonzo

      If Gardner is raking and Jeter is junk and the Yankees are fighting for a playoff spot, don’t expect him to keep getting veteran favoritism. Gardner would be the leadoff hitter in that case.

      • Esteban

        Gardner might hit leadoff, but Jeter wouldn’t hit below 2nd. That’s the (sad) reality.

        • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

          This.

      • OldYanksFan

        My guess is, after 2 months, if 1) Jeter is 2010 Jeter and 2) Brett is 2010 Brett, Gritner will lead-off against righties.

        Even last year, Jeter was gold against LHP (.874 OPS, and .900 career), so there is no reason (yet) to totally boot him from the lead-off spot. Plus, a ‘lead-off platoon’ will go easier on Jete’s ego.

  • Esteban

    The other thing, why did AL leadoff batters have such low OBPs? I know office was down league-wide last year, but that .330 OBP makes me think that managers are undervaluing OBP from the leadoff spot.

    • mbonzo

      It seems like the majority of speedy players this year had low OBP or broke out with power and moved to the 2 or 3 slot. (Reyes and Crawford)

      Other guys just flat out stunk or were injured most of the year. (Bourn, Roberts, and Figgins)

      Ichiro was Ichiro.

      • Esteban

        Well, if your speedy players aren’t getting on base, what’s the point of having them hit leadoff?

        • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

          A lot of managers probably figure speed >>> silly OBP

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      Bored/no life, so I went through all the AL teams and found their normal leadoff guys.

      BAL: Roberts when he was healthy, Patterson when he wasn’t
      BOS: Scutaro
      CHW: Pierre
      CLE: Brantley and Crowe
      DET: Jackson
      KCR: a combination of Podsednik, Blanco, and DeJesus
      LAA: Aybar
      MIN: Span
      NYY: Jeter
      OAK: Crisp and Davis, mostly
      SEA: Ichiro
      TBR: Bartlett and Jaso, mostly
      TEX: Andrus
      TOR: Lewis

      You have a lot of weird things. Take TBR. Bartlett and his .324 OBP had about as many games leading off as Jaso and his .372 OBP. Go figure, I guess.

  • MikeD

    Most of the studies I’ve seen suggest batting order doesn’t make too much difference. If Jeter is batting 1st, 2nd or 9th is not something I’d worry too much about, especially since they won’t be moving him off of the top of the order, unless he really crashes this season.

    • mbonzo

      He’s gonna hit into less double plays batting first.

      • Monteroisdinero

        only in the first inning! He will still lead the team.

        Prefer Gritsky leading off. Takes more pitches, more walks, can beat out infield grounders. What they should be working on is giving Gardner a chance to steal second by having Jeter take a strike. Derek swung at too many first pitches last year.

        I am willing to compromise by having Gardy leadoff against righties-easier to steal, and Jeter against lefties-better at bats.

        • CS Yankee

          I am willing to compromise by having Gardy leadoff against righties-easier to steal, and Jeter against lefties-better at bats.

          ………………………………………………….
          I like Grit in the leadoff as well on the righties. However, he should be 9th at best and maybe benched against the lefties. Grandy gives you power (but they both overall stink against southpaws), and it would be good to have Jones start on those days and have Grit come in later after the said lefty was chased.

          • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

            .373 OBP vs. left-handers last year. It would make little sense to bench Gardner against southpaws.

            • CS Yankee

              My bad.

              Great problem to have with Jete & Grit against lefties…maybe since Jeter has more pop and BG has better wheels, Jete should move back to the 2-hole against lefties.

              Who would be the optimal leadoff against righties (speed & OBP) versus Jeter?

      • RL

        Well, you can only guarantee one less opportunity to hit into a DP.

    • OldYanksFan

      That may be so. The diff between batting #1 or batting #9, is in the 150 ABs range. So if the choice is between a .340 OBP guy and a .400 OBP guy, that .060 difference, applied to 150 AB is about 9 or 10 ‘extra’ bases over the season.

      Did I do that right?

  • nl

    “…the Yankees plan to head into 2011 with their newly-resigned Captain…”

    *mild heart attack* – i thought we agreed to use “re-signed” instead of “resigned”?

    • king of fruitless hypotheticals

      meh. if he resigns, we stop paying him right?

  • Doug

    This is always fun to look at.

    According to baseballmusings, the optimal lineup vs. righties would be:
    Gardner
    Cano
    Posada
    Swisher
    ARod
    Granderson
    Teixeira
    Jeter
    Martin

    This lineup would score 5.727 runs per game.

    The probable lineup of Jeter, Granderson, Teixeira, ARod, Cano, Posada, Swisher, Martin, Gardner would score 5.573 runs per game.

    vs. lefties, the optimal lineup would be:
    Swisher
    Teixeira
    Martin
    Cano
    Jeter
    ARod
    Posada
    Granderson
    Gardner

    This lineup would score 5.754 runs per game.

    The probable lineup of Jeter, Swisher, Teixeira, ARod, Cano, Posada, Granderson, Martin, Gardner would score 5.586 runs per game

    • Doug

      Replace Granderson with Jones and the optimal lineup vs. lefties becomes:
      Swisher, Teixeira, Martin, Cano, Jeter, Posada, Jones, ARod, Gardner

      Replace Gardner with Jones and the optimal lineup vs. lefties becomes:
      Swisher, Teixeira, Jones, Cano, Jeter, ARod, Posada, Granderson, Marin,

    • CS Yankee

      Thing is with the optimal lineup is that…
      1) Players like Jeter batting fifth just seems insane for a historical power standpoint. When his BA was skyhigh one could make sense of the 3-hole as he rakes to the opposite field and I think when he has played in the 3-spot he has done well.
      2) Players (again) like Jeter really won’t be comfortable in the 8th hole and performance has so much to do with that. I recall the early DH’ers that didn’t get the results as a DH; Rusty Staub, Jason Giambi, etc all stated that it was hard to stay focus and feel the game.

  • Mike HC

    So, even in a big down year at age 36, Jeter was still one of the best shortstops and lead off hitters in the game. Gotta love this guy.

    • CS Yankee

      Are you & I at the right site?

      /JK’d

      • Mike HC

        ha, yea. I just can’t on board with all the Jeter criticism and negativism often seen here.

        • CS Yankee

          ditto

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    Jeter should lead off since he is prone to GIDPs so often. If Gardner leads off, its almost as if he is forced to run any time he gets on, though jeter is good at playing hit and run.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      jeter is only guaranteed to come up with the bases empty once a game. if he is hitting first he will prob have russell martin ahead of him, a much bigger dp candidate than brett gardner

    • CS Yankee

      When Jeter led the league in GIDP…it was at a clip of like 1 out-of 4 games or 40 times per year versus what maybe a average of 25 times a year from typical #2 hitters?

      Leadoff initial start of the game (thinking it avgs 2.1X starts of inning per game)is the only outcome you can control, but if you have a decent (& we do) #8 or 9 guy, the GIDP will still happen.

      I would bat him leadoff against lefties all year long and bat him #1, 2 or 9 against the righties depending on his performance and others (Grit, Grandy, Swish).

  • bakekrukow412

    Question: How would everyone feel about batting Alex second?

    • Monteroisdinero

      not good. Cano would be better.

      My ideal lineup has Gardy first and Cano second. They both hit lefties and righties well.

      fastest guy leads off, best hitter hits second.

      /me like

      • bakekrukow412

        The way I see it, Alex simply cannot be counted on for 35+ HR, 100+ RBI anymore. Would I be suprised if he did it? No, but I wouldn’t be suprised if he went 25 HR 75 RBI either. I’d say somewhere in between is a realistic expectation for him. I don’t feel thats good enough to bat him third our fourth when you have Cano and Teix (who’s age leads be to believe will bounce back this year). I say stick him second, put Cano 3rd, and Mark 4th. Cano can protect Alex.

        • Monteroisdinero

          A guy who is odds on to pass Bonds bats second? I don’t think so.

  • Monteroisdinero

    I don’t understand why the fastest guy on the team-and maybe the league-who gets on alot, takes a ton of pitches and has no power doesn’t leadoff. C’mon Joe-think outside the chalupa!

    • camilo Gerardo

      Jete eats a helluva chalupa, no?