It’s quiet in Tampa these days, almost too quiet. So let’s stir up some trouble.
Trouble arrived today in the form of rumblings about the lineup. As Mark Feinsand reported, “some inside the organization” would like to see Brett Gardner leadoff while the Yanks’ manager continues to assert that Derek Jeter will hold down the lineup’s top slot. “The lineup is best with Gardner leading off,” one anonymous source said to the News. “Don’t be surprised if it winds up that way.”
If this discussion sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Just a month ago, I took a look at this issue and concluded that Gardner would probably be the better leadoff option. I wrote:
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.
But now that the organization is forcing the issue, should it matter who leads off? As with most things baseball related, the answer is both yes and no. First, as David Pinto noted, Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot is the ideal set-up for the Yanks’ lineup. Inserting the Yanks’ Marcel projections into his Lineup Analysis Tool, he finds that Gardner should lead off in 19 of 20 of the Yanks’ top lineups.
Yet there’s a catch, Pinto writes: “This team is blessed, however, with a very balanced lineup, so the difference between the best and worst Yankees lineups is just 0.27 runs per game, or 44 runs over a whole year. The default lineup I used, with Jeter first and Gardner ninth, comes in at just 0.045 runs short of the best, seven runs over a whole season. The worst projected OBP on the starting Yankees belongs to Curtis Granderson at .329. The AL average in 2010 came in at .327.”
The Lineup Analysis Tool doesn’t considering Jeter’s tendencies to hit into double plays or the role Brett Gardner’s stolen bases would play atop the lineup, but Pinto’s point remains: “When you have that much talent in the lineup, it really doesn’t matter where you bat the players. This team is going to score runs.”
Ultimately, Jeter’s age-related decline might force the issue. He won’t lead off forever, and the Yankees will have to move him down in the lineup. But for now, in early March without seeing Jeter earn sustained ABs against Major League pitching, he can be the once and future leadoff hitter. If he falters, Brett Gardner can easily slide into the one hole, and that’s a good problem to have.