Feb
29

Pondering A Switch Atop The Lineup

By

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

When the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, it was thanks in part to a subtle lineup change that yielded big results. Derek Jeter grounded into a career-worst 24 doubles plays in 2008, so Joe Girardi minimized his rally-killing opportunities by batting him leadoff rather than second. Johnny Damon dropped down a spot to the two-hole, where his unexpected power spike (career-best 24 homers in 2009) was a pleasant surprise. As a result, the Yankees had the best leadoff (132 OPS+) and second best number two hitter (126) production in the game that season.

Damon left as a free agent after that season, but Jeter has remained in the leadoff position ever since. Nick Johnson, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson have occupied the number two spot for the most part during the last two seasons, and Granderson is the obvious choice to do so again in 2012. With Robinson Cano apparently locked in as the number three hitter, Joe Girardi hinted yesterday that Jeter and Granderson could switch lineup spots like Jeter and Damon did three years ago, calling it “a possibility [we] could talk about.”

On the surface, it doesn’t make any sense. Granderson’s power would be minimized atop the lineup while Jeter — who is more of a ground ball hitter now than he was in 2009 — would again be more of a double play threat. The Yankees had the second best offense in the game last season (113 wRC+), and it’s very easy to say don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. This is Spring Training though, and there’s no harm in bouncing ideas around and trying things out on the field in meaningless exhibition games. Flipping Grandy and Jeter is a thought worth entertaining.

For one, Granderson’s power is masking his prototype leadoff hitter skills. Not only is he a stolen base threat (24 last year) and adept a taking the extra base (50% of the time since 2008, well over the 39% league average), but he’s also incredibly patient and makes the pitcher work. Curtis led baseball in pitches per plate appearances last season (4.44), and over the last four years his walk rate has settled in at 11.0% (12.3% in 2011). His inability to hit for a high average means his OBP will be in the .350-.360 range rather than .380+, however.

The typical leadoff man comes to the plate with the bases empty approximately 67% of the time*, which means a whole lot of Granderson’s homers would be solo shots if he bats atop the order regularly. That said, you can make the argument that having Grandy bat “behind” number nine hitter Brett Gardner (.364 OBP last two years) would give him more opportunities to hit with men on base than if he was hitting second behind Jeter (.347 OBP last two years). That’s a simplified look at it,  but you get the point. There’s a case to be made.

* I’m willing to bet that number is a bit lower for Yankees leadoff hitters in recent years.

Derek's second favorite pastime. (REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

As for Jeter, his propensity for the twin-killing would be somewhat mitigated in the two-hole by Granderson’s extra-base ability. Remember, it’s not just about homers. He hits a ton of doubles (29 last year) and triples (ten) as well, and it’s hard to ground into a double play with the runner on second or third. Jeter’s affinity for a sacrifice bunt — which he does on his own quite often — would be a problem though. Laying down a bunt as the number two hitter means first base will be open when Cano is at the dish, which will lead to plenty of intentional and unintentional intentional walks. Taking the bat out of Robbie’s hands is never a good thing, particularly in the late innings of a close game (when the sac bunt is most effective).

Derek still makes a ton of contact (just 13.3 K% last year), so batting him second behind Gardner and Granderson would give Girardi the option to hit-and-run, a tactic I actually think is underutilized (in the right situation, of course) these days. Batting Jeter second would also split up Granderson and Cano, forcing the opposing manager to choose his spots with his lefty specialist a little more wisely. That’s not necessarily a good thing though, because both Grandy (since getting #cured) and Cano mash left-handed pitchers and you’d like them to face the inferior lefty rather than the superior righty. It would create a bit of a headache for the opposing manager in the late innings, but I think the actual benefit to the Yankees is up for debate.

I don’t think flipping Jeter and Granderson right now makes as much sense as flipping Jeter and Damon back in 2009, but it’s not the craziest idea in the world. Curtis would get a few extra plate appearances throughout the season and the opposing manager will surely make some foolish pitching changes along the way, but the downside is (theoretically) having fewer men on base for Granderson and Jeter’s ground ball double plays. The results could be considerable as we saw three years ago, and if doesn’t work, they could always go back to last year’s arrangement at any time. Consider me intrigued and in favor of giving the switch a try in camp.

Categories : Offense
  • Donny

    I think a fair assumption can be drawn from this – if Girardi did make this switch, then it almost seems reasonable to have A-Rod hit 3rd and Robbie bat 4th. Initially, this seems like a terrible idea, but hear me out…

    First, you don’t have to wory about stacking two righties since A-Rod hits righties better anyways. Second, if Jeter does bunt after Granderson reaches, then A-Rod would be the one who would be pitched around. If teams decide to pitch to him, it would give him more favorable offerrings. If teams BB/IBB him, then you have your best hitter waiting in the wings with an RBI opportunity.

    While I agree with you, Mike, that swapping Granderson and Jeter would be a bad idea (for those reasons outliend above), it should be considered to make this secondary move. I’m not saying it should be done, but it has some credence.

    • titit

      Wrote the same thing and it is not a terrible idea at all.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I dig.

    • Havok9120

      I’m a bigger believer in ARod than a lot of people on here, so I’d have no problem with this.

      Honestly, like Mike, I don’t have any problem with them trying new things in camp, or even early in the season. If they want to try their hand at lineup efficiency improvements, now’s certainly the time for it.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’m liking this as well. Thanks, Donny.

    • jjyank

      Consider me on that bandwagon as well. I like this idea. A-Rod will either get walked (if a pitcher thinks he matches up better with Cano) or get more favorable pitches to hit (if he thinks he matches up better with A-Rod). And despite any questions marks surrounding A-Rod, I’m sure we can all agree that he can still crush a mistake fastball over the plate. If he takes the base, then our best hitter comes up with 2 men on.

      I like this idea as opposed to Cano 3rd and A-Rod cleanup, because I think Cano will be more likely to be pitched around than A-Rod will (considering Cano is likely the more dangerous hitter at this point in their respective careers). If that’s the case, than the problem is one we’re all aware of: Cano’s biggest (only?) problem in his approach is a lack of plate discipline. If a pitcher is trying to pitch around Cano to get to A-Rod, Cano may end up spoiling it by swing at bad pitches. Whereas I have more faith in A-Rod taking the walk.

      So yeah, I’m a fan of this idea.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        Seems to make sense. Definitely worth a look. Now let’s see if the Yankees can explore something that’s just ever-so-slightly outside the box. Unfortunately, that hasn’t seemed to be the case in the recent past.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          Oh, and add in ARods comments about taking pride in batting 4th and this becomes a little more difficult to pull off. Let’s see if they try something like this.

          • jjyank

            That’s a good point. Still, it’s not as though hitting 3rd is not a prestigious spot in the lineup. I have a feeling those comments were more about hitting in the top half of the lineup, rather than specifically #3 vs. #4. The Yanks could just do it under the guise of spring training and see how A-Rod responds. If it seems like it’s more trouble than it’s worth, they can always slot him back into the cleanup spot by opening day.

            I doubt we see this come to fruition, but I think it’s worthy of a ST experiment. Besides, what the hell else are we fans supposed to talk about in February?

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Exactly. There should be as much pride in hitting third as there is in hitting fourth.

              • jjyank

                On some teams, there may be more pride with hitting 3rd. Depending on your philosophy, the argument can be made that a team’s best hitter should be in the 3 hole.

                • Robinson Tilapia

                  That’s how I’ve always looked at it.

            • Cris Pengiucci

              I personnaly believe the 3 spot is more important than the cleanup spot. And as you pointed out, it’s 3, not 7 or 8. Unfortunately, I just don’t see the Yankees making significant changes like that. It just doesn’t seem to be in their DNA.

              • jjyank

                I agree about the 3 hole (as I just mentioned above). I also agree that we probably won’t see this happen. But you never know, they did flip Cano and Tex at the end of last season.

            • bpdelia

              You can say lots of things about arod but I just don’t see him throwing a hissy fit either way. Dude didnt say shit for years after torre batted him 8 th in his prime in the playoffs. He is a diva but he isn’t a bitch and seems to truly be an honesty self evaluator.

      • CJ

        Agree. Granderson ARod Cano Tex.
        Granderson should stay in 2 hole after last season also don’t want Gardner granderson back to back.

    • Jesse

      Great points.

    • G

      At first this looked like a bad idea, but that seems to make perfect sense. Great point.

  • titit

    I think it makes more sense to keep Jeter leading off (*since he must be atop the order) Grandy second, then Arod and then Cano batting 4th with Teix 5th. If they want to keep the lefty righty order intact and give Cano the all important cleanup spot. This will also allow Alex to have protection.

  • Johnny O

    Any chatter about Gardner batting leadoff against righties or has that ship sailed? If it involves batting the Cap’n second and bumping all others down the lineup then no thanks.

    #godilovebaseball

    • jjyank

      Unfortunately, I think that scenario does involve Jeter batting second and moving everyone else down. Jeter’s surely not going to hit in the 3-5 spots, and I doubt Girardi will put him as low as 6 or 7. I would like Gardner leading off against righties as well, but if Jeter must stay in the top 2 spots, than I don’t think it’s worth it to keep guys like Granderson or Swisher out of the top lineup spots.

  • TanyonS

    Mike,

    Any chance of batting Swisher leadoff and bumping Jeter down in the line up (8th or 9th)? Swish seemed to be pretty effective in that role, and I’m a little skeptical about the Captain moving forward.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Jeter to bat 8th or 9th.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        We’ll see Tanyon Sturtze hitting that low in the order this season before we see Jeter hitting that low.

      • ADam

        This is why I LOL when Giradi says the rotation battle goes beyond Hughes and Garcia. Like Cashman is going to allow him to even think about putting him in the pen

        • Robinson Tilapia

          How do these two things connect? Honest question.

          • jjyank

            Because he LOLs at both of them?

            • Robinson Tilapia

              I actually really wanted to know!

  • GardnergoesYardner

    The Grandy leadoff, Jeter second move would not be ideal for the team. The Yankees have a leadoff hitter. A really good leadoff hitter! His name is Brett Gardner! Why would they even consider Granderson? He strikes out way too much to be effective on top of the order, and his power is best suited for 2nd or lower. Gardy against righties, Jete against lefties, and they should be fine.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Brett Gardner could be a platoon player this year (or at least moreso than last year). While it would seem he would do well in that role against righties, he needs to be given the opportunity and that leaves Girardi to balance the rest of the lineup. Given the limitations place on the team due to the Jeter situation (I don’t believe or don’t want to believe that he should be a #8 or #9 hitter this season at least), it becomes difficult to figure out where everyone should bat and it also could lead to fairly significant lineup changes when the team faces left handed starters.

      Based on the current roster construction, I just don’t see this happening.

    • jjyank

      I agree that in a vacuum, Gardner should bat leadoff against righties. The problem is, however, Jeter. I doubt Girardi will drop Jeter to the botton third of the lineup, so that means Jeter will bat second against righties. Which mean Granderson and Swisher will be pushed down to #6 and #7, which is also not ideal and may outweigh the benefit of having Gardner leadoff to begin with.

    • Steve (different one)

      what does it matter if Granderson strikes out a lot when he is leading off? What’s the difference between a strikeout and a groundout when no one is one base?? All that matters is OBP, and Granderson gets on base more than Gardner.

      Also, didn’t Jeter get on base more than Gardner last year? Why is it basically a given ariund here that Jeter should relinquish this spot to Gardner? I say this as a fan of Gardner, but the facts say he made more outs than Jeter and Granderson last year.

    • G

      Striking out with the bases empty is no worse than grounding out with the bases empty. What’s your point?

  • Bronx Byte

    Bat Teixeia 5th until he shows he can use the whole field and cut down on his strikeouts to raise his BA up.
    He’ll still get a large share of RBI over the season.

    • jjyank

      Considering that’s what happened in September in 2011, I think you can bet that this will be the situation for year too (at least for the time being). And I’m cool with that. I’m confident that Cano and A-Rod can get on base pretty frequently for Tex’s power to be a huge asset in the #5 hole.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Teixeira doesn’t have a strikeout problem at all. He has one of the lowest strikeout rates you’ll find on a 30+ HR guy.

      • jjyank

        Right, its the pop ups and the extreme pull tendencies that are a problem.

  • Pinade is greata

    Its time the capt goes to girardi and says bat me where ever you want skip.
    Best lineup is
    Rhp
    Gardner
    Martin
    Cano
    Granderson
    Arod
    Tex
    Swish
    Ibanez
    Jeter
    Martin was a great 2 hole hitter for the dodgers
    Jeters speed in the nine hole

    Lhp
    Jeter
    Granderson
    Cano
    Arod
    Tex
    Swisher
    Jones
    Martin
    Gardner

    • Robinson Tilapia

      You say Pinade. I say Pineda.

      It’s wishful thinking for those who want to prove that loyalty means nothing, yadda yadda yadda, to believe that Derek Jeter is going to bat 9th at any point soon. I think there comes a point where Jeter looks at what his own playing future is, much like Jorge did last year, but that we are nowhere near there yet.

    • G

      Uhhh yeah Martin’s offense has declined quite a bit. Putting him in the 2 hole won’t magically bring back that production.

  • JohnC

    Jeter is better off in leadoff spot becuase of his DP tendencies. Mucha rather have Granderson in the 2 hole with Cano, Arod and Tex to follow. Leave gardy in 9th spot. Its like having another leadoff hitter in the bottom hole

  • RetroRob

    The #2 spot in the Yankees order has been very good to whomever has had it at YSIII. Damon, Swisher and Granderson all put up career years. Probably a coincidence, but perhaps pitchers all take a more agressive approach with the #2 batter in the Yankee order not wanting to put men on base ahead of the heart of the lineup. All three of those hitters are good at working the count, too, with especially Damon (why is he not back?) and Grandy up at the top of the leauge in average pitchers per plate appearance. I like having a hitter with power in the slot. Quick lead, especially with a man on base. That’s one of the reasons I’m not big on having a Gardy/Jeter (in whatever order) duo at the top.

    Count me in the camp of flipping A-Rod to third and Cano to cleanup. I’m guessing we’ll never see it.

    Not

  • CapitalT

    Dont forget that it is tough to pitch around Cano as he will swing at anything close.

  • sloppy Joe

    Jeter
    Swisher
    Cano
    Grandy
    Arod
    Tex
    Jones/ibanez
    Martin
    Gardner

    • Joe R

      This. Cept I’d switch Grandy and A-Rod.

    • LiterallyFigurative

      Y’know, I really like this lineup. I’m a proponent of Cano 3, Grandy 4. Granderson’s power fits perfectly in the cleanup spot, although it may cut into his base stealing.

  • Kevin Ocala, Fl

    I believe in what Earl Weaver’s wrote about the hit and run, terrible play. He believed in the run and hit, subtle yet big difference….

  • Spiff

    Jeter
    Granderson
    Rodriguez
    Cano
    Teix
    Swisher
    Ibanez/Jones
    Martin
    Gardner

  • JAG

    The true value of the Damon/Jeter switch was to get Jeter out of the 2 hole where he was doing damage with double-plays. Switching him back into the 2-hole defeats the purpose.

  • howardwagner

    “Granderson hit a ton of doubles last year”. Really, could have fooled me. He actually hit only 26 (not 29 as the author states); good for 48th place among AL hitters. With his speed, he actually SHOULD be hitting a ton of doubles, but he isn’t. In fact, it’s been eons since he last hit more than 26 in a season (2007). So that little piece of your argument doesn’t work. He does strike out a ton (Austin Jackson territory), so maybe he isn’t prototype leadoff man.

    I see no compelling argument for tampering with what worked very well last year. Let’s see if it works again.