There’s been quite a bit of discussion lately about where Derek Jeter should hit in the Yankee line-up, and some of you have asked for my opinion (I’m flattered, by the way, and flattery will get you everywhere). It’s certainly an interesting topic. The last time the Captain regularly hit anywhere other than lead-off or second was 1997, when he made 33 starts as the 7th place hitter. But his abysmal (by Jeterian standards, anyway) 2010 has quite a few fans grumbling that it might be time to slot Jeter 8th or 9th.
For starters, I can understand wanting to move Jeter out of the leadoff spot, particularly given his sub-par year. But there are two big factors working against hitting him in the 8 or 9 holes. First, and while statistical purists may not want to hear it, Jeter is the face of the current Yankees. Much the same way that Mickey Mantle or Don Mattingly were never going to hit at the bottom of the order, even after it was evident that their skills had eroded, the same can be said of Jeter. Secondly, putting Jeter down that low means shifting somebody else to leadoff.
The first thing that has to be asked if contemplating that move is, has Jeter been effective as a leadoff hitter? The most important statistic for anybody in that spot is their ability to get on base, especially leading off the game. Everything else is secondary. In that regard, Jeter is well ahead of the league average:
|Leading Off Game
Ok, so Jeter – even in the midst of a season long slump – has been much better than the league average lead-off hitter. Jeter’s struggles this year haven’t come when leading off the game. He has 126 plate appearances in that situation, among the league leaders and his performance is among the best. In fact, Jeter hits 61 points higher leading off the game than his overall season number, which indicates hitting him lower in the order would probably have him with even worse numbers than he currently does. Unless you’re going to permanently bench Jeter, he would seem to be most effective leading off.
But is there anyone on the team who can surpass Jeter’s leadoff ability? Well, Brett Gardner has been remarkably effective when leading off games. The biggest argument against him is the limited sample size (only 21 plate appearances thus far). However, if comparing leading off any inning, where sample sizes are more equal, things look better for Gardner vs. Jeter:
|Leading Off Inning
An argument can be made that Gardner should hit lead-off, particularly when looking at both players peripherals in hitting with men on base and with more than one out in an inning. In both of those situations, Jeter outperforms Gardner, indicating that you could switch their spots and probably improve the offense. Except, when Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Pena are semi-regulars, hitting Jeter behind either of those two would be more than a perceptual insult.
So, if you move Gardner into the leadoff role, where do you hit Jeter? The line-up position would have to take advantage of Jeter’s ability to lead off innings (that .367 OBA leading off an inning is one of the highest in MLB). You also would need a spot where Jeter’s abilities with men on base could come into play (he’s produced a .286 BA with RISP in 2010). That all adds up to hitting Jeter 7th, sliding Lance Berkman to 8th and Curtis Granderson to 9th. Why 7th? Traditionally, that position leads of the second most innings of any in the line-up, behind the leadoff hitter and the Yankees are no different. The 7th place hitter also tends to get a reasonable number of RBI opportunities. Finally, if you hit Jeter 7th, between Jorge Posada and Berkman, you’re hitting him between two switch-hitters, preventing opposing managers from lining up a top right-handed reliever to face him in late innings.
So, there you have it: the best possible line-up for the Yankees would look like this:
- Brett Gardner, CF
- Nick Swisher, RF
- Mark Teixeira, 1B
- Alex Rodriguez, 3B
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Jorge Posada, C
- Derek Jeter, SS
- Lance Berkman, DH
- Curtis Granderson, CF
So, what do you think? Should Jeter move out of the leadoff spot or hit somewhere else in the lineup? If somewhere else, where? Let me know!
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