This morning Joe Girardi made it clear that Derek Jeter will continue to be the Yankees’ leadoff hitter despite coming off a career-worst season that included a career-low .340 on-base percentage.
Here’s what the manager had to say about leaving Jeter atop the lineup:
We signed him to be our shortstop and we signed him to be our leadoff hitter. And he’s got a pretty good track history of what he’s done in the game of baseball. I’m not really too concerned about him as our leadoff hitter. But as we all know in this game, you have to prove yourself year in and year out, no matter who you are. That’s just the nature of the game, and there’s always people trying to take your job.
Even while posting the worst numbers of his career Jeter’s batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.340), and slugging percentage (.370) were all above average among American League leadoff men, who hit .267/.330/.364 as a group in 2010. In other words, only in a lineup as strong and deep as the Yankees’ is his hitting leadoff really an issue.
Brett Gardner provides the clearest alternative to Jeter. He’s faster and offers far more base-stealing ability than Jeter, and easily topped his OBP last season by a .383 to .340 margin. Of course, Jeter posted a .406 OBP in 2009 while Gardner got on base at a .345 clip, so there’s no guarantee Gardner will be the superior on-base option this season.
When most people talk about batting order changes the focus tends to be on who’s hitting before or after whom, but the biggest impact of moving Jeter from the leadoff spot to, say, the ninth spot, would be far fewer plate appearances. Instead of leading off the game his first trip to the plate would likely come in the second or third inning, and last season the first spot in New York’s lineup batted 786 times compared to the ninth spot batting 632 times. By sticking with Jeter at leadoff Girardi is giving him an extra 100-150 plate appearances.