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.
The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.
Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.
Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.
By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.
If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:
Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.
Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.
Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”
So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.