Derek Jeter was the Yankees’ leadoff man in 137 of his 155 starts last season, but manager Joe Girardi announced today that Jeter will hit second in the Opening Day lineup, with Brett Gardner replacing him in the leadoff spot.
Anything involving Jeter inevitably leads to big headlines, but ultimately the switch is pretty meaningless. Leadoff hitters end up with slightly more plate appearances than No. 2 hitters, while No. 2 hitters end up with slightly more RBI opportunities than leadoff hitters.
Either way, both spots involve coming to the plate more often than everyone else in the lineup and setting the table for the sluggers. And while Jeter was primarily a leadoff man last season he’s actually hit second far more often throughout his career, logging 56 percent of his total plate appearances in the No. 2 spot. And his numbers are identical, with a .313 batting average and .839 OPS leading off compared to a .314 batting average and .840 OPS hitting second.
To me this move is more about Gardner getting a promotion from the bottom of the lineup to the top of the lineup following a very strong season that included a lofty .383 on-base percentage and 47 steals. If the Yankees feel like he’s capable of repeating those numbers the leadoff spot makes all kinds of sense, and since Jeter has more power than Gardner it’s also natural to bat him second.
One negative aspect of Jeter hitting second is that he’ll get more opportunities to ground into double plays after ranking fifth in the league with 22 last season despite batting at least once per game with no one on base, but Gardner tries so many steals (and is fast enough even when he doesn’t take off for second base) that the impact could be minimal.