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.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.