(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)
Ever since (and even before) the ink dried on his contract extension, there has been a lot of talk about “moving” Derek Jeter, whether it be down in the batting order or to one of the corner positions on the field. So, not surprisingly, Joe Girardi’s recent decision to tinker with his batting order during spring training generated a bit of a buzz.
Before last night’s exhibition game against Tampa, Brett Gardner found himself leading off, while Jeter batted second. Judging by some of the reaction, you’d have thought this constituted a revolutionary change. Even if the move was made on Opening Day, instead of during the exhibition schedule, it still wouldn’t have been a big deal. After all, over the course of his career, Jeter’s position in the lineup has regularly changed to fit the team’s roster at the time.
Most Common Yankees’ Leadoff Hitters, 1996-2010
|1996||Wade Boggs (79)||Derek Jeter (40)||Tim Raines (38)|
|1997||Derek Jeter (102)||Tim Raines (52)||Scott Pose (6)|
|1998||Chuck Knoblauch (150)||Homer Bush (9)||Derek Jeter (3)|
|1999||Chuck Knoblauch (148)||Scott Brosius (4)||Chad Curtis (4)|
|2000||Chuck Knoblauch (101)||Derek Jeter (21)||Ricky Ledee (13)|
|2001||Chuck Knoblauch (125)||Derek Jeter (26)||Alfonso Soriano (7)|
|2002||Alfonso Soriano (150)||Derek Jeter (10)||Enrique Wilson (1)|
|2003||Alfonso Soriano (141)||Derek Jeter (20)||Enrique Wilson (1)|
|2004||Derek Jeter (62)||Bernie Williams (47)||Kenny Lofton (41)|
|2005||Derek Jeter (154)||Tony Womack (8)|
|2006||Johnny Damon (144)||Melky Cabrera (17)||Bernie Williams (1)|
|2007||Johnny Damon (123)||Melky Cabrera (32)||Bobby Abreu (5)|
|2008||Johnny Damon (131)||Brett Gardner (12)||Melky Cabrera (9)|
|2009||Derek Jeter (147)||Brett Gardner (11)||Johnny Damon (4)|
|2010||Derek Jeter (137)||Brett Gardner (25)|
In 1996, Jeter gradually made his way from the bottom of the lineup to the top before establishing himself as the primary leadoff hitter during the World Series. Then, despite starting 1997 by hitting .373/.471/.542 mostly from the leadoff slot, the reigning rookie of the year was dropped all the way to seventh when Tim Raines was activated from the disabled list. Following a prolonged slump at the bottom of the order, Jeter eventually resurfaced back at the top. In 1998, the acquisition of Chuck Knoblauch led to Jeter’s installation as the permanent number two hitter, where he remained for most of the next six seasons. When Alfonso Soriano was traded after the 2003 season, Jeter was again enlisted to be the leadoff hitter, but that assignment corresponded with one of the worst slumps of his career. Bernie Williams filled in the first spot for a stretch, but once he regained his swing, Jeter returned to the top and continued leading off for the next two seasons. In 2007 and 2008, Jeter and Johnny Damon swapped slots in the order, and then in 2009, switched once again. So should anyone be surprised that Jeter, who batted leadoff for most of 2010, once again finds himself with an undetermined position in the order?
The brief history less above could just as easily have been accomplished by displaying Jeter’s career stats from the leadoff and number two positions in the batting order. Although the Yankees’ shortstop has been moved back and forth numerous times during his career, the remarkable thing is it seems to have had no impact on his performance. In statistically significant samples, Jeter has posted nearly identical batting lines in his two most prominent batting order positions. In other words, Jeter’s willingness to adjust has been matched only by his ability to adapt.
Derek Jeter’s Career Lineup Splits
Regardless of whether Girardi bats him first or second, it probably won’t matter to Jeter, so it really shouldn’t matter to anyone else. Not only are the differences in the statistical projections negligible, but there is nothing about the change that would imply a demotion. Having said that, a word of caution seems to be in order. Although there’s no arguing against Gardner’s potential to be a very good leadoff hitter, he hasn’t exactly established himself in the major leagues. Oddly, the same people who are touting Gardner’s .383 OBP in 2010, seem to be forgetting or, even worse, dismissing Jeter’s career mark of .385.
It’s hard to shake off concern about Jeter’s relatively poor 2010 season, but that doesn’t mean we should write him off just yet. As an aging shortstop, Jeter faces many historic obstacles, but his career has been defined by extraordinary performances. Hall of Fame-caliber players reach their plateau by exceeding what’s expected and overcoming challenges that seem insurmountable. It remains to be seen whether Jeter will rebound in 2011, but it would be foolish to begin with the assumption that he will not.
Jeter’s track record demands that Girardi begin the season with his shortstop batting in an integral part of the lineup…not because he owes homage to a legend, but because legends have a unique ability to perform. Sadly, it seems as if many Yankees’ fans have turned Jeter’s great career against him…opting to focus on one bad season instead of a prolific career. Hopefully, Girardi isn’t as rash in his judgment.