Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jeter and Gardner Need to Be Separated

There has been some discussion this week of whether Brett Gardner will lead off for the Yankees or whether it will be Derek Jeter. Most favor moving Gardner into the lead off spot and moving Jeter down to second. To this observer, neither matters as long as Jeter is batting behind Gardner. If Jeter leads off and Gardner bats ninth or if Gardner leads off and Jeter bats second, you still have the problem of Jeter behind Gardner. And why is that a problem? Double plays and Jeter's desire to hit the first pitch of any sequence, especially if it's a fastball.

Derek Jeter has averaged 21 grounded-into-double-plays in the last four years. Despite any kind of change to his stance or approach to hitting, Jeter is going to get his fair share of double plays. He hit 22 GDPs last year. Of those 22, thirteen occurred when Gardner was on base. Why is this important? Well, the one reason you want Gardner in the line up is his ability first, to get on base, and second, to create havoc on the bases once he gets there. Gardner's on base percentage in 2010 was .379. But since he was on base thirteen of the times Jeter hit into a double-play, that effectively ruins thirteen of his on base opportunities and in effect lowers Gardner's OBP to .356 (subtract 13 from his 216 on base events in 2010). That's thirteen less times that Gardner can steal and cause the defense and the opposing pitcher more stress while he romps around the base paths.

Add to this Jeter's penchant for hitting the first pitch. Derek Jeter loves to jump on a first pitch fastball. He's made a Hall of Fame career doing so. Of Jeter's 739 plate appearances in 2010, 102 of them were decided on the first pitch. A guy like Gardner on the base paths needs enough pitches to make his move. He can't always run on the first pitch. If he does and Jeter hits a line drive, he's dead. If Jeter hits a fly ball, Gardner's effort is wasted. If Jeter hits the ball on the ground, at least the double-play is avoided. The other problem with Gardner on first and Jeter hitting behind him is that Jeter likes to hit the ball the opposite way. If Gardner steals, Jeter loses the hole between the first and second baseman. That would lead to Gardner staying put on first more often than not with Jeter batting, which leads to double-plays.

The solution in this Fan's eyes is two-fold. If you want to bat Gardner first, you have to move Jeter down in the line up to sixth or something.  And then you have to risk upsetting the long-time Yankee captain. Personally, the Fan believes Jeter is going to bounce back quite a bit in 2011 and should get his OBP up to a respectable .360 to .375. If he does that, he's still worth leading off. Then slide Gardner into the number two hole. If Jeter doesn't get on base, you can still get Gardner on base in front of the big boys batting behind him. If both get on base, you have the possibility of double steals (Jeter still stole 18 bases last year).

With those two solutions, you accomplish the one thing you want to accomplish. You never want Jeter batting behind Gardner. Consider all you want whether you bat Jeter lead off with Gardner ninth or Jeter second with Gardner leading off. Neither works optimally. Getting Jeter out from behind Gardner is your best move.

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