Derek Jeter or Brett Gardner Leading off for New York Yankees: Does It Matter?

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IMarch 22, 2011

Should Jeter remain at leadoff?
Should Jeter remain at leadoff?Andrew Burton/Getty Images

One of the few remaining decisions for the New York Yankees in this spring training is a final choice of leadoff hitter.

The choice for manager Joe Girardi comes down to Derek Jeter or Brett Gardner.

Jeter is a 16-year veteran who had a down year in 2010.  Jeter has made adjustments to his setup at the plate which have been successful this spring.  He is a career .300 hitter, and there is no real reason to believe he won't be much better this year.

Two years ago, when Johnny Damon was still with the Yanks, Girardi experimented in the spring by flipping Damon and Jeter in the order. 

Damon had almost always been a leadoff hitter during his career, including his first years as a Yank.

The primary reason given for the change in 2009 was that Jeter hit into too many double plays and hitting him first would improve that situation.

Jeter remained in the leadoff slot last year, even though Damon was gone.

Gardner played as a regular for the first time in 2010. He goes into this season as the regular left fielder.  Gardner saw more time in the nine hole in the order than any other slot.  He did lead off occasionally last year.  Gardner hit .276 with an on-base percentage of .383, which is very respectable. 

Some argue that Gardner is a more prototypical leadoff man. He is certainly faster than Jeter, hits lefty and is a threat to steal every time he is on.

But, an analysis of the situation could show that the argument is much ado about nothing.

Assume that Gardner plays in 150 games and leads off each time.  If his OBP remains the same, he will get on base as leadoff hitter 57 times. 

For the purpose of this argument, it is only when Gardner leads off the game that Jeter's hitting into double plays is relevant.

There may be additional times, of course, when Gardner bats first in an inning.  But that would be true whether he were hitting first, ninth or cleanup. 

A bigger consideration may be where the Yankees find the greatest flexibility in the order.  Jeter will hit second if he is not leading off.  Even when he was hitting .260 last year, Girardi did not drop him to the bottom of the order.  It shouldn't happen now either and won't.

If Jeter is second in the order, slots two through six are going to be the same every day that Posada is DH.  That leaves you finding a place for Swisher, Granderson and Martin. 

Granderson would be the only one of those three that gives you any speed at the bottom of the lineup. But with his power he won't hit ninth.

If Jeter leads off, Swisher can hit second, where he had the best production of his career last season.  That allows Granderson to hit seventh where he still can use his pop. Martin can hit eighth and Gardner can then become almost a second leadoff man in the nine hole. 

With the circular nature of the Yankee lineup, Gardner could lead off innings in a lot of games even hitting ninth.

Girardi should abandon the experiment to use his favorite player (Gardner) in the glory spot of leadoff. Leave Jeter alone there.