Since Derek Jeter went on the 15-day DL with a strained right calf, all the Yankees have done is go 10-3 without their captain. Does this mean they are better off without him?
The answer to that question depends heavily on which Jeter we're talking about. Are we looking at the Jeter who has hit .260 in 62 games this season with just two home runs, 20 RBI and a .649 OPS?
Or are we talking about the Jeter who has hit .312 for his career with an .832 OPS?
New York is obviously better off with a healthy and productive Jeter in their lineup, but he has been anything but this season. Eduardo Nunez has filled in capably at the plate since taking over at shortstop, batting .295 (13-44) with a homer, 4 runs and 4 RBI.
The Yankees have actually performed better as a lineup without Jeter, averaging a full run more per game (6.1 to 5.1) and hitting .288 compared to .249 in the 20 games Nunez has started. Nunez also has three errors since Jeter hit the DL, while the captain had just four all season before his injury.
Defense aside, this brings up a legitimate point about New York's lineup—the Yankees are better off with Nunez batting ninth than they are with Jeter batting first.
Forgive my potentially blasphemous words, but shouldn't Joe Girardi consider batting Jeter ninth when he returns?
Despite sabermetricians' best efforts, Jeter is an obvious upgrade defensively over Nunez, diminishing range aside.
While Nunez has hit well over the past two weeks, Jeter is also a better hitter. If the Yankees lineup is better with Nunez ninth than it is with Jeter first, wouldn't it be even better with Jeter batting ninth?
Brett Gardner is the only prototypical leadoff man on the Yankees roster.
His .360 OBP this season trumps Jeter's .324 on-base percentage, and that includes an awful April where people were questioning his spot in the lineup. In limited at-bats against left-handed pitching, Gardner's OBP is actually higher (.386) than it is against right-handers.
There's no need for a leadoff platoon at the top of the Yankees order. Gardner should be the man at the top, and while Jeter has been a No. 2 hitter for most of his career, Curtis Granderson is thriving in that spot this season.
With the copious power running through the Yankees lineup in the next six spots, Jeter batting ninth makes perfect sense. He still has enough speed and base-stealing ability that he won't slow down Gardner, and who else would you want to turn your lineup over?
If he doesn't hit, it's not a big deal—you don't expect heavy offensive contributions from your last hitter anyway.
If Jeter was truly a great Yankee captain, he would recognize that he hurts the team batting leadoff if he's not hitting .300, and I can't find many people who think he's still a .300 hitter. I sure don't.
Jeter has been the consummate team player throughout his career but he can add to his Yankee legacy by being open to batting ninth. New York may be in first place in the AL East right now, but they are not a championship-caliber team with a .260 leadoff hitter who has a home run in just one game this season.
Do the right thing, Derek. Offer to bat ninth when you come back, because Joe Girardi does not have the stones to pencil you in there.
Your team will be better off and you just may have another ring on your finger.