Those of you who have been reading this blog from inception know that I championed flipping Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order back in February. At the time, I said the following:
When considering these factors, it seems obvious that a switch should be made. The one element that supports keeping things as they are is Damon’s speed, as he is a much better base stealer than Jeter at this point. However, the remainder of the data points in the opposite direction. Unless Jeter’s poor season was a sign of a steep decline, Derek is better at reaching base than Damon, with a 30 point edge in OBP over their careers. However, Damon is less prone to the strikeout (12.1 K% to 17.1 for Jeter) and is significantly better at keeping the ball off the ground (1.33 GB/FB compared to 2.36). Essentially, this means that Damon is able to put up similar numbers to Jeter while making more contact and hitting fewer ground balls, both qualities that help avoid rally killing double plays and strikeouts from the #2 slot. Finally, Damon has a bit more power than Jeter, another element that suggests flipping them would lead to more runs.
As we all know, Joe Girardi was paying attention, and flipped the two players as spring training came to a close. As Peter Abraham notes, the move has seemingly worked well:
Nearly five months later, it has worked out spectacularly well. Through games played Tuesday, the Yankees were second in the majors in runs scored and team batting average and first in on-base percentage.
Going into last night’s game against Oakland, Jeter was hitting .330 with a .394 on-base percentage. Jeter’s 15 home runs are his most since he hit 19 in 2005 and his 20 stolen bases are the most since he had 34 in 2006.
Jeter is sixth in the American League with 80 runs scored, second with 159 hits and fifth in batting average. Among leadoff hitters, he is second in batting average and on-base percentage.
The question is, have the reasons I gave for the move initially actually been borne out on the field?
Well, Derek is still better at reaching base than Damon, with a 30 point edge in OBP (.395 to .365). Additionally, it has become clear that the baserunning concerns I touched on were unfounded, as Jeter is a perfectly efficient basestealer at the top of the lineup (21 of 25, compared to 9-9 by Damon). Damon is striking out more than Jeter is, but makes up for it with a significantly higher isolated power rate (ISO) of .234 to Jeter’s .140. Finally, Damon continues to hit fewer groundballs than Jeter, with a GB/FB ratio of .88 compared to Jeter’s 2.16. Both players have a wOBA of .385.
What does it all mean? Well, we have two players having similar offensive impact (hence the same wOBA for both), but one has more speed, hits more groundballs, and reaches base at a higher clip, while the other hits the ball in the air and is hitting for more power. The obvious move is to have that first player leading off, and the second batting #2, which is what the Yankees have in fact done. This is one decision that has worked out perfectly.
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