Before you read this it behooves me to note that after I completed this piece it came to my attention that our pal Jay Jaffe also wrote about this very topic yesterday, though I wound up using ZiPS Rest-of-Season numbers instead of 2011 stats, so the below presents a slightly different take on the matter. While Jay and I overall feel similarly on the topic, I also drew a slightly different conclusion. Additionally, our friend SG at RLYW also attacked this earlier today utilizing updated CAIRO projections, and basically drew the same conclusion that I did.
I’ve probably been one of Derek Jeter‘s more vocal critics during his slide into mediocrity during the last year-plus, and between the Captain reportedly being insulted at a way-above market contract offer last winter before ultimately signing what was still a way-above market contract for too many years, continuing to lead the world in ground balls, selfishly trying to avoid the disabled list to the detriment of the 25-man roster as he recuperates from a minor calf injury and owning a .260/.324/.324 (0.5 fWAR) line on the season, he hasn’t exactly done anything to change my mind.
With Derek on the mend and perhaps returning to action next week, Joe Girardi stated that Jeter would be the leadoff hitter upon his return to the lineup. While many expect that particular declaration to last only so long as it takes Jeter to reach his 3,000th hit, the Yankees haven’t exactly shown a willingness to mess with their most iconic player since perhaps Mickey Mantle, and I would be pretty surprised if Girardi did the sensible thing and platooned Jeter and Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot, per Mike Axisa’s suggestion.
However, for as much as Brett Gardner’s improved play of late (.308/.393/.449, .370 wOBA over the last 30 days) has Yankee fans clamoring for Brett’s permanent installation into the leadoff slot and concurrent dropping of Derek far below to the nether reaches of the linesup, as it turns out a Gardner-Jeter swap wouldn’t result in anywhere near the kind of run improvement one might expect.
Utilizing ZiPS’ Rest-of-Season projections for the Yankee starting lineup (prior to yesterday’s double-header), we get the following results:
With Derek batting leadoff and Gardner hitting ninth: 5.505 runs per game
With Gardner batting leadoff and Jeter hitting ninth: 5.516 runs per game
That minuscule .011 run-per-game difference translates to roughly one run (0.979) over the season’s remaining 89 games.
If you’re like me, and think ZiPS’ RoS projection of .339 OBP/.380 SLG for Jeter is aggressive, and want to swap in his current .324/.324 rates, you get:
With Derek batting leadoff and Gardner hitting ninth: 5.408 runs per game
With Gardner batting leadoff and Jeter hitting ninth: 5.448 runs per game
This .040 run-per-game difference works out to roughly 3.6 runs over the rest of the season.
If we use a baseline of 10 runs = one win, Derek batting in the top spot for the remainder of the season wouldn’t even cost the Yankees half a victory. As much as it seems like a no-brainer to make the Gardner-Jeter swap — and this analysis doesn’t change my desire for that — it would appear that any griping about Derek hitting leadoff is probably pointless.
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