18 Mar 2011
I find it amazing that the Yankees are seriously debating whether Derek Jeter should bat first or second. Last season he had the second-worst OBP of the starters and grounded into 22 double plays. Based on that, he should be in the bottom of the lineup and not the top.
I know, I know, he is “The Captain”. He is the guy who is going to get his 3,000th hit this year and is “Jeterian” according to Michael Kay. But, none of that matters to the 2011 Yankees and wherever he hits in the lineup this season won’t change the fact that his number will be retired, his plaque will be put in Monument Park and he will go to the Hall of Fame one day. His legacy is already cemented as a great baseball player, his place in the lineup is simply about vanity.
I fall somewhere between traditionalists and sabermetricians when it comes to thinking about lineups. While I agree with the numbers crowd that a lineup is a way to allocate playing time (The top spot gets about 20 more plate appearances than the 2nd spot over a year, the 2nd 20 more than the 3rd and so on.) I also believe there is value to putting certain players together. I wouldn’t want to stack my lefties together or put a fast guy in front of an impatient player. Personally, I would do something like this for the Yankees lineup:
I think that is a pretty good mix of traditional and non-traditional thinking. You have your speedy guy leading off, but your speedy guy also gets on base a lot and saw the most pitches per plate appearance in baseball last year. Swisher is a switch hitter who had a .359OBP/.511 SLG last year and also looks at a ton of pitches. Cano is simply a better hitter than Teixeira right now, so I flipped them. Putting Jeter-Granderson-Martin at the bottom keeps the lineup split evenly between righties and lefties.
I have a better chance of winning the lottery than seeing that lineup anytime soon. I can almost guarantee that Tex and Cano aren’t flip-flopping and Jeter is going to be in one of the top two spots, at least to start the season. The question is, what is the performance threshold to keep him there? As I mentioned before, Jeter got on base 34% of the time while grounding into 22 double plays last year and the Yankees kept him right at the top of the lineup. Obviously, if Jeter rebounds, this is a non-issue, but if he doesn’t, expect a lot of lineup talk throughout 2011.