Monday, May 2, 2011
Time to move Jeter out of leadoff spot
By David Schoenfield
Derek Jeter has just two extra-base hits through his first 24 games.
This is not an anti-Derek Jeter post, although I'm sure many Yankees fans will take it that way.
Jeter has started 24 of the Yankees' 25 games and has hit first or second in the order in all 24 starts. He's hitting .242 but has just two extra-base hits (both doubles) in 95 at-bats. He's drawn nine walks, pushing his on-base percentage up to .308. The two doubles were a ground-ball double to left off Francisco Liriano on April 7 and a ground-ball double to right off Jake Arrieta on April 24. In other words, he not only hasn't hit a home run, he hasn't hit one screaming liner in the gap all season long. Last season -- the worst of his Hall of Fame career -- 16 percent of the balls Jeter put in play were line drives, the lowest of his career. That percentage is just 8 percent entering Monday's game.
Jeter will turn 37 in June. I'm not sure if that seems old to you or not; in baseball terms, it is old. Since 1901, only 119 players have batted 500 times in a season at that age. Some were still going strong: Barry Bonds won the MVP Award, Ted Williams hit .345, Tony Gwynn rapped out 220 hits, Honus Wagner and George Brett won batting titles. Many were still productive. And some showed the signs of age: Craig Biggio moved to center field and hit .264, Cal Ripken slugged a career-low .389 and finally took a day off, Robin Yount hit .258 and retired.
Maybe Jeter is just off to a slow start, but on the heels of last year's decline and evidence of declining bat speed, I'm not so sure that this isn't his talent level right now. He's actually striking out at a career-low rate (10.5 percent versus a career rate of 16.8), so he's putting more balls in play and still hitting for a low average. He's just not hitting the ball with any authority.
Before the season, the big debate was whether the Yankees should hit Jeter or Brett Gardner leadoff. Gardner isn't off a to a great start, either (.200/.300/.400), but that still gives him an OPS 128 points higher than Jeter's. Gardner lost his leadoff spot after just two weeks, with Joe Girardi moving Jeter into the No. 1 slot and Curtis Granderson or Nick Swisher to the 2-hole. In some fashion, there's no need for Girardi to panic -- the Yankees lead the division by 2½ games, and they're leading the American League with 5.56 runs per game. But it's a team that's become overly reliant upon the home run, and it should be noted that the Yankees have played 18 of their 25 games in the close quarters of NuYankee. That means as the road games start piling up, they're going to want a more balanced offense, which means getting guys on base in front of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano ... which means moving Jeter down in the lineup, at least against right-handers. Personally, I'd go with something like this for now:
I'd also suggest giving Jeter a few more days off, especially against tough right-handers. He's not a young player anymore, and although his durability is admirable, I think he needs to sit more than once a month.