Heading into the season, while many felt that the Yankees best arrangement would be with Brett Gardner sitting atop the lineup, the constant chatter was that Derek Jeter would remain the Yankees leadoff hitter. For or better or worse, the Yankees legend was getting the limelight, despite a .348 OBP in the leadoff spot in ’10, while Gardner would be hitting ninth.
However, all of that changed yesterday. Jack Curry of the YES Network posted on Twitter:
“Yanks say Gardner will leadoff on Opening Day against Verlander and Jeter will hit 2d. I like that move. Gardner offers a lot as leadoff man”
I will second his sentiment, though with a little bit more enthusiasm. I love the move. While it is no guarantee that Gardner is the full-time leadoff man (they could still hit him ninth against southpaws or permanently move him back to the bottom of the lineup at some point), let’s take a look at the fantasy fallout in the Yankees lineup:
In a deep Yankees lineup Gardner still would have had plenty of value hitting ninth, but things look so much more attractive at the leadoff spot for no other reason than the extra plate appearances he’ll get. In a high-powered offense, the more times you step to the plate the better off you are going to be, especially when you bring the type of on-base skills that Gardner does.
In 2010 he posted a .383 OBP thanks to a .340 BABIP (leading to a .277 average) and 13.9% walk rate. Over his minor league career his walk rate was at 14.0%, so there is no reason to think that he’s going to regress significantly in that regard.
Where he needs to improve is his strikeout rate (21.2% in ’10). If he can do that, his BABIP was realistic for a player with his speed meaning the overall results are going to improve significantly.
He had an outside shot of reaching 100 runs in the ninth spot (he scored 97 in ’10), but hitting leadoff that would almost be a given. Throw in the speed potential to steal over 50 bases and what’s not to like? He is a must use option in all formats.
Hitting first or second really isn’t going to have an effect on the value of Jeter. In 2010 he hit just .274 with 10 HR, 67 RBI and 111 R, but brings the proper plate discipline to hit in the second slot. No longer a dynamo at the top (18 SB), he certainly should give Gardner plenty of opportunities to run. Plus, with Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and company hitting behind him, would it be a surprise to still see him approach 100 runs scored?
We would have expected a bounce-back regardless (career low .307 BABIP), even at 36-years old (he turns 37 in June). Don’t let this potential move affect your outlook on Jeter. While he’s not an elite option, he’s a useful one.
If this lineup stands, Swisher may be the biggest loser. Instead of hitting in front of the big boppers with a chance to score urns, he will likely fall to the sixth or seventh (or maybe even eighth) spot in the lineup. Obviously, with Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson joining him in that part of the order helps, but you still have to be disappointed.
No longer will he have the potential to score a significant number of runs and, even where he is hitting, the opportunity for significant RBI is not going to be great (in part thanks to a lofty strikeout rate). Could he go 75 R, 85 RBI? Sure, but are those really exciting marks considering the risk he carries in the average department? I would consider him a low-end option at this point.
What are your thoughts of the potential Yankees lineup shakeup? Who is the big winner? Who is the big loser?
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