In January last year ESPN asked its readers to rank the game's best leadoff hitters. Derek Jeter didn't make their list of players. He hit 2nd in 2008. Even though Jeter put up impressive OBP numbers earlier this decade, when he was the Yankees' everyday leadoff hitter, he has traditionally been viewed as the proto-typical #2 hitter throughout his career - until last year. Joe Girardi decided to switch Jeter and Johnny Damon in the lineup. Both players responded with excellent seasons. Now, Jeter is viewed as an excellent fit as the Yankees' leadoff man.
How does Jeter rank against the players whom ESPN identified as the best leadoff men in the game just before the start of the 2009 season? Here are the players and their 2009 offensive slash stats:
Johnny Damon - .282/.365/.489
Ian Kinsler - .253/.327/.488
David DeJesus - .281/.347/.434
Stephen Drew - .261/.320/.428
Chone Figgins - .298/.395/.393
Rafael Furcal - .269/.335/.375
Nate McLouth - .256/.352/.436
Hanley Ramirez - .342/.410/.543
Jose Reyes - .279/.355/.395
Brian Roberts - .283/.356/.451
Jimmy Rollins - .250/.296/.423
Ichiro Suzuki - .352/.386/.465
Alfonso Soriano - .241/.303/.423
Grady Sizemore - .248/.343/.445
Curtis Granderson - .249/.327/.453
There are a lot of All-Stars in that list, many of whom didn't perform to All-Star standards in 2009.
How did The Captain do? .334/.406/.465. Of all the players on the list above, only Hanley Ramirez got on base at a better clip than Jeter, and a leadoff man's number-one job is to get on base. In addition, a lot is made of Jeter's declining power, but only Ichiro Suzuki, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Kinsler and Johnny Damon matched or out-slugged Derek Jeter in 2009.
2009 was one of Jeter's best seasons ever, but his career line wouldn't knock him down too much further on this list. His career stats are .317/.388/.459. Had Jeter "only" managed his Hall of Fame-quality career line then Chone Figgins would be one more player who out OBP'd him, while the list of players who slugged as well or better than the Captain wouldn't change at all.
Derek Jeter's intangibles are overrated. They are certainly important, but so much attention seems to get paid to how he plays the game that not enough attention is paid to what he does when he plays. Last season Jeter was one of the two or 3 best leadoff hitters in baseball, in addition to everything else he accomplished in 2009. This accomplishment isn't given its due, and Jeter's name seldom comes up on the list of players who fit the leadoff prototype, even though he has a high OBP, good power and excellent speed.