But what about his spot in the batting order? Jeter has routinely led off for the Yankees this season. There is no question that this is a loyalty decision, not a baseball decision. The stereotypical leadoff hitter takes long at-bats, is fast, doesn't necessarily hit for power, and gets on base at a high clip. In other words, he's Brett Gardner. Although lineups don't impact a game tremendously, the optimal decision would be to bat Gardner and his high OBP first, and Jeter lower in the lineup (and Robinson Cano fourth, but I digress).
Robbie may be showing us all the runs Joe Girardi has left on the table batting him fifth this season, now that Alex Rodriguez is on the DL. But what about the decision to bat Jeter first, something that has happened all season, at least until recently? How badly has that hurt the team?
It was unclear how to go about measuring the marginal impact lineup order has throughout the season. In addition, there is no list of leadoff hitters that I could find. Instead, I went around baseball to see who was batting leadoff for every team that played Monday night. (I did this mid game, so the numbers may look a little off.) I added Jeter to the list, since Joe Girardi bat Gardner first. I also included both B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford, since they both bat first for the Rays from time to time.
Here's the list of players, ordered by their OBPs:
Of the 28 players on the list, Brett Gardner has the highest OBP by quite a bit. Derek's OBP falls right in the middle, at fifteenth.
This quick and dirty analysis suggests that the Yankees have hurt themselves measurably batting Derek leadoff so often this season. While other teams happily use worse options to bat first, the Yankees appear to have consistently ignored one of the best options in Gardner. Brett gets on base almost 20% more often that Jeter, which is material. In a five at-bat game, that's a free out the Yankees give the other team if Derek leads off, instead of Gardner.
There is an argument to make that Gardner is untested in the leadoff spot in the big leagues, but the counter to that is to argue to test him now. Girardi appears to be doing that. If Brett passes the test, he should bat leadoff through October, regardless of how Jeter does. If Derek runs the risk of banging into a double play batting 2nd, then he should bat 8th or 9th, where he can't risk eliminating himself and a lead runner.
If Brett Gardner continues to get on base batting 1st, then he should continue to lead off through the post season (or until he legitimately loses the job). His high OBP, ability to drive up pitch counts early in the game, and speed are all valuable assets heading into October. Jeter, meanwhile, should demonstrate the leadership skills he is known for having and gracefully accept a different spot in the batting order, perhaps one in the lower third.