"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yankee Panky: The Writes of Spring

The last week of March signals the beginning of the regular season like light at the end of a tunnel. In Florida, beat writers and their backups, many of whom have been stationed there since the beginning of February, are gathering the final roster notes and putting the finishing touches on their season preview specials for next Sunday’s paper, while the columnists, most of whom are based in New York, continue to track the off-field news and craft profiles of the key players involved in those scenarios.

It’s an exciting and stressful time for all the moving parts of a baseball operation, from the team itself to the media outlets covering the team, but if you work in sports and if baseball is the sport in which you’ve chosen to specialize, it’s the best stress you can have outside of being involved in the postseason.

Much has been made of Joe Girardi’s decision to flip Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon in the batting order. Much was written about this topic in the winter and spring leading up to the 2006 season, Damon’s first in pinstripes. At the Baseball Writers Association of America dinner in December of 2005, I remember asking SI’s Tom Verducci, who is a proponent of Sabermetric analysis, what he thought about putting Jeter in the leadoff spot. He agreed that the combination of Jeter’s ability to get on base more consistently (he was coming off a year with a .389 OBP to Damon’s .366), and Gary Sheffield batting third—which would have kept the righty-lefty-righty element in play that Joe Torre favored—made Jeter the better choice for the leadoff spot. But that spring, when the writers asked Torre about his plan, the Yankee manager was undeterred about keeping Damon as the leadoff hitter. Torre, in his way, usually deflected the discussion by saying, “You only have to worry about the leadoff batter for the first inning. Then the rest of the lineup takes care of itself.” It was as if the decision was predetermined from the moment Damon signed with the Yankees.

What we know as baseball fans is that the numbers rarely lie. Jeter’s lowest seasonal on-base percentage pre-Damon was .352 in 2004. Head to head, Damon, whose career has spanned the same exact time frame of Jeter’s, had a higher OBP than Jeter only once prior to his arrival in New York (in 2004: Damon .380 to Jeter’s .352.). The trend has held true since 2006, as Jeter has bested Damon in OBP twice: .417 to .359 in ’06, and .388 to .351 in ’07.

Adding further credibility to Jeter as a leadoff batter is the number of times that Jeter has grounded into double plays versus Damon. Over the course of their respective careers, Damon has grounded into 120 fewer double plays than Jeter (75 to 95), an average of nine fewer GIDPs per season.

Cliff Corcoran, through Pete Abe, did a great job of breaking down the numbers earlier this week.

Here’s a thought, though: If Girardi is adamant about Jeter in the leadoff spot now, did he think about this at all in 2006 when he was Torre’s consiglieri on the bench? If so, and if he had Torre’s ear, why didn’t he suggest it? By the numbers, and the fact that Damon is entering his Age 35 season and Jeter will turn 35 on June 26, this decision appears to be three years late.


Until next week . . .


1 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 30, 2009 11:54 am


I have two words for John Cena ....

"Chris Benoit"

2 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 30, 2009 12:11 pm

@1 ... I didn't want to go there.

3 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 30, 2009 12:14 pm

sorry :-(

4 Rob Abruzzese   ~  Mar 30, 2009 12:23 pm

It's good to see a manager who actually cares about how stats affect ball games. Don't forget the game has a pulse? Don't forget the winning team is the one who scores more runs.

5 a.O   ~  Mar 30, 2009 12:53 pm

Of course Damon is going to hit into fewer double plays over a career if he's always hitting in the first inning with no one on base. Perhaps this doesn't explain all the variability, but it surely explains some of it.

Another interesting point that hasn't been mentioned much is the fact that Jeter is no longer a base stealer. I think "Gardy" should hit leadoff and Damon should drop down.

6 Will Weiss   ~  Mar 30, 2009 1:16 pm

[5] Point taken. Damon has been a leadoff guy and has had fewer GIDP opportunities. However, his OBP numbers at that position were a concern. ... The mentality you describe re: Gardner plays into the old Joe Torre argument. If Gardner shows a propensity of getting on base better than a .370 - .380 clip, by all means he should hit leadoff. But he's not a lock to even be the starter for an extended period of time, so to heap that on him at this stage seems premature.

7 a.O   ~  Mar 30, 2009 1:33 pm

[6] Agreed. This reminds me of Girardi's comment on the need for "a set lineup." I would give Gardner a shot at leadoff a few times if he were batting as well as you describe after a month or so. The main reason for that is his speed and my fond memories of the great Rickey basically creating a run by himself in the first innings of numerous games.

And, if I'm being perfectly honest with myself, I want to see Gardner get a shot at hitting leadoff because I feel like Torre, Girardi, and the Yankees generally, have the same problem I saw with Lou for so long in Seattle: Veteran Worship.

8 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 30, 2009 1:39 pm

2008 Yankees DP percentage (DP/DP opps)
NETDP: The number of additional double plays generated versus an average player with the same number of opportunities. Negative NET DP indicates that fewer double plays than average were produced.
(I'm only listing major lineup contributors)

Ivan Rodriguez 6 37.5% 4.21
Derek Jeter 26 17.9% 8.99
Jorge Posada 8 17.1% 2.41
Wilson Betemit 8 16.3% 2.18
Jose Molina 11 16.1% 2.73
Robinson Cano 21 14.5% 4.11
Hideki Matsui 14 13.9% 1.94
Alex Rodriguez 18 13.7% 2.90
Melky Cabrera 17 12.2% 0.92
Xavier Nady 6 11.1% -0.04
Bobby Abreu 18 8.4% -4.59
Johnny Damon 8 6.8% -3.29
Jason Giambi 10 5.4% -6.43

9 a.O   ~  Mar 30, 2009 1:44 pm

[8] Wow, Jeet's off the charts for '08. What's the standard deviation?

10 Diane Firstman   ~  Mar 30, 2009 2:01 pm

For those with 502 or more PAs during 2008, here are the worst DP% guys:

V Guerrero ANA 30 22.1% 13.34
M Tejada HOU 33 21.3% 16.22
S Schumaker SLN 22 21.1% 9.53
Y Escobar ATL 26 20.3% 11.59
M Ordonez DET 29 20.0% 11.88
B Molina SFN 23 19.2% 10.38
J Peralta CLE 27 19.1% 10.77
J Loney LAN 29 18.9% 11.11
Y Betancourt SEA 24 18.5% 9.11
D Jeter NYA 26 17.9% 8.99

11 monkeypants   ~  Mar 30, 2009 6:56 pm

[9][10] There is no doubt that Jeter hit into a lot of DPs last year, no matter how you slice the numbers. On the one hand, some of hitting into DP is the product of coming up with men on base. In Jeter's case it is clear that he is becoming more and more of a ground ball hitter.

I'm not convinced that moving him to the leadoff spot will eliminate *that* many DPs, though last year it was his worst DP inning. At the same time, Jeter's problem with GIDP is perhaps somewhat exaggerated. I mean, it's not good to hit into DP. But it would be more telling if we could compare the worst DP offenders with the league average (as opposed to, say Damon, who is fast, bats left AND hist leadoff, so he has the least opportunities to GIDP). What is the difference between worst and average, about 10 0r 15 outs.

You can take that *if* the player remains productive with the bat otherwise. Of course, if Jeter's numbers continue to slide AND he continues to rap into DP, well that's not very good.

12 PJ   ~  Mar 30, 2009 8:31 pm

I really don't care where Jeter hits, as long as he continues to spray it all over to set the table, yay for us! Perhaps Teixeira is beyond his "notoriously slow starts" this year. I'm certainly looking forward to watching a Yankee 1B hit for both average and power in Silver Slugger fashion from year to year again for the first time since Donnie was playing, and we get GG defense to boot! Tino was clutch to be sure, but he wasn't a .300 hitter annually for us like Mattingly was. If Mark can play like that, and maybe push his lifetime average above .300, eight years is fine with me. He may even last longer if he stays healthy.

Will there be a black armband this year for Johnny Blanchard? Are there guidelines for the bands and numbers when there is a death in the Yankees extended family? It seems they should be wearing them just about every year I'm afraid.

Thanks in advance for answering.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver