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.
STORY OF THE WEEK
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.
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.
OTHER THINGS WE LEARNED
- Alex Rodriguez not only wooed escorts and strippers and admitted his steroid use to them, now he doesn’t care what people think of him. (Does this list include WWE star John Cena?) The good news: the last time he adopted this M.O., he had an MVP season.
- FOX Sports.com’s Ken Rosenthal is a master of the obvious. On a similar note, the recent surge by Melky Cabrera may lead to a trade, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reported
- Joel Sherman, while he’s on point in this article, is about two weeks behind Bronx Banter on the analysis of Chien-Ming Wang.
- Newsday’s Anthony Rieber is not a fan of Hideki Matsui, v.2009.
- Arthur Richman and Johnny Blanchard, two indelible links to Yankees history, will be missed.
Until next week . . .