- Last Updated: 12:50 PM, September 4, 2010
- Posted: 2:59 AM, September 4, 2010
There are many ways to think about a lineup, but there is one inarguable concept when constructing a batting order: You want your best hitters to bat most frequently.
So why does Derek Jeter continue to hit in one of the top two spots in the order?
The short answer is because he is Derek Jeter.
At this moment, Jeter is the weakest link in the everyday lineup, which means he should be batting eighth or ninth.
He isn't, Joe Girardi says, because the manager "believes" in Jeter. I think it is because he believes he would be creating tension and controversy around his club if he makes such a public rebuke of Jeter's skills. Girardi knows the decision by his predecessor, Joe Torre, to bat Alex Rodriguez eighth in the 2006 Division Series forever damaged the relationship between manager and slugger, and Girardi surely sees no upside in making the iconic Jeter an enemy.
To defend Jeter's presence near the top of the order, Girardi cherry-picked Jeter's runs scored (95) as an example of his continuing value. But that is more a reflection of how well the guys hitting behind Jeter have done. If he were having a familiar season, he would have 115-plus runs. Instead, he leads the majors in outs and has an on-base percentage of .332 -- 92nd out of 155 players who are qualified for the batting title.
In the Yankees lineup, the top of the order also can be an RBI position. But Jeter has one hit in 16 at-bats with the bases loaded and is hitting just .255 with runners in scoring position.
As if to accentuate what the top of the Yankees order can generate, in yesterday's 7-3 victory over the Blue Jays, on-base machine Brett Gardner led off, reached base three times, scored three times and drove in a run. The resurgent Curtis Granderson, batting second, delivered two doubles, two walks and three RBIs.
Jeter did not start as Girardi kept his struggling shortstop (3-for-his-last-34) away from a righty, Brandon Morrow, who Jeter cannot handle (3-for-16, seven strikeouts). The next two players on the shortstop depth chart, Ramiro Pena (who started at third) and Eduardo Nunez, combined to go 4-for-8.
But this is not about removing Jeter from the 2010 everyday lineup. Pressure games are coming and the Yankees know Jeter will not be unnerved in those situations. This is about recognizing that there is no meritocracy when it comes to Jeter. When, for example, Javier Vazquez lost his fastball, he lost his rotation spot. Jeter has metaphorically lost his fastball as a hitter, becoming a groundball metronome who hardly ever strikes the ball with authority. Yet he not only does not lose playing time, he continues to bat more frequently than more deserving teammates.
I directly asked Girardi whether, if Jeter's name were Joe Smith, he still would be hitting atop the lineup.
"Yes," the manager said. "I don't know if a change would bring shockwaves [to the clubhouse]. All I know is that I believe in Derek."
But that is about nostalgia, not current reality. The best present-day Yankees lineup should have Gardner leading off and an RBI type such as Granderson or Nick Swisher hitting second. Gardner went into yesterday leading the majors in pitches seen per plate appearances. He has forced 104 full counts (11th in the majors), and that is a tribute to the hitting eye of a player that opposing pitchers desperately want to dispose of quickly and keep off base. He saw 26 pitches in five plate appearances -- his combination of patience and speed ideal for leadoff.
Since changing his swing under the tutelage of hitting coach Kevin Long, Granderson is batting .303 with seven homers in 76 at-bats. More amazing has been his transformation against lefties. In that span, he is hitting .423 (11-for-26) against lefties with four walks (.500 on-base percentage) and six extra-base hits (.769 slugging) compared with .206/.243/.275 with four extra-base hits in his first 102 at-bats against southpaws this year.
In just 285 at-bats out of the two-hole, Swisher has 15 homers (second best in the majors) and 42 RBIs.
Nevertheless, Jeter will continue to bat first or second. Not because he deserves that. But because his name is Derek Jeter.Follow @NYPostsports