In the eighth inning of tonight’s game, I sat with long time blog reader Jordan (you know him as JGS), and his friend, and we discussed what we saw, which included the possibility that if Austin Kearns could draw a walk, we’d see Derek Jeter up with the bases loaded and two out, himself as the go ahead run.

We groaned.

Think about this for a moment. Derek Jeter, the Yankee Captain, the lead off hitter, a first ballot Hall of Famer…all of these things, and we are groaning, practically wishing that someone else, anyone else not named Ramiro Peña or Francisco Cervelli was on deck.

Something’s not right with this picture.

So I go to Baseball Reference to try to find out what gives, and this is what I discover:

  • Derek Jeter’s .335 OBP is the third worst out of any Yankee that’s seen regular playing time–only Francisco Cervelli, the back up catcher, and Curtis Granderson, who missed a month with an injury, are lower.
  • Jeter’s .386 slugging is lower than any regular except Francisco Cervelli.
  • Put the two together, and Jeter’s OPS is lower than every regular except Francisco Cervelli.  That’s right, Jeter’s OPS is lower than that of Curtis Granderson.  Heck, Jeter’s OPS on the road is .610–almost Molinaesque, as Jordan stated.
  • Jeter has the most plate appearances of any Yankee (478)…and only the sixth-most walks.

If Jeter was not Derek Jeter, if he was, say, Brett Gardner or even Nick Swisher with these numbers, he’d be hitting at the bottom of the line up, the type of weak hitter you can manage in a line up full of All Stars because his defense makes up for the lack of his bat.

In no instance would you think of batting this player lead off…and yet, that is exactly what Derek Jeter is doing.

“Well,” you say, “if Jeter doesn’t hit lead off, then who should?”

If the goal of the lead off hitter is to get on base, then one might suggest Brett Gardner–whose .395 on base percentage is one of the top in all of baseball, and don’t tell me you saw that coming because you didn’t–and Gardner has the almost requisite speed as well.  You can argue that over exposure will hurt Gardner, but statistically speaking, what would happen if Jeter hit eighth or ninth and Gardner led off?

There would be a gigantic media malestorm and fan outrage and the headache might not be worth the results–especially to Joe Girardi, Gardner, Granderson or Jeter, those concerned–but, ultimately, statistically, what would it do?  I leave the question open ended because I don’t know.  Maybe Gardner gets on base more often, Swisher keeps on forgetting that the Send Swish Campaign already won, Teixeira keeps up his hot second half and, whaddya know, the top of the Yankee line up goes from being the league leader in runs scored, to an utter monster that no one, not even Tampa Bay can contain.

Or maybe nothing happens, at all.

Jeter did have a decent game on Monday, going 2-5 and scoring two of the Yankees’ five runs, and the Yankee offense, as a whole, still remains one of (if not the best, by various measures) offenses in the game.  So it might seem extrodinarily petty to be talking about Derek Jeter as such, and maybe you (and many times myself) think that one should just shut up and enjoy what the Yankees have, but here’s the rub:  the Yankees are now tied for the best record in baseball, and the team they’re tied with plays in the same division.

The division may very well be won or lost in one run late September games–just think about this weekend’s past series–games where missed opportunity means everything, and for those of you who think that winning the division is insignificant (a feat of which I have recently been guilty myself), remember that the wild card team likely goes on to play Texas–and face Cliff Lee twice–in a short series.

The Yankees are good, great even, but it’s going to take over 100 wins to take the AL East (and quite possibly the Wild Card), so it would behoove them to try to utilize every possible advantage.  Even if it means Derek Jeter should not hit lead off.