Move Jeter out of leadoff

Last year, the Yankees moved Derek Jeter into the leadoff spot and he thrived there, getting on base consistently and leading all major-league leadoff hitters with a .409 on-base percentage. This year it’s a different story, as Jeter’s .313 on-base percentage is ranked only 26th out of 42 qualifying leadoff batters.

Jeter’s bat has begun to heat up, with at least one hit in nine of his last 10 games. But he is still really struggling with the other part of getting on base – taking a walk. He has walked in only 5% of his plate appearances, compared to 10.1% last year and a career mark of 8.9%.

A quick glance at his plate discipline stats shows that he is being more aggressive, swinging at 49.3% of pitches vs. 45.8% in 2009; he is also working fewer three-ball counts – just 14% of his plate appearances have reached three balls, compared to 20% in 2009.

But what’s perhaps most troubling is the fact that he’s seen dramatic declines in his walk rate in a key situations.

First, he’s really struggling with two outs. While his walk percentage with zero or one out has declined slightly from 7.3% to 6%, it has fallen from 17.5% to just 2% with two outs. In fact, he has just one walk in 50 plate appearances with two outs!

Derek Jeter BB/PA Pct, Last Two Seasons

As a leadoff hitter, Jeter often comes to the plate with the bases empty, and being selective and working the count in these situations is an important skill for leadoff hitters. Last year, Jeter walked in 8.7% of his plate appearances with the bases empty, well above the major league average of 7.5% for leadoff hitters. This year, his walk percentage with the bases empty is a miniscule 0.8%% - he has just one walk in 119 plate appearances with the bases empty!

Derek Jeter BB/PA Pct, Last Two Seasons

Another key skill for leadoff batters is to get on base and spark the offense when leading off an inning. Last year, he reached base 117 times when leading off an inning, which was the most times in the majors, and the team scored 107 runs when he led off and reached base, which was the fourth-most runs scored in the majors. This year, he has reached base only 23 times when leading off an inning and the team scored 22 runs when he led off and reached base. Neither of those marks rank in the top 10 in baseball this season.

While his .286 batting average when leading off an inning is above the major league average of .258, his on-base percentage of .295 is below the league average of .320. Jeter has ZERO walks in 78 plate appearances when leading off an inning! That is by far the most plate appearances leading off an inning without a walk among all MLB players.

It will be a challenge for Jeter to pile up the free passes on Sunday Night Baseball when he faces Johan Santana, who is averaging just 2.26 walks per nine innings, which ranks 11th among NL pitchers. But if Santana exits, Jeter has a good chance to break out of his slump - the Mets bullpen has allowed 88 walks, which leads all major league teams this season.