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Who's the Yankee leadoff hitter in 2011?

New York Yankees' Brett Gardner (11) high fives

New York Yankees' Brett Gardner (11) high fives Derek Jeter (2) after they scored on a base hit by Nick Swisher in the first inning. (Aug. 17, 2010) Photo Credit: John Dunn

While the players still have some time before officially reporting to spring training, fans are already hard at work debating the rotation, lineups, and bullpen.

One interesting debate that fans should start discussing is who should bat leadoff for the Yankees? Let's not gang up on Derek Jeter and extend what has to be his most publicized offseason. But, It’s a legitimate argument when you look at his numbers compared with those of Brett Gardner in 2010.

First, let’s identify some key stats needed for a successful leadoff man: on-base percentage, batting average, walks, stolen bases, and numbers when leading off an inning. These are basic, non-sabermetric numbers.

Before we begin, we should note that Jeter had more plate appearances (769) and at-bats (663) in 2010 compared with Gardner (569, 477). Remember, this is just based on 2010 stats:

AVERAGE
Jeter: .270
Gardner: .277

ON-BASE PERCENTAGE
Jeter: .340
Gardner: .383

WALKS/STRIKEOUTS
Jeter: 63/106
Gardner: 79/101

STOLEN BASES
Jeter: 18
Gardner: 47

WHEN LEADING OFF THE GAME:
Jeter: (38-for-125) .304 AVG, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 11 BB, 19 K, .365 OBP
Gardner: (10-for-20) .500 AVG, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 BB, 5 K, .600 OBP

WHEN LEADING OFF AN INNING
Jeter: (75-for-254) .295 AVG, 4 HR, 4 RBI, 22 BB, 36 K, .358 OBP
Gardner: (41-for-120) .342 AVG, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 20 BB, 23 K, .446 OBP

Gardner’s numbers in these categories in 2010 were more impressive than Jeter's. One might argue that Jeter just had a down year and will bounce back in 2011. But what if Jeter doesn’t bounce back? Does he still deserve to be the leadoff hitter? He may have the experience batting first, but it’s not written in stone that Jeter must bat first. Don Mattingly moved down in the order when his production dropped in the least few years of his career, as did Paul O'Neill.

Gardner is obviously faster than Jeter and has a higher probability of going from first to third on a single. Gardner is feared much more than Jeter when it comes to being a baserunner.

(Coming soon, you'll be able to make this decision yourself when we roll out the 2011 edition of our "Create your own Yankees lineup.")

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