If the Yankees head into spring training without having traded speedster Brett Gardner, then Gardner, Derek Jeter and Ellsbury should go one, two three.
Gardner has the experience and the speed to be an effective leadoff man. He has a career OBP of .352 and averages 42 steals per 162 games. He will get more at-bats if he leads off as opposed to batting ninth, and with his speed, the Yankees should want him out on the base paths as much as possible. Not to mention, statistically speaking, he is much better when batting first than ninth. In 948 career at-bats leading off, Gardner’s line is .265/.343/.388. In 542 at-bats in the nine hole, his line dips to .232/.320/.310. The Yankees have plenty of guys who could fill in at ninth, i.e. Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson or Brendan Ryan.
Gardner became an every-day player for the first time in 2011. At the time, manager Joe Girardi called his play at the plate “streaky,” accurately so. After missing much of 2012 with an injury, Gardner came back last year to show more consistency at the plate, batting .273 (better than his career average) and walking 52 times.
Jeter has spent most of his career batting either first or second. He has a higher career OBP than Gardner, but his diminished speed in addition to the existence of not one, but two other qualified leadoff candidates should leave Jeter out of that conversation. In 2011, Jeter hit .348/.408/.415 when batting second. Of course, that is over a small sample size of just 35 games, but over the 96 in which he led off that year, he hit .280/.337/.380.
Jeter–at the two spot–leaves the awesome opportunity to have Ellsbury bat third. Ellsbury is going to hit more home runs than either Gardner or Jeter, especially in the lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium. If he can stay healthy, it’s possible he could get back to his 2011 form, a season in which he batted .321/.376/.552, smacked 32 home runs and finished second in the MVP voting. Batting third, he’ll have more RBI opportunities and will be more effective in helping to create runs.
Picture this in the heart of the lineup: Left-handed Ellsbury batting third, followed by switch-hitting Carlos Beltran, switch-hitting Mark Teixeira and left-handed Brian McCAnn. Depending on the pitcher, this could be a pretty lethal gauntlet to run.