I was forwarded a video produced by the YES Network (Simpleton Summer Camp) suggesting they had some inside information on the Yankees opening day lineup. “Looking more and more like we nailed the Yankees opening day lineup…”, they proclaimed as smugly as a Jack Curry post game “analysis” would be delivered.
Imagine: the network that covers the team would have inside information. Go figure… Tangentially, every day from April through October I root for David Cone to escape that morass of asininity as soon as possible.
After breaking my own rule of reading a few of the comments below the video post (never read the comments – never. Unless you want to lose all faith in our species…) I wanted to see what Simpleton Summer Camp suggested the Yankees’ lineup should be. Here’s what they had:
- Brett Gardner, 2. Aaron Judge, 3. Giancarlo Stanton, 4. Greg Bird, 5. Gary Sanchez, 6. Didi Gregorius, 7. Aaron Hicks, 8. Ronald Torreyes, 9. Tyler Wade.
That isn’t what I would do, but it’s not bad either. But let’s be honest: You can take the first seven in that group and juggle them into any order and you’ll have a great offensive team. Effective lineup construction will lead to about 10-15 runs more per season. That’s not a huge issue, but it may affect the outcome of a few games. And as we’ve discussed before, with the position the Yanks are in a few games is huge (See also; Girardi – “How to mismanage a bullpen, 101”, Copyright 2017”, for more information.)
With the caveat that none of us really know how the 2nd and 3rd base situations are going to play out*, but it doesn’t really matter – whoever they are will be batting 8th and 9th – this is what the Yankees first seven should look like:
- Gardner. Because he sees a lot of pitches and draws walks. NOT because he is fast. Running speed is irrelevant to a lead off hitter. Taking pitches and drawing walks is very valuable. Brett was 3rd in the AL last season in plate discipline among 78 qualifiers – only Mike Trout and Joe Mauer (two future Hall of Famers) were better.
- Judge. Because your best offensive player needs to bat 2nd unless he is a ground ball double play machine. Judge is the 2nd best offensive player in the AL, the best on the Yankees, and doesn’t hit many balls on the ground. The combination of higher frequency of at bats and at bats with runners on base means your best bats here. All rise.
- Sanchez. Because in spite of what people who are “old school” will tell you (I cringe every time someone calls themselves “old school” and doesn’t realize their only displaying their ignorance), your best offensive player who isn’t batting 2nd or 4th goes here.
- Stanton. This is the place for a guy who hits home runs and draws walks, but unlike the number 2 hitter may be more inclined to hit into double plays and/or may be an inferior base runner. Although not by much, Stanton hits more ground balls and is slightly inferior to Judge on the bases.
- Bird. The number 5 hitter leads off more innings than any order spot than number 1. So seeing pitches and drawing walks are important (Bird is good at both) but he’ll also have more AB with runners on base than a lead off hitter, so power is helpful. Bird draws walks and hits with power. The only drawback is Bird has little speed – speed comes in handy in this part of the lineup. Unlike the lead off spot where you’ll be on base in front of power hitters, the number 5 hitter will be on base when numbers 6, 7 and 8 are at the plate. I.e., batters who do not have .550 SLG where the ability to take an extra base is extremely valuable.
- Hicks. From here on out it really becomes your next best hitter, then your next best, etc. I like Hicks’ switch hitting ability to split the lefties and he was a better offensive player than Didi last year anyway, so…
- Didi. Didi is a plus offensive shortstop and is better than number seven on most teams in baseball. This isn’t most teams. And let’s keep it real: Didi chases pitches (4th in the AL in chase rate last season) and makes soft contact (1st in AL in percentage of balls hit softly) at a rate that suggests a regression rather than a progression from last season is coming.
(The above is the short version of why certain players need to bat in certain spots in the order. For the detailed work that makes it very clear that certain spots in the order are likely to face particular situations more often, and therefore, it’s easy to match certain players’ skill sets to certain spots, read Tom Tango’s “The Book”. It’s very well researched and clearly explained and is the go to source on stuff like this.)
This is truly one of the fun parts of the preseason. Who would you bat where? Why? What would happen if…? And as I said, it doesn’t really matter – stuff like this only decides a few games per year.
But if those few games cost a team a division race or a playoff series, there are long reaching implications, with some over (and under) reactions to follow.
I hope Aaron Boone is reading.
*Assuming Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar aren’t MLB ready on opening day, I’d like to see Tyler Wade and Jace Pederson in the lineup, with Torreyes somewhere in Portland.