The key to lineup construction is being aware of what situations each spot in the lineup is most likely to face, and to insert players whose skills are best suited for each of those situations into the the appropriate spots.
Obviously a high OBP is necessary for the leadoff hitter as the best hitters in the lineup are due up after him. But the other factor to consider is that the leadoff hitter – due to leading off the game and batting after the worst hitters – has the most PAs overall but also the most PAs with nobody on base. This makes bases on balls more valuable in the leadoff spot than in any other lineup position. First, players who draw many walks force pitch counts to rise (which has a residual effects both in game and in subsequent games). Also, remember the expression from Little League “A walk is as good as a single?” Well with runners on base it usually isn’t, but with the bases empty it is as good as a single – frankly better, because it likely drew more pitches. For these reasons, a player with a high walk percentage is very valuable in the leadoff spot.
The second spot in the order is where your best offensive player should bat. Due to the combination of high volume of plate appearances (of course you want your best getting a lot of PAs) and PAs with runners on base (due to batting after the high OBP leadoff hitter) this is where your best combination of OBP and SLG should go.
The qualities needed in spot number three are similar to the necessary qualities in spot number two, with one exception – the number three hitter cannot have a propensity for hitting into double plays. Anyone with an internet connection and/or anyone who played a lot of Strat-O-Matic as a kid can tell you it is soul crushing to have your cleanup hitter bat with no runners on base. So number three needs to have a high OBP and a not so high DP%.
Due to many PAs with runners on base, the cleanup hitter needs the same qualities as the number two batter. However, due to fewer overall PAs for the cleanup hitter, whichever player has the better OBP should bat second.
The number five spot in the order has more PAs leading off an inning than any other spot other than the leadoff hitter. So your next best remaining OBP guy (assuming he has at least a little power) bats fifth.
Knowing those things, this is what the Yankee lineup should look like:
In Hicks’ last three full seasons, here are his BB% percentiles compared to league average: 94th, 97th, 99th (…!!!!). The man is a pitch taking, base on balls drawing machine. Even his outs require the pitchers to throw extra pitches, and he has enough power that pitchers aren’t going to just groove one out of fear of the hitter on-deck. And if you’re worried about overall OBP, Hicks and DJ have gotten on base at almost exactly the same rate over the past four years – .362 to .365 – so there’s no loss there. Hicks and DJ get on at the same rate, but the manner in which Hicks does it is more valuable leading off.
Judge batting second is obvious. There are two ways a batter can help his team: get on base and advance base runners – Judge is the Yankees’ best at both.
Warning – understatement ahead: DJ can hit. But because DJ does it while seeing far fewer pitches than Hicks, the Yanks are better off with DJ third. The only concern may be DP% – but because DJ has become more likely to hit the ball in the air as a Yankee than he was earlier in his career (something Yankee fans don’t like to admit) his DP% as a Yankee is only a tick above league average and has dropped three straight seasons – far from a problem. And if you’re wondering about power and the ability to advance runners, DJ’s SLG % has been slightly higher than Hicks’ over the past four seasons so you’d rather have DJ up with runners on base than Hicks, generally speaking.
This rest is easy. Stanton has the second best career OBP and the second best SLG on the team, so he bats fourth, and Voit is the next best remaining OBP/SLG guy so he’s five.
Truth be told, lineup construction doesn’t have a huge impact on runs scored. You can certainly justify DJ batting anywhere between first and fourth, Hicks anywhere between first and fifth, Judge and Stanton anywhere between second and fourth and Voit anywhere between second and fifth. All of them are high OBP, high SLG and the Yankees are going to score a metric ton of runs regardless of the order.
That said, due to the manner in which each player goes about getting things done, I’d go with the proposed lineup above.
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