New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone is starting to toy with a new lineup idea: Aaron Judge in the leadoff spot.
Every MLB team has problems. Some teams, like the New York Mets, have problems like a perennial battle with injuries. Some teams, like the Baltimore Orioles, can’t seem to choose whether to try to compete or start building up prospects. And some teams, like the New York Yankees, can’t decide where to slot Aaron Judge in the lineup.
“About halfway between Fort Myers and here, actually, and looking at the first series, I have been poring over the lineups a little bit for that first series in Toronto and knowing their rotation, combination-wise, I think it makes a lot of sense,” Boone told King III. “Splitting up our lefties, three apart, kind of neutralizes a specialist. It is something I think kind of could work. As I was working through different combinations to try to give each guy the best protection and the best match-up potential, I think that way makes a little bit of sense.”
Sure, traditional baseball planning would say “put this guy in the heart of the lineup so he has guys on base when he gets up.” Sure, Judge has had issues with striking out, something teams traditionally look to avoid in a leadoff hitter. Both are valid reasons to be hesitant about him hitting at the top of the lineup.
But think about this: With sluggers like Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton holding down the middle of the lineup, wouldn’t you want the 2017 team leader in on-base percentage ahead of them?
How about the guy that led the 2017 team in runs scored? Those are the numbers of the best table-setter on the team and a guy anybody would want to lead off a game.
In addition to your first batter being a guy that gets on base better than almost anybody, sticking Didi Gregorius or Aaron Hicks in the second spot would make bullpen matchups completely irrelevant. Gregorius, a left-handed batter, almost always puts the ball in play and Hicks, a switch-hitter, has an OBP almost as good as Judge’s, so the Yankees could be looking at a lot of situations with men on first and second and no outs heading into that deadly heart of the order.
Let’s also not forget that Aaron Judge hit 52 home runs last season. While those numbers might dip slightly if he moves to the leadoff role, nothing takes the air out of an opposing stadium like a 500-foot bomb from the very first batter of the game. Giving the Yankees the lead from the very first inning would take a lot of pressure off of the pitching staff.
Wherever Boone decides to put Judge in the lineup, one thing is certain. The young slugger is going to do damage. The Yankees are fortunate that they can toy around with lineups that put 50 home runs at the plate to lead off a game.