The New York Yankees have some great bats in their lineup, but how will they stack them when Opening Day rolls around?
Hall of Famer and St. Louis Cardinals great Rogers Hornsby had a unique outlook on the baseball offseason.
“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball,” he said. “I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Well, baseball fans, it’s mid-January. The New York Yankees’ pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa in just under four weeks, on Feb. 14. Spring Training is just around the corner, and patience is a virtue.
And as the late, great Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part. Average baseball fans aren’t like their heroes on the diamond. When the season wraps up, they don’t have the luxury of going on golfing vacations during the winter or home to mansions with toys worthy of MTV Cribs. No, most baseball fans are forced to do just what Hornsby did: look out the window and wait for spring.
That said, Yankees fans have had a roller coaster of an offseason. James Paxton was acquired from the Seattle Mariners. J.A. Happ was re-signed along with CC Sabathia and Zach Britton. The lineup was boosted with the addition of DJ LeMahieu, and Manny Machado is just barely still a possibility. When Spring Training starts, everyone will be paying attention.
Thus, as I watched the snow fall outside my window the other night, I found myself wracking my brain. The Yankees have so many talented bats this season. How is manager Aaron Boone going to fill the lineup card with such a stacked group of hitters?
Well, fans, here’s an activity to help pass the time. Let’s try and predict the lineup for Opening Day against the Baltimore Orioles!
Gleyber Torres, SS
Any fan who watched Gleyber Torres’ rookie season knows he’s more than capable of handling the leadoff spot. He spent most of his time batting ninth in 2018, though he hit in every spot except leadoff and second. He just turned 22 and is a year wiser, so it’s time to improve his standing in the lineup.
Look at it this way. Torres had a Derek Jeter-like buzz around him upon debuting last year, and his intelligent approach to hitting shows it. He knows when to go for a home run and when to play small ball. His inside-out swing is easily reminiscent of The Captain. He still needs to learn to not get fooled on 12-6 curveballs, but that can be fixed with practice and studying tape of himself.
Torres is the kind of hitter who could thrive as a leadoff man, even without the speed associated with the role. If Boone wants to throw opposing teams for a loop, he’ll take this risk.
Aaron Judge, RF
If Aaron Judge is the hitter I think he is, he’s going to be entering 2019 angry. He hit .278 with 27 home runs and 67 RBI last season, but that paled in comparison to his 52-homer rookie campaign in 2017. He can thank missing two months with a broken wrist for that.
That said, Judge needs to go full Frank Castle this year and become baseball’s version of The Punisher, all from his usual spot in the lineup. Judge is a career .289 hitter with 40 homers out of the No. 2 spot, and nothing suggests moving will improve his production. He has dominated batting second before, and there in the lineup he will stay.
Aaron Hicks, CF
Aaron Hicks really came into his own in 2018, setting career highs with 27 homers and 79 RBI. He only hit .248 but may just be a streaky hitter. The point is he took a big step forward last year, and fans should expect him to pick up where he left off in 2019.
Hicks is also a switch-hitter in a righty-dominated lineup. He’s going to be an everyday player regardless, but better to have him in the upper third to mix things up, especially against righties. Given who follows him in this piece, having him bat third is also sure to give opposing managers fits.
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Compared to his 2017 MVP campaign, some may say Giancarlo Stanton had a down year in 2018. He went from batting .281 with 59 homers and 132 RBI to hitting .266 with 38 and 100. He’s obviously on the decline, so trade him! And for nothing more than a bucket of balls!
All jokes aside, Stanton actually had a decent first season in the Bronx. He practically put the team on his back when both Judge and Gary Sanchez were out with injuries and kept the Yankees in the thick of the playoff race until both returned.
Keep in mind, Stanton also played much of the summer with a sore hamstring. He had every opportunity to say he was too hurt to play, but he didn’t.
Thus, with Judge and Hicks ahead of him and his hamstring fresh as ever, count on him to return to MVP form in 2019.
Gary Sanchez, C
Gary Sanchez had a 2018 season to forget. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. He hit 18 home runs with 53 RBI but also posted a meager line of .186/.291/.406. Throw in leading the majors again with 18 passed balls and missing two months with a nagging groin injury, and the 2018 year had the Kraken looking more like Flounder from The Little Mermaid.
The good news is Sanchez’s bad 2018 can be blamed on bad luck. His BABIP of .197 shows the ball just wasn’t landing where it needed to. His line drive rate (LD%) also dropped to 14.3 percent from 21.1 percent in 2017, though his fly ball rate (FB%) jumped to 42.9 percent from 36.6 percent.
Moreover, Sanchez will surely enter Spring Training motivated to do better. He’ll surely have spent the offseason learning how to hit more to the opposite field instead of just pulling the ball. Putting him in the five spot also ensures he’ll get some good pitches to hit, because batting sixth we have…
Miguel Andujar, 3B
Miguel Andujar had a phenomenal 2018, slugging extra-base hit after extra-base hit en route to getting robbed of AL Rookie of the Year by Shohei Ohtani. Andujar can thus expect to see lots of outside breaking pitches in 2019, but he also needs to move up in the lineup. He started his rookie year batting eighth but actually saw the most time batting seventh, with 152 plate appearances there.
Andujar also batted sixth quite a bit, with 145 plate appearances there. Keeping him in that spot ensures Sanchez will get some good pitches to hit. It also keeps him batting in a position where he hit .326. Even if he has to change his approach to match what pitchers are throwing at him, this is a great spot for Andujar to kick off his sophomore season.
Greg Bird, 1B
I’ve defended Greg Bird so often, I may soon need to change my name to Perry Mason. He had an awful 2018 after missing most of 2017 with a foot injury, batting .199 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI.
Bird also missed the first two months of the season recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur in his ankle. He proved streaky the rest of the way and eventually lost his starting job to Luke Voit. As a result, the two will compete for the starting first baseman’s job in Spring Training.[membership level="0"]
Well, I’m willing to bet Voit will prove to be another Shane Spencer. Bird, on the other hand, will have a fine spring camp en route to getting his job back, without having to worry about nagging injuries. Now, before I go and staple a rabbit’s foot to my head, let me explain why he bats seventh.
This is a stacked lineup, and Bird, though last season was mostly plagued by bad luck, will have to work his way back to the top. This means kicking off the bottom third of the lineup with his powerful lefty bat. He’ll have every opportunity to move up in the order, but with a lineup this strong, every spot can be called a good one.
DJ LeMahieu, 2B
You might have noticed Gleyber Torres, on top of leading off, is also playing shortstop. That’s because Didi Gregorius is out recovering from Tommy John surgery until the summer, and Torres’ natural position is shortstop.
Throw in LeMahieu as a super-utility man for New York, and putting him at his natural position of second base makes all the more sense. LeMahieu won the NL batting title in 2016 and hit .276 with a career-high 15 homers last year. Not only that, but his second-most career plate appearances have come while batting eighth. He has hit .310 from that position.
He probably won’t put up Coors Field numbers in pinstripes, but one thing is certain. The Yankees could certainly do worse than batting DJ LeMahieu eighth in their lineup.
Brett Gardner, LF
Brett Gardner is the longest-tenured Yankee, and at age 35, his 2018 stats show it. His .236 batting average was his worst since he hit .228 in 2008, his debut season. His bat speed looked slower as his LD% dipped to 17.9 from 22.3 the year before. He still played a good left field for the Yankees but wasn’t the same pesky hitter.
This is why Gardner will bat ninth on Opening Day, barring an absolutely dominant Spring Training. For all the steps backward he took as a hitter in 2018, he still ranked ninth in the MLB with 4.24 pitches per plate appearance. This means he can still foul pitches off and extend at-bats, giving opposing pitchers fits. Even if he makes out more than he gets a base hit or walk, there’s still value in upping the pitch count.
Batting ninth is usually viewed as a downgrade but in Gardner’s case, it’s where he can be best utilized.