Aaron Boone’s first year as manager has come and gone, and it really wasn’t much different from the last 10 years of Joe Girardi, at least in terms of baseball strategy. Boone, like Girardi, falls somewhere between old school managers and new-aged sabermetricians. He accepts new ways of thinking, but also goes with his gut at key moments, like any good manager should.
One area where Boone could improve as a manager for 2019 is in terms of lineup construction. Boone fell into some traps with his lineup that may have cost the Yankees a few games last year, especially when compared to the lineups of the Yankees’ biggest rivals.
The best lineup is a mix of old school and new school. Managers of today are finding that the fastest guy doesn’t have to always lead off and the best power hitter doesn’t always have to clean up. Rather, the best hitters should bat near the top because they bat the most often. This has led to the second spot in the lineup becoming the juggernaut of most lineups.
It makes sense to bat your best hitters higher so they get more at-bats, but Boone sometimes deviated from this path. He frequently inserted left-handed or switch hitters into spots higher than they should be just to break up a string of righties. He frequently batted Austin Romine ahead of Gleyber Torres so that the latter could serve as a “second leadoff man.” He frequently batted Brett Gardner leadoff even as his contact and on-base skills eroded. Far too often, parts of Boone’s lineups frustrated fans.
However, a new season is dawning and Boone has a chance to change up his batting order. First off, the Yankees will need a new leadoff hitter. Gardner will be back in 2019, but his role will certainly be reduced from what it was last year. I love Gardner as much as the next guy, but a leadoff hitter’s job is to get on base for the big boys behind him to drive him in. Gardner just doesn’t get on base enough to lead off day in and day out, which he did until September.
A modern-day leadoff hitter should be one of the team’s best all-around hitters, and have solid on-base skills. It should be a guy that a manager is comfortable giving the most at-bats on the team to. While Aaron Judge is unquestionably the Yankees’ best hitter, he doesn’t fit as a leadoff hitter because he would be batting with the bases empty most of the time.
Instead, Aaron Hicks seems like a natural fit atop the lineup. He’s got power, speed, and a batter’s eye. He even had a .958 OPS in 31 games leading off for the Yankees last year. One more name to keep in mind as a potential leadoff hitter is Gleyber Torres. He is one of the club’s best hitters and could work well as a table-setter, a la Javier Baez.
Next, the two and three hitters should be the best two hitters in the lineup. They’ll get a lot of time with runners on base, and allow a manager to field his best chance at a quick strike offense. After all, what’s the point of having offensive weapons if you stash them away in the lineup?
In that respect, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton should bat second and third. What do the Yankees gain from having a hitter like Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres or Luke Voit batting between Judge and Stanton? Batting them back to back creates a matchup nightmare for any pitcher. Judge and Stanton didn’t bat back to back nearly enough last year. This is one easy fix that can make the Yankees lineup even more formidable, especially against lefties.
In this scenario, the cleanup batter has a very important job. He will have to serve as protection for Stanton so that pitchers don’t pitch around him to get to a weaker hitter. He will also have to be a clutch hitter with runners in scoring position. The Yankees have a couple of qualified guys for this role in Torres and Miguel Andujar. Both players spent a lot of time in the bottom half of the lineup last year, but that should not be the case moving forward. Andujar’s penchant for extra-base hits makes him a natural-born cleanup hitter, while Torres’s well-roundedness serves him well as a fifth hitter to come up to bat to extend rallies.
For the rest of the lineup, the batters can be arranged in descending order of skill. Gary Sanchez is due for a bounceback year, and makes sense as a sixth batter. It remains to be seen if Luke Voit is for real, but his power and batter’s eye give the bottom of the lineup some thump at the seventh spot. Finally, the Yankees need an infielder and still expect to start Gardner in left field. For now, we’ll slot them eighth and ninth,
Of course, the Opening Day lineup is different from what it will be any other day. Injuries, trades, and hot and cold streaks will all make this hypothetical lineup look much different come July 2019. However, as presently constructed, this lineup makes sense for Boone. The key changes are moving Hicks up for Gardner, batting Judge and Stanton back to back, and giving Andujar and Torres opportunities in the middle of the lineup. It’s hard to mess up a lineup as talented as the Yankees’ lineup, and a few tweaks can help the younger players continue to grow and make the top of the order more difficult for opposing pitchers to get through.