As far as preseason projections go, the fight for the 2018 AL East crown looks to be a nail-biter between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Every last win is going to count, which is why we here at Pinstripe Alley have been pretty vocal about acquiring infield insurance (thanks for Brandon Drury, Cash) and another starting pitcher (still waiting on that front).
Acquiring new talent via trades or free agent signings, however, isn't the only way the Yankees can improve their win total. They can also stand to wring some additional value out of their current roster by optimizing how they use their players. Batting order in particular can have a not-too-insignificant effect over the course of a season, and it has the added bonus of being pretty fun to talk about. So, as the season draws ever so closer, how can the Yankees configure their batting order to get the most bang for their buck?
For this exercise in armchair managing, I'm going to follow Grant Brisbee's example and start by looking at what a saber-approved optimal 2018 Yankees lineup would be like, and then go on to fine-tune that based on particular player traits. Also, for the sake of brevity, I'm going to assume that the following nine players are going to be the Yankees' starters at their respective positions for the majority of this season:
C Gary Sanchez
1B Greg Bird
2B Gleyber Torres
3B Miguel Andujar
SS Didi Gregorius
LF Giancarlo Stanton
CF Aaron Hicks
RF Aaron Judge
DH Brett Gardner
First, what does an optimized lineup look like? Scott McKinney of Beyond The Box Score provides us with this quick and easy archetype:
If Aaron Boone was to follow this guideline slavishly, the 2018 Yankees lineup would look something like this:
Let me go out on a limb here and say that this isn't really an optimal lineup for this year's Yankees. Judge's outstanding on-base skills, surprising speed and competent baserunning could make him a great leadoff hitter, but his power is better suited in the heart of the order. Meanwhile, Sanchez in the two-hole would almost certainly lead to chronic traffic congestion on the basepaths. His aggressiveness at the plate would also leave us wanting for a more patient hitter willing to set the table for hitters behind him.
McKinney's guideline, however, does appear to work for the bottom of the order. Gregorius’ high-contact, low-OBP approach is better suited behind the Yankees' big guns than in front of them. I also don't think anyone would quibble with Andujar and Torres batting eighth and ninth in their first extended tour of the bigs.
Gardner is the wild card here. If you tend towards more traditional table-setters at the top of the lineup, he would be your leadoff man. On the other hand, if you're a saber-enthusiast who revels in going against intuition and orthodoxy, Hicks's power and on-base percentage would be the ideal choice for the one-spot, with Gardner occupying a lower place in the order. Personally, I wouldn't mind either, but I lean towards the former.
With these details in mind, it’s worth reconfiguring the top of the order. After Gardner in the leadoff spot, I'd put Hicks next and reap the heck out of his on-base skills. Then, in a slight revolt against sabermetric wisdom, I'd put Stanton at number three and Judge at cleanup. That’s not because I think Stanton is only the fifth best hitter on the team, but instead to encourage umpire’s to call Judge’s strike zone correctly. At the very least, umpires have given Stanton more calls on the bottom edge of his strike zone than they have for Judge - by putting them back to back, I'm hoping for more consistent strike-calling, thus making Judge's job that much easier.
My full lineup would look like this:
What do you guys think? How would you order these hitters? Is Parliament's discography really stronger than Funkadelic's? Please let us know in the comments below.