Barring a trade before the season begins, the Yankees will have two interesting options at third base in 2020. Miguel Andujar, the runner up for Rookie of the Year honors in 2018, and Gio Urshela, who posted 3.1 WAR last season, are both more than capable of contributing to a good lineup. DJ Lemahieu also proved capable of playing third base last season, but he figures to be the everyday second baseman with Didi Gregorius out of the picture and Gleyber Torres set to play shortstop.
Brian Cashman has indicated that the third base job is Urshela’s to lose, and his defense at the hot corner is light years ahead of Andujar, but Cashman has also reiterated the Yankees’ desire to get Andujar’s bat in the lineup consistently, whether that means testing his versatility at other positions or platooning him as a third baseman and designated hitter. So, what might the Yankees third base platoon look like in 2020?
It’s important to first acknowledge that Urshela and Andujar are two players who have displayed quality production under relatively small sample sizes. Andujar only has one full season under his belt and Urshela experienced a breakout in 2019 after playing no more than 81 games in each ofhis first three MLB seasons. With that being said, Andujar’s 2018 season and Urshela’s 2019 season both showed their ability to produce against both righties and lefties, making a potential platoon more complicated than most.
In 2018, Andujar posted a 118 wRC+ against lefties and a 134 wRC+ against righties. In 2019, Urshela posted a 126 wRC+ vs. lefties and a 135wRC+ vs. righties. That’s very similar offensive production, and keep in mind, Urshela’s numbers likely received a small boost over the course of a season marked by juiced baseballs. Regardless, both have shown that they can impact a game against both right-handed and left-handed opponents.
Since both have shown they’re capable of handling righties and lefties, it will be important for the Yankees to make sure they take advantage of the ideal matchups that take each third baseman from good to great. If 2018 is any indication, Andujar will generate a lot of power against breaking balls from left-handed pitching. He registered a .599 xSLG against left-handed breaking balls in 2018, and a .644 xSLG on 14 batted balls against curveballs alone. If he shows a similar ability to mash lefties’ breaking balls early in 2020, he could be forced into the starting lineup at third base against a pitcher like Blake Snell, for example. Andujar has also been much better at covering the top of the strike zone than the bottom, as evidenced by Statcast’s zone charts.
The Yankees could also choose to play Andujar at third base on the days he’s least likely to be inundated with groundballs, since he’s struggled defensively in his young career. A pitcher like Masahiro Tanaka, with a career 47.7% groundball rate and 46.4% pull rate, benefits greatly by having Urshela at third base. Gerrit Cole, on the other hand, struck out roughly 40% of batters he faced last season, greatly reducing concerns about Andujar’s defense on days he toes the rubber.
The Yankees are in the enviable position of having two talented third basemen under team control for the foreseeable future, but they’ll need to consider a number of factors to ensure they maximize the potential of both players next season. It'll be an intriguing task for the team's coaching staff and analytics department to determine the best strategy for getting the most out of the pair.