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Injured Yankees should return to a new-look lineup

The Yankees can maximize their offensive production with some changes to their lineup in the coming months.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It’s unclear when the Yankees will get Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Didi Gregorius back from the injured list. What is clear, however, is that the Bombers should consider making some lineup adjustments based on the performance of some current everyday players.

Start at the top of the lineup. Aaron Hicks, a switch hitter, led off for the Yankees as a right-handed batter in 26 games last season. As a right-handed leadoff man, Hicks posted a mediocre .234/.333/.531 line. In 29 games as a left-handed leadoff hitter, he slashed a much more impressive .322/.414/.644. Hicks simply isn’t leadoff caliber from the right side, and that’s okay.

It’s okay because the Yankees acquired DJ LeMahieu, and the Yankees’ new utilityman is hitting everything in sight. Since the start of 2017, LeMahieu is batting .347 against left-handed pitching. Add that to the fact that LeMahieu’s one of the hardest players in the MLB to strike out, and there’s a lot of reason to believe he should be the guy batting in front of Aaron Judge, especially against left-handed pitching.

While I believe LeMahieu should see more at-bats in front of Judge, I would also like to see the Yankees experiment with a fresh face batting behind him. Consider this: Stanton has batted third in the Yankees lineup in 41 games since they acquired him last offseason, including the first three games of the 2019 season before his injury. He’s batting .208 with an OPS of only .660 in those games, according to FanGraphs. I’ve never sat next to Brian Cashman in the Yankees front office, but I know that’s not what he envisioned when he saw the opportunity to pair two of the games most feared sluggers in the lineup.

However, it wasn’t all bad from Stanton in 2018. In the 71 games that he batted fourth in the Yankees lineup, his line was a staggering .321/.393/.606. His slugging percentage alone was nearly as high as his OPS in the three hole. I don’t have any groundbreaking theories as to why this is, but isn’t it worth wedging someone between Judge and Stanton upon his return to the lineup? Enter Gleyber Torres.

The way Torres has looked early in 2019, there’s no doubt the Yankees would like to get him more at-bats than he was going to see as the seventh or eighth batter in the lineup. All last season, Torres proved to be one of the Yankees best hitters with runners in scoring position, batting .308 in such situations. He would see a lot more opportunities to drive in baserunners if given the chance to bat behind LeMahieu and Judge on a consistent basis. Moving Torres in front of Stanton not only puts both players in more comfortable situations based on their history, it also breaks up the numerous Yankees that are most likely to bail pitchers out with untimely strikeouts.

Upon his return, I would love to see the Yankees slot Gregorius sixth in the lineup between Gary Sanchez and Luke Voit. This would place a left-handed batter with a low strikeout rate (12.1% last season, according to FanGraphs), between two right-handed power hitters with more swing-and-miss in their offensive profiles. That would make it difficult for opponents to manipulate bullpen matchups late in games.

The greatest flaw in last year’s Yankees offense was the ability to drive in runs with timely situational hitting, but with the addition of LeMahieu and the early signs from Torres in his second season, those issues could soon be in the past. A few tweaks to the everyday lineup could pay big dividends and help the Yankees offense maximize the sum of its parts as they start to return key players from the injured list in the coming months.