On Sunday, April 21st, the Yankees played the Kansas City Royals for their 21st game of the 2019 regular season. If you hid the date, Yankee fans could have confused this lineup with that of a spring training split-squad group. This lineup featured 35-year old outfielder Brett Gardner batting third. To give a little background, Gardner has only had 41 at-bats in the three-spot out of 4,804 total at-bats in his 12-year career. For an Opening Day roster that seemingly had no weaknesses from batters one-to-nine, this lineup card served as a reality check for what the Yankees’ roster has experienced this season.
The Yankees ended up walking-off against the Royals on Sunday, winning 7-6 in ten innings behind a brilliant performance from James Paxton. Besides Paxton’s dominance, the share of responsibility for the win belonged to Austin Romine, the Yankees’ backup catcher who batted eighth in the game. Romine drove in three runs, including the game-tying run in the eighth and the winning run in the tenth.
WALK-OFF WIN— YES Network (@YESNetwork) April 21, 2019
Austin Romine is your hero! pic.twitter.com/v33eG9MvDz
Of course, this is one game, but take notice that this is an eight-hitter in an already-weakened lineup playing a big part in taking back a game that should have been won easily. If you look at the big picture, this is a crucial part of what makes the Yankees one of the more formidable teams in baseball. To be more specific, the Yankees seven-, eight-, and nine-hitters have been some of the best in the game this season. Who knows what their record would be if that was not the case so far?
Nine-hole batters for the Yankees this year have a wRC+ of 104, good for sixth in the league in that category. They’ve scored 11 runs, tied for the fourth-most in the league, and they have driven in 13 runs, third-most in the league. Eight players have hit in the nine-hole in 2019, with newcomers like Mike Tauchman and DJ LeMahieu doing plenty of damage there.
The Yankees’ eight-hitters have batted .310 this year, fourth in MLB while smacking 22 hits (fourth) and driving in 12 runs (seventh). On top of that, the eight-hitters have posted a wRC+ of 122, the league’s sixth-best.
Most impressively, the seven-hitters for the Yankees have most likely been the best in the MLB this year. They lead the league in batting average (.357), wRC+ (184), and wOBA (.451). They’ve also hit the second-most home runs (six), and are tied for fourth in RBI driving in 13. The bottom of any lineup changes the most often from game-to-game with most teams, but the Yankees have batted 15 different players in the bottom-three through only 21 games, and they’ve gotten perhaps the best production in the game overall.
Nearly every team would fall to its knees when forced to fill out an entire lineup card, plus a starting pitcher and reliever, using only players on their IL. But with the organizational depth that Brian Cashman has flooded this team with, the Yankees have found their way into the win column while missing 62% of their run production from last season.
It’s acquiring players like LeMahieu, Tauchman, and perhaps most importantly the production of former top prospect Clint Frazier, that has helped this team stay afloat so far. LeMahieu was going to be a big part of this team anyway, but who knew entering the season when Frazier would be up, and that he could dominate? How many fans were even tangentially aware of Mike Tauchman last month? Keep in mind, those are just three players who have batted in the bottom three so far this season. We can’t forget Romine, Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres who have batted in those spots as well.
Even when seemingly everything possible has gone south for this team, they have found a way to avoid disaster to this point. Cashman deserves some credit for assembling a team that’s capable of sailing such brutal seas, as do the players that have stepped up during trying times. Unfortunately, the team’s record thus far will not satisfy Yankees fans, regardless of who is forced to trot onto the field. In the end, though, we should thank the Yankees’ depth for even getting them to above .500. With an All-Star team on the IL, things could be a whole lot worse.