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The optimal Yankees lineup after all their injuries

The Yankees have done their best Avengers impression with half their lineup disappearing within the first week of the season.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

At the end of last year, I remarked that the Yankees’ 2018 season was modeled after Avengers: Infinity War. Instead of the Yankees taking on the role of Thanos, as we all would have preferred, they instead were the Avengers — a juggernaut of force that, despite their best efforts, fell just short of total victory. They have regrouped and will try to avenge their defeat.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, it seems that they have taken this comparison too literally, as half the starting lineup has vanished from the active roster before the first week of the season is out. Current batters on the injured list include: shortstop Didi Gregorius, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, third baseman Miguel Andujar, outfielder/DH Giancarlo Stanton, center fielder Aaron Hicks, and professional injured lister and outfielder-in-video-games Jacoby Ellsbury. That doesn’t even include injuries to three important members of the pitching staff (Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Dellin Betances).

It’s easy to see why Thanos jokes have permeated any discussion of the Yankees injury report.

Of course, like the Avengers, who had to film a whole other movie despite the fact that all their friends were dead, the season goes on. With all these injuries, however, it’s more difficult to figure out the optimal lineup that Nick Fury Aaron Boone should be trotting out there on a day-to-day basis. Using sabermetric principles and utilizing projections from FanGraphs for the remainder of the season, I’ve reconstructed the lineup that Boone should use for the time being.

Leading Off: DJ LeMahieu, 3B

Remember back when the LeMahieu signing was announced, and everybody complained simply because his name wasn’t Manny Machado? While an understandable frustration, it really is not his fault, and LeMahieu has started off incredibly strong in the first week of the season. He will almost certainly slow down (although I would love him to keep up his .550 OBP pace). Nonetheless, he has projected as an ideal leadoff hitter throughout his career, with a career .351 OBP. Even if he does not match his career average, so long as he hits his FanGraphs projection of .337, he will provide immense value at the top of the order.

The two hole: Aaron Judge, RF

This one seems fairly obvious, but I’m not going to lie: I seriously considered having Judge lead off, with his career .400 OBP. Conventional sabermetric wisdom says that the second spot in the order should be your best all-around hitter, due to the number of times this spot comes up in the order with runners on base, so here Judge will stay...at least, until Stanton comes back, but that’s an issue for another day.

Batting third: Gleyber Torres, SS

Here is where I probably lost you. If Andujar were healthy, he would be in this spot, but for now, we’re stuck with the third-place Rookie of the Year runner-up, instead of the second-place one.

Still, you could do worse than Torres in the three hole. FanGraphs projects him as having a .261/.331/.454 split on the season. The third spot in the order comes up more often with the bases empty than other spots in the lineup, so his high OBP would do a great job setting up the other big mashers in the order.

Cleaning up: Luke Voit, DH

Both sabermetrics and conventional wisdom says to put a power hitter in the cleanup spot, so that is just what we’ll do here. Voit has struggled out of the gate after his strong Opening Day performance, but given his impressive run at the end of last season and his strong projections, he’ll continue to anchor the middle of the order.

Batting fifth: Gary Sanchez, C

The Kraken struggled mightily last season, but as recently as last spring was considered arguably the best pure hitter on the team. FanGraphs is looking at a big rebound year (.244/.321/.491), and with the injuries that this team has sustained, Boone has no choice but to hope they are correct.

Batting sixth: Brett Gardner, CF

Gardner has lost more than one step, but he is still capable at stealing bases at a high clip. Stolen bases are most valuable in front of hitters that don’t generate a lot of power. While Frazier and Bird have power potential, the bottom of this order has a lot of unfulfilled potential. I’d rather the guy who has the longest track record and an ability to steal bases bat here, even if he’s at the tail end of his career.

Batting seventh: Clint Frazier, LF

Some would argue that Greg Bird would be a better fit here than Frazier. You might be right, but this is a case of splitting the lefties. That said, I’m looking at Frazier as a potential breakout candidate if he gets enough playing time — which, due to injuries, it looks like he should get.

Batting eighth: Greg Bird, 1B

At some point in the lineup, order really doesn’t matter anymore. That point is here. Bird or Wade would be fine in either order. I would rather place Bird here due to his home run-or-bust tendency and low OBP.

Batting ninth: Tyler Wade, 2B

By process of elimination, Wade rounds out the order. Time will tell if he will be a number nine hitter in the footsteps of a young Brett Gardner, or if he will continue down the path he is on, towards a Brendan Ryan future.

There you have it. It’s bold in some spots, predictable in others, but right now, it is the optimal lineup that Aaron Boone should be trotting out. Unfortunately, Boone has made some suboptimal decisions early—primarily batting Gardner leadoff. Batting order is just one of many things that goes into winning a game, however, and not remotely close to the most important.