It’s no secret that the Yankees, when at full strength or close to it, have a number of players that many teams would view as a DH-first option. Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit, and Miguel Andujar all stand out for their offensive skills and not their defense. However, defense isn’t the only factor MLB managers consider when they fill out their lineup card. The DH spot is used to give a pseudo rest day, help a player manage an injury, or even provide a mental vacation for a player that might be scuffling. Aaron Boone is fortunate to have so many capable sluggers at his disposal, but he’s also forced to make far more decisions than other managers when it comes to his use of the DH position. How can Boone use the DH spot to make the most of his potent offensive weapons?
The greatest defensive upgrade for the Yankees comes when Miguel Andujar occupies the DH spot and Gio Urshela mans third base. Brett Gardner is a substantial defensive upgrade over Giancarlo Stanton, but the importance of the third base position outweighs that of left field. Urshela has made four errors in 62 chances thus far in 2019, in comparison to Andujar’s three errors in only 10 chances. As long as Urshela contributes offensively, it’s hard to avoid putting his sure handed glove at third base. Andujar at DH is the obvious choice for the time being with Stanton on the IL and Urshela producing at the plate.
Giancarlo Stanton is under contract until 2027, so his status as a full-time DH at some point is inevitable. For the time being, Stanton is still capable of playing left field when healthy. However, it’s worth noting that Stanton posted his best numbers as a DH last season, a season in which he battled a hamstring injury and made 54% of his plate appearances as a DH, according to Baseball Reference. His line as a DH was .284/.368/.574 compared to .274/.353/.496 as a left fielder. Miguel Andujar has actually been better against right-handed pitching than lefties, so it might be wise for Boone to DH Stanton and give Andujar a day off against the occasional lefty.
Luke Voit might be considered a DH for a team with a great defensive first baseman, but the Yankees aren’t one of those teams. As long as he can prove himself as an adequate first baseman, which he has this season, he’ll be there on an everyday basis. The danger here is that any nagging injury to Voit that removes him from the field will be a big blow to the Yankees’ ability to hide Andujar at DH. For now Boone should, and will, avoid using Voit as a DH consistently. In fact, Voit hasn’t appeared at DH since April 25th against the Angels.
Gary Sanchez is the key piece to the DH puzzle. It would be negligent for Boone to write Sanchez in at catcher more than 75% of the time, especially as Sanchez has suffered groin and calf injuries the past two seasons. The good news is that Sanchez has shown an impressive ability to produce offensively no matter what position he’s filling. He has a career .854 OPS as a catcher and a .903 OPS as a DH. The Yankees are at their absolute best when they can get that .854 OPS production from the catcher spot and save the DH role for Stanton and Andujar. This is why Sanchez remains the greatest key to the Yankees offense, maybe even more so than Aaron Judge, who deserves his own fair share of maintenance days. These decisions have to be driven by the quality of replacements in the field, so the play of Gio Urshela, Clint Frazier, and Austin Romine will have a significant role as well.
It’s a balancing act driven by medical feedback and front office analytics, but the Yankees are an optimized club when Stanton and Andujar are trading DH at-bats with once or twice per week relief for Sanchez and the occasional maintenance day for additional key contributors.