If things go smoothly for the Yankees—and the way the 2019 season is going, this is a big “if”—then the Yankees’ front office and managerial staff will have some tough decisions to make in the next couple of weeks. While the outfield alignment and the starting rotation have received a lot of press, there is one area that could play a major role in determining the postseason roster: the starting infield.
At the moment, the Yankees’ active roster contains a number of infielders: Edwin Encarnacion, Thairo Estrada, Mike Ford, Didi Gregorius, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Breyvic Valera, Luke Voit, and Tyler Wade. Obviously, not all of of these guys will make the postseason roster, let alone start. Assuming that the primary DH is going to come from among these infielders, a reasonable assumption, given the lack of outfield depth due to injuries to Aaron Hicks and Mike Tauchman, there can be at most five starting infielders from among these 10 players.
So, who’s it going to be?
Barring anything unforeseen, LeMahieu and Torres will definitely fill two of the infield spots, although exactly where they will play is up in the air. Similarly, we know that Valera, Estrada, and Wade would count themselves lucky to even make the roster, and should not start at all. That leaves us with five players—Encarnacion, Ford, Gregorius, Urshela, and Voit—for three spots.
Given the fact that all of these players have served as members of the starting lineup for at least a small period of time, none should automatically get penciled into the lineup. Instead, the players who are hottest at the moment should get the nod, with some attention paid to defensive abilities. While obviously there’s still a couple of weeks left for players to either go on a tear or end up in a slump, we can take a look at the current stats to see who would, if the season today, constitute the best starting infield for the Yankees in the postseason.
Going strictly by the last 30 days, those three infielders would be Mike Ford, Gio Urshela, and Edwin Encarnacion. In this setup, we’d see an infield of Ford/Encarnacion, LeMahieu, Torres, and Urshela, with the remaining first baseman serving as the DH. Shorten that time period to the past week, however, and Voit replaces Ford in the lineup.
In both these situations, one thing has been constant: Gregorius has remained on the bench, and as painful as that may be, it might just be the right move. The shortstop has not truly hit his stride this season, with a season OPS+ of 92 that ranks 30 points below last year’s mark of 124. Additionally, his struggles have remained fairly constant throughout the season, with his highest monthly OPS (.770) occurring back in July. Unfortunately for the shortstop, he has consistently been the worst offensively.
Defensively, the metrics have considered Gregorius a below-average fielder this year, with a DRS of -5 and a UZR of 0.2. Defensive metrics are notoriously fluky, but he would need stellar marks to outweigh his below-average production.
For this reason, barring a hot streak from Gregorius, the Yankees should be trotting out an infield that sees Encarnacion and Voit splitting first base/DH duties, LeMahieu manning the keystone, Torres at short, and Urshela at the hot corner. This is the lineup that, given the team’s performance in recent weeks, is most likely to provide the most pop in October.