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Building the perfect top of the Yankees’ lineup

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The Bombers have an exciting collection of contact, on-base skills and power, and should terrorize pitching staffs around the league all year long

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is a complex game. To win, a team must be competent in several facets of the game: pitching, baserunning, fielding and batting, not to mention coaching, management, and even some luck factor.

For years, the offensive side of the game has thrilled us. We live and die for a hard-hit ball, a home run or a well-struck ball into the gaps. Now, Statcast has brought us concepts such as average exit velocity, launch angle, sweet spot, barrel and others. Those, too, have helped feed our curiosity for batting.

To build a good offense, the manager needs to consider the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel. Contact hitters, those with excellent bat-to-ball and bat control skills, OBP machines, sluggers, and speedsters are arranged in a specific order, and that’s how a lineup is made.

For years, it has been said that the leadoff hitter needs to have excellent on-base skills, and speed too. The second spot has been historically reserved for hitters with excellent bat control that can do things like bunting, start a hit and run, and go the other way. The most well-rounded batter usually occupies the third spot, and sluggers are often associated with cleanup duties.

However, as baseball changes, so do lineups. Managers have experimented in the last few years with unconventional orders. They often put power guys with high OBP skills in the first spot, they now use the “double leadoff hitter” (pairing two batters with excellent on-base skills and speed in the ninth and first spots) and make other arrangements.

We do need to note that the key to building a good lineup is to put your best hitters in the first few slots. Those are the most important ones: the lineup will turn around roughly four or five times per game, but the first three or four spots will get the most at-bats. You always want your best hitters to bat more often. It’s that simple.

Spreading and arranging the talent

The Yankees’ offense is potent, and that’s no secret. They have firepower, they have contact-oriented guys, they have on-base guys, they have power guys, they have balanced guys. They have everything (well, as long as they stay healthy). And they also have depth.

Here is my preferred lineup for Opening Day:

  • 2B DJ LeMahieu
  • RF Aaron Judge
  • SS Gleyber Torres
  • DH Giancarlo Stanton
  • 1B Luke Voit
  • C Gary Sanchez
  • 3B Gio Urshela
  • LF Mike Tauchman
  • CF Brett Gardner

It’s important to note that Giancarlo Stanton may not be ready for the start of the season with a grade 1 calf strain. However, his absence shouldn’t extend too much, and if we’re lucky, he should be playing competitive games in April.

In that lineup, talented hitters such as Mike Ford, Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier are left out. They are going to get their fair share of at-bats as the Yankees rotate. And we are not even including Aaron Hicks in this exercise because he is currently rehabbing and won’t be ready for the first couple of months.

For the Yankees, DJ LeMahieu was the best hitter in 2019. He batted .327 with 26 home runs, 102 RBI, and 109 runs. He had a 136 wRC+ and a career-high .375 wOBA. He thrived against fastballs, curveballs, offspeed pitches, you name it. He is the sparkplug of a great offense, and he should bat leadoff going forward.

I love the idea of Judge and his .400+ OBP (or something close to that in a worst-case scenario) batting second. If the likelihood of LeMahieu getting on base as the leadoff hitter is high, you get a willing walker with immense power right behind him.

I think Gleyber Torres’ best lineup spot is batting third. He is not necessarily the best hitter on the team but has contact, power, and can take a walk. Most importantly, he has room to grow. The third spot should suit him just fine for the rest of the decade.

Stanton as the old-school thumper in the cleanup spot makes perfect sense. Sure, he will strike out, but if you have a premier power hitter, where do you plan to put him? Batting ninth? Let him clean up.

Voit is another on-base machine that is a threat to extend the rally by either getting on base (he did it at a .378 clip) or leaving the yard (21 homers in 118 games in 2019.) Gary Sanchez has less patience but more slug and makes sense behind him.

The bottom three could be interchangeable, and it’s not like they are slap hitters. Urshela (132 wRC+) Tauchman (128 wRC+) and Gardner (115 wRC+) were all well-above average offensive performers last season that would be hitting higher on almost any other team. Even so, the fact remains that Urshela, Tauchman and Gardner (even though he is an option to lead off or hit higher) shouldn’t have more plate appearances than the likes of LeMahieu, Judge or Torres.

In any case, the Yankees have options and depth to mix and match and navigate through injuries and slumps. How would you arrange the Yankees’ lineup? Let us know in the comments below.