The New York Yankees have one of the best and deepest group of hitters in the major leagues. Last season, they hit home runs at a record pace, and the offense is virtually the same this time around. They score runs like crazy.
As far as batters go, the Yankees have lots of options to plug in at virtually every position. They have stellar starters and more than capable replacements everywhere. Unless injuries strike, they will have a hard time finding regular at-bats for Mike Ford (12 home runs, 134 wRC+ in 2019), Miguel Andujar (2018 Rookie of the Year runner-up), Mike Tauchman (.277/.361/.504 line in 296 plate appearances), Clint Frazier (perennial top prospect) and others.
Thankfully, the Yankees will once again have their good ol’ friend, the designated hitter spot, to rely on at the moment of putting the lineup together.
The designated hitter slot is usually destined for the best hitter in the team without a clear defensive home. However, clubs can also use it to give a “half day” of rest to a specific player, to “mask” a hitter who is a liability on the field, or just to rotate around and administer rest.
In the Yankees’ specific case, they should prioritize long-term health and minimize risks whenever possible, especially when dealing with expensive players.
Protecting who they value
That is why Giancarlo Stanton should be the team’s primary designated hitter. It makes too much sense not to happen.
Stanton dealt with lots of injuries in 2019 and 2020. Last season, he played only 18 games, and this year, he would have missed opening day with a calf strain had COVID-19 not delayed things.
The last two years have included lots of lower body injuries for Stanton: quad, calf, knee... you name it. Wouldn’t it be best for all involved if he was the designated hitter most nights, with a start in left field and a rest day sprinkled here and there?
Fortunately, it would appear that’s the route the Yankees are going to take with him. It makes sense because A) there are at least three players who can do a better job in left field than him - Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Tauchman, plus others not on the active roster - and B) he is slated to make piles of millions for the next eight seasons, at least. If there are so many superior options in the field, wouldn’t it be best to take him off the field most nights and keep him where he really thrives?
This is not to say that Stanton is an abysmal fielder. He is actually passable out there. But for the Yankees, it’s about protecting what they value in order to keep him on the lineup most nights.
Having said that, I am not advocating for the Yankees to play Stanton the whole 60 games in the DH slot. First of all, he would need a rest day or two, and the Yankees should give him several more, as well. The idea is to keep the big bats fresh for the postseason. Qualifying shouldn’t be too much of an issue for a team as talented as the Yankees and with expanded slots.
It’s pretty clear that the Yankees want Andujar’s bat in the lineup, as much as possible. That’s why they are also trying him in the outfield in addition to the third base, but he makes too much sense as a DH. Ford should also play some games, and Frazier seems to be on fire, earning him some outfield/DH at-bats as well.
For the Yankees, the DH slot shouldn’t be for players like DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Judge, Hicks, Gardner, Urshela or Tauchman. All of them, except for Torres, are excellent glovemen, and Gleyber is the team’s starting shortstop.It’s the likes of Stanton, Andujar, Frazier, Ford, Frazier and even Luke Voit the ones who should be looking at starts in the DH spot: flawed defenders.
It also makes sense to slot Gary Sanchez as the DH in some games, with Kyle Higashioka starting at catcher.
According to FanGraphs, the projected distribution of time in the DH position is as follows:
Giancarlo Stanton: 60%
Miguel Andujar: 27%
Aaron Judge: 5%
Mike Ford: 4%
Gary Sanchez: 2%
Luke Voit: 2%
I would eliminate Judge from that equation, although I understand the reasoning. Instead, I would give that 5% of the DH at-bats to Frazier to add to the ones he will get as an outfielder. Other than that, that sounds like a perfect plan to put in place.