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The Yankees starters who played the least amount of games at their position

Every team’s Baseball-Reference page lists the nine starters who played more games than anyone else at their position, but that doesn’t mean they played there all that much.

New York Yankees v Miami Marlins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Go to the Baseball-Reference page of a particular squad. Near the top of the page, you will find the team’s batting statistics; by default, these stats list the nine players that started the most at each of the offensive positions (nine with the DH, eight for pre-DH and NL teams), giving you a snapshot of which players were found most often in that team’s starting lineup.

Typically, this list is fairly straightforward, as most positions have a clear starter. Every once in a while, however, injuries, roster turnover, platoons, and Ben Zobrist-type player usages result in some rather strange results. Considering that happened not once but twice this season (you’ll see with whom below), I decided to dive through the Baseball-Reference pages of the last ten seasons to see which players played the least amount of games that they were listed as the starter at. Join me on this trip down memory lane.

Catcher: Gary Sánchez, 2018 (76 games)

The Yankees have not used a timeshare behind home plate in years. The closest they came to that was the first seven games of the 2013 season, when Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart alternated games. Because of this, an injury-filled season from the Yankees’ most recent (current?) backstop was needed for the team to have a starting catcher who started at catcher in less than half the team’s games.

The 2018 season was a disaster for Gary Sánchez, who posted an 89 OPS+ in 89 games (he started 12 games as the DH) and led the league with 18 passed balls, on top of a pair of groin injuries. Primary backup Austin Romine actually matched Sánchez in number of games behind the plate with 76, while third string catcher Kyle Higashioka had 27 starts.

First Base: Anthony Rizzo, 2021 (47 games)

First base was an absolute disaster for the Yankees in 2021, with six different players getting ten or more starts at the position. In fact, technically speaking, the player who started the most at first base in 2021 was DJ LeMahieu, who had 55 starts at the position. But because LeMahieu played more games at second base (83), Baseball-Reference lists him as the starter there instead. Because of that, Anthony Rizzo, who came over from the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline, gets credit at the position, narrowly edging out intended starter Luke Voit, who played 42 games at first.

Rizzo was a solid but unspectacular hitter for the Yankees, mashing eight home runs and posting a 110 OPS+ in pinstripes. That, unfortunately, was a massive improvement over the Yankees’ other options at the position, as Mike Ford, Chris Gittens, and Jay Bruce combined for 44 games despite collectively posting an OBP below .278.

Second Base: DJ LeMahieu, 2019 (75 games)

When the Yankees brought in DJ LeMahieu, they intended him to play a Ben Zobrist role in the infield, getting regular at-bats at first base, second base, and third base. And that’s exactly what he did in 2019, starting 40 times at first and 52 times at third in addition to his 75 games at second. But what made him Baseball-Reference’s starter at second base was not necessarily his time at the position, but the fact that Troy Tulowitzki’s injury a week into the season meant that Gleyber Torres spent more time as the team’s shortstop than at second.

Of course, LeMahieu thrived in the role, as he was named the starting second baseman for the American League in the All-Star Game (in a rather amusing coincidence, Torres was the other second baseman, meaning that the Yankees had both All-Star second basemen that year) en route to a top-four finish in the MVP voting.

Third Base: Jayson Nix, 2013 (41 games)

The 2013 Yankees were...a mess, to say the least, especially in the infield. Eight different players started ten or more games at third base that year, three of whom who played at least 10 games at other positions. In this crazy context, utility infielder Jayson Nix somehow found his way as the most often-used third baseman...despite the fact that he played more games at shortstop than at third base (48).

Nix was not a good hitter, finishing the year with a .236/.308/.311 slash, good for a 73 OPS+. Despite that, he hit second 21 times — the most time he spent at any one spot in the lineup that year. Yeah, the 2013 lineup was as bad as you remember.

Shortstop: Eduardo Núñez, 2013 (75 games)

The entire left side of the infield was in flux all throughout 2013. With Derek Jeter starting the season on the injured list, Eduardo Núñez found himself as the Opening Day shortstop...before hitting the shelf himself for two months in early May. Although he would return in mid-July and serve as the starting shortstop more often than not, his defensive woes (he had a -38.3 UZR/150) caused him to shift over to third base in September after the Yankees acquired Brendan Ryan and turned Alex Rodriguez into the full-time designated hitter.

Núñez’s 2013 was not good, as he slashed just .260/.307/.372 and was worth negative WAR (-1.5 bWAR/-0.3 fWAR) due to his defense. With that in mind, it’s really no surprise that the Yankees shipped him out the following spring, despite the fact that they had once viewed him as a potential heir for The Captain.

Left Field: Joey Gallo, 2021 (51 games)

After Clint Frazier stumbled out of the gate as the Yankees’ starting left fielder before hitting the injured list, the Yankees spent the first half of the season searching for a solution at the position. Frazier and Miguel Andújar got 37 starts apiece, while Brett Gardner — originally intended to be the fourth outfielder — started 35 games there before becoming the center fielder after Aaron Hicks hit the injured list.

Once he came over from the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline, Joey Gallo instantly slotted in as the team’s starting left fielder. From July 30 to the end of the season, he started all but 15 games at the position; most of those other games were spent in right field, with Giancarlo Stanton getting the start in left. Unfortunately, he struggled at the plate in pinstripes, salvaging a .160 batting average only because he hit 13 home runs and walked 37 times in 58 games.

Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury, 2017 (97 games)

Over the last two decades, the Yankees have regularly invested heavily at the center field position. Between Johnny Damon, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Aaron Hicks, the Yankees have either traded for or signed as a free agent their starting center fielder. Only the 2009 World Series champions had a timeshare at the position, with Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner splitting the position fifty-fifty. Not surprisingly, it took an injury-filled season which saw the starting center fielder get Wally Pipp’ed for the team to have Baseball-Reference’s starter play fewer than 100 games at the position.

Jacoby Ellsbury opened the 2017 season as the Yankees’ starting center fielder and number five hitter. After hitting his head and suffering a concussion while making a catch at the wall on May 24 — a game yours truly was in attendance for — he lost his starting job to Aaron Hicks. The only reason that Hicks was not listed as the starting center fielder, in fact, is because he hit the injured list himself twice and shifted to a corner outfield spot whenever Ellsbury got the start as the fourth outfielder.

Right Field: Aaron Hicks, 2016 (86 games, 51 starts)

The 2016 season was a transition year for the Yankees in general and the right field position in particular. At the start of the season, Carlos Beltrán had the job, although he would eventually become the designated hitter during the month of May before eventually being traded to the Texas Rangers at the deadline. Towards the end of the season, Aaron Judge had his first cup of coffee, although he would eventually hit the shelf for the final two weeks of September. In between that, fourth outfielders cycled through the position, with Aaron Hicks — Beltrán’s defensive replacement for the early part of the season — finding himself there the most.

Now known as a power-hitting switch -itter who walks a lot, Hicks at the time had yet to find his stroke at the plate, hitting just eight home runs en route to a .217/.281/.336 slash (65 OPS+). Unfortunately, the fact that he was an outfielder, and not a position-less utility player, made him a better fit than most of the other players the Yankees trotted out there, including Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley.

Designated Hitter: Eric Chavez, 2012 (19 games)

More than most other positions, the Yankees have cycled through designated hitters over the last decade, both by design and due to injuries. Giancarlo Stanton started only 23 games in 23 games in 2020 (a 62-game pace) and spent half the time in the outfield in 2018. Injuries and a timeshare at first base limited midseason acquisition Edwin Encarnación to just 32 starts as the DH in 2019, Matt Holliday played only 90 games there in 2017. Alex Rodriguez’s mid-season retirement led him to start only 65 games in 2016. Beltran and Travis Hafner was the designated hitter less than half the time in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

None, however, comes close to the 2012 season. From the start of the season, the Yankees used the DH spot to give players half-days off. By the end of the season, nobody started more than 38 times there, with Rodriguez, Raúl Ibañez, and Jeter leading the way with 38, 30, and 25 starts. Because all three primarily started in the field, however, the starting DH spot fell to the guy who started there just 19 times, Eric Chavez.

Chavez spent most of the season as the backup third baseman who occasionally filled in at first, as well as a frequent bat off the bench (he had 36 appearances as a pinch hitter that year). This usage led to his best season in almost a decade, as he posted a 125 OPS+ thanks to 12 doubles and 16 home runs in 313 plate appearances.