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The Yankees have an all-righty lineup. Will it hinder their success?

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Since 1996, the Yankees have won the A.L. pennant seven times. How balanced were the lineups on those teams?

Baltimore Orioles v. New York Yankees

If healthy, the 2021 Yankees will have a formidable lineup with few weak spots. That said, the lineup has few left-handed batters in it. Brett Gardner, if he even ends up re-signing, may profile as the only left-handed hitter on the team (barring utility players on the bench). If the Yankees platoon Gardy and Clint Frazier in left field, the lineup is likely to contain only righties much of the time. That leaves Aaron Hicks, who is a switch-hitter (a dying breed), as the sole everyday player capable of batting lefty.

Where does having a right-handed heavy lineup leave the Yankees, with so few left-handed hitters to take advantage of the Yankees’ short porch in right field? To what extent are the Yankees disadvantaged by having a lineup full of righties?

Depends on who you ask. Let’s travel back in time a few years.

Remember Joe Girardi’s binder? Before Aaron Boone stepped in as Yankees manager in 2018, Girardi’s binder ruled all. Chock full of game strategies, calculations, and—the pièce de résistance—righty-lefty matchups. Fans might have hemmed and hawed at this little black book and Girardi’s adherence to whatever looked best in theory, on paper, but the truth is, much of the time, Girardi’s binder worked.

In baseball, having a lineup that strategically balances the handedness of batters against the opposing team’s pitcher matters. That’s not to say a team with a lineup full of only righty hitters cannot win. But typically, left-handed batters are less vulnerable to a righty pitcher’s breaking balls. Left-handed hitters can get a better read on the ball due to the way they’re facing. Not to mention: left-handed hitters are also one step closer to first base.

Most of the time, left-handed pitchers and batters do better in baseball. A balanced lineup gives a manager more options to choose from when the other team makes a pitching change. But, what would the binder say? And how balanced were the lineups of Yankee teams that won the World Series?

Let’s take a closer look.

Yankees’ righty-lefty lineup balance in Pennant-winning years

World Series outcome Season no. of L in starting lineup no. of R in starting lineup no. of switch hitters
World Series outcome Season no. of L in starting lineup no. of R in starting lineup no. of switch hitters
W 2009 3 2 4
W 2000 3 4 2
W 1999 3 3 3
W 1998 3 4 2
W 1996 3 4 2
L 2001 3 4 2
L 2003 4 3 2
Data courtesy of baseball-reference.com

The focus on handedness is somewhat of a recent phenomenon in baseball; its emphasis has grown as more and more teams rely on analytics to inform game strategy.

Obviously, this is too small of a sample size to make any conclusions regarding lineup handedness and its effect on a team’s success. The decline of switch-hitters across all of MLB is a variable to consider, as well. But it is worth noting that in recent memory, the most successful Yankee teams had lineups that were more balanced.

Ultimately, the Yankees lineup will go as far as their right-handed sluggers can carry it. Their previous teams were clearly built with at least a little more balance in mind; the current roster has prioritized powerful mashers, balance in terms of handedness be damned. There’s certainly more research to be done to see if the lineup’s nearly uniformity right-handedness leaves them vulnerable in playoff series against teams with power right-handed pitchers that can match up with them. We may see come this season whether a lineup of righties can slug their way through the campaign.