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The Yankees should plan to regularly rotate their starting lineup

In order to limit injuries, the Yankees should employ their depth and rest players on a frequent, rotational basis.

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Five Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

During Aaron Boone’s managerial tenure, the Yankees have become known for rotating their lineups on a daily basis. Last year, for example, the Yankees used 55 different defensive lineups in 60 games, with the same group of nine players starting a total of no more than three games together. In 2019, that figure was 140, with only one group starting more than three games together (and even then, only five), The 2017 and 2018 Yankees were a bit more consistent, with only 115 and 121 different defensive lineups, respectively. Even so, it’s clear that lineup rotations have become an important part of the Yankees’ modus operandi in recent years.

Some of that rotation, of course, can be directly attributed to injuries, especially over the last two years — as more players got hurt, necessity forced different lineup permutations to be deployed. Part of the rationale for the strategy, however, was also the result of trying to avoid these injuries in the first place, and keep the team’s starters healthy and fresh over the course of a whole season.

Unfortunately, judging from recent history,, the Yankees have not been nearly aggressive enough in respect to that second point. Last season, Aaron Judge — both the most important member of the starting lineup and one of the players whose load needs to be managed the most to avoid injury — did not have a rest day until the 12th game of the season (although the caveat must be added that the team did have three days off early due to a COVID-19 outbreak). The year prior, Judge’s first rest day was April 21st, a full 20 games into the season. Over a full season, that amount of rest puts a player in the lineup 153 times. In an ideal world, that’s exactly what you would want; in trying to keep Judge healthy, however, the last two years have shown that one day every month is not going to cut it.

Given the Yankees’ roster depth, it behooves them to more actively rotate the lineup in order to keep players in tip-top shape throughout the season. It’s impossible to precisely determine what that rotation should look like; we’re uncertain about which bench pieces will make the roster, and the in-season rotation has to be flexible enough to allow for both matchup exploitation and the rigors of day-to-day injuries. Nonetheless, we can still put together a proof of concept, such as this rotation below:

Yankee Sample Lineup Rotation

Position Lineup 1 Lineup 2 Lineup 3 Lineup 4 Lineup 5 Lineup 6 Lineup 7
Position Lineup 1 Lineup 2 Lineup 3 Lineup 4 Lineup 5 Lineup 6 Lineup 7
Catcher Sánchez Sánchez Sánchez Sánchez Sánchez Higashioka Higashioka
First Base Voit Voit Voit Voit Voit LeMahieu Voit
Second Base LeMahieu Wade LeMahieu LeMahieu Wade Wade LeMahieu
Shortstop Torres Torres Torres Wade Torres Torres Torres
Third Base Urshela Urshela Urshela Urshela LeMahieu Urshela Urshela
Left Field Frazier Frazier Gardner Gardner Gardner Frazier Frazier
Center Field Hicks Gardner Hicks Hicks Hicks Gardner Hicks
Right Field Judge Judge Judge Judge Judge Stanton Stanton
Designated Hitter Stanton Stanton Frazier Stanton Stanton Judge Sánchez

Note: These lineups are not in any particular order.

Using this rotation, every member of the lineup gets at least one full day off (Clint Frazier, Aaron Hicks, and Brett Gardner each get two), and because of this, nobody starts more than 138 games. Furthermore, two of the more injury-prone players, Judge and Gary Sánchez, each get one half-day off as the designated hitter once in the rotation (Frazier gets the final DH spot simply to get Gardner in the lineup more than Tyler Wade). Giancarlo Stanton also gets to be mostly kept off the field as a DH while still meeting his goal of occasional outfield time. Lastly, none of the primary outfielders — all of whom have spent significant time on the injured list over the last two seasons — would appear in more than 116 games in the field, further reducing the risk of injury.

Of course, this model has flaws. For starters, it uses only three bench pieces (Gardner, Kyle Higashioka, and Tyler Wade), in part because it’s unclear at this point in time who will take the last spot on the bench (Mike Tauchman, Miguel Andújar, Mike Ford, Derek Dietrich, and Jay Bruce are just five of the numerous players gunning for the spot). Boone has also suggested that the team will sometimes carry fourteen pitchers this season, which would necessitate a three-man bench. Additionally, in an ideal world, Luke Voit would be among the players to rotate at designated hitter to help keep him healthy, but I unfortunately ran out of space in my self-imposed seven-day cycle (a completely arbitrary decision I made at the beginning of this thought experiment).

Despite these flaws, however, this model does demonstrate that the Yankees have sufficient depth on the roster to rest players on a frequent basis without significantly damaging the integrity of the lineup in any one game. By rotating his starters, Boone should be able to limit wear-and-tear injuries, with the end result hopefully being that the team’s big power bats will be able to remain in the middle of the lineup for the duration of the season.