The Evil Empire. The Death Star. We love seeing these Star Wars monikers applied to the Yankees thanks to their ruthless domination over the baseball galaxy across the history of the league. In recent years, we have seen the Yankees themselves lean into these Lucasian allusions, from Yankees GM Brian Cashman referring to the organization as a “fully operational Death Star,” to the Yankee Stadium PA system playing the Rebel Alliance Suite during player introductions, to most recently playing the imperial siren when Yankees pitchers reach two strikes with two outs.
Well, why not continue with this Star Wars theme? Usually, when the Evil Empire and Death Star labels are brought up in Yankees discourse, they are ultimately in reference to the organization’s spending power relative to the rest of the league — how, for many years, the Yankees were able to outbid opponents when they really wanted a player. Today, however, I’d like to look at the team through a slightly different Star-Wars-tinted lens, namely through lineup construction.
Before we get started, I’d like to make it clear my opinion that complaints about lineup construction are largely overblown. Debating who should bat leadoff or cleanup is often mooted by having a batting order full of good hitters. Which brings me to the point at hand: with Luke Voit finally healthy, Anthony Rizzo back from the COVID-19 IL, and Gleyber Torres on the mend, it’s time the Yankees commit to rolling out their Death Star lineup down the stretch. Or as Voit himself called it:
Luke Voit called tonight’s lineup the Goal Line Package.— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) August 19, 2021
Although we didn’t get to see the maxed-out version yesterday against the Twins with Torres and Gio Urshela still injured and Gary Sánchez on the bench, we were still given a glimpse of the blueprint. It included an outfield trio of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Gallo. And most importantly, we saw both Voit and Rizzo on the card.
That is the biggest hurdle as the Yankees try to fit all of their big guns into the lineup at the same time. Voit missed much of the first half to various injuries, resulting in the Bombers having some of the worst first base production in the league. This motivated their acquisition of Rizzo at the deadline, which appeared to jeopardize the incumbent’s spot on the team. The significance of adding Rizzo was not lost on Voit either.
More Voit: "I led the league in home runs last year and I feel really good again. Obviously the injury bug is the reason he’s here, because of me. But I hope Boonie (Aaron Boone) can do whatever he can to give me some consistent at-bats."— James Wagner (@ByJamesWagner) August 18, 2021
I completely understand Voit’s frustrations at getting Wally Pipp’d — no one wants to lose their job because of injury. At the same time, the Yankees did not trade for Rizzo to have him sit on the bench or platoon at first. He is the superior hitter and dwarfs Voit in terms of defensive acumen. At the same time, there’s not really a case for sitting either of them — Rizzo is batting .256/.354/.487 with three home runs, nine RBIs, and a 129 wRC+ since joining the Yankees while Voit is batting .244/.311/.488 with three home runs, 11 RBIs, and a 118 wRC+ since returning from the IL. The only way to get both in the lineup is if Voit DH’s.
Until recently, that seemed an impossibility, with Stanton taking permanent residence at DH because of the Yankees’ unwillingness to play him in the field. Thankfully, the Bombers appear to have reversed course, as Stanton has eased his way back into playing the outfield. To his credit, Stanton read the situation with Rizzo and Voit perfectly, and has shown an eagerness to expand his role in the outfield to accommodate his two teammates.
Giancarlo Stanton said he believes the team is at its best with him in the outfield. It would lead to more playing time for Luke Voit once Anthony Rizzo returns.— Justin Shackil (@JustinShackil) August 18, 2021
“That’s where me being in the OF comes into play.”
We’ve heard numerous times that Stanton would prefer to play in the field. And interestingly, he is on quite a hot streak since re-inheriting outfield duties, batting .299/.405/.522 with four home runs, 12 RBIs, and a 157 wRC+ after returning to the outfield grass on July 30th. Paul O’Neill has explained many times on the YES broadcasts how he disliked DH’ing, and how playing in the field kept him fully engaged with the rhythm with the game, so it makes sense that Stanton is finding success at the plate during this stretch.
At full strength, the Death Star lineup would see an outfield of Stanton, Judge, and Gallo and an infield of Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, Torres, Urshela and Sánchez with Voit DH’ing. This allows the Yankees to split up the righty sluggers at the top of their lineup by batting Rizzo and Gallo second and fourth.
That is no small ability to have. David Cone has talked on the YES broadcasts how he would have to change his release point when facing a lefty vs. a righty. Giving the pitcher one more thing to have to worry about on the mound will only work in the batter’s favor. Aaron Boone also spoke on the benefit of alternating righty and lefty batters in the order.
“Now you’ve got some decisions to make as an opponent, especially in some of the close games. You can’t just ride through with a lefty or a righty... based on our lineup. Because of that balance, there’s a good chance that we’ll have a favorable matchup at some point.”
Having to juggle too many offensive weapons is a good problem to have. It’s a large part of why the Dodgers have appeared in three of the last four World Series. Luckily for the Yankees, they may not have to do any shuffling at all. They may just have discovered a way to get all of their sluggers into the lineup at the same time; now the question is if they’ll use it.