Coming into the season, the New York Yankees were widely considered to be the most talented lineup in the American League. There were three main question marks, though:
(1) Would the duo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton finally be able to stay healthy?
(2) Would Gary Sánchez remember how to hit again?
(3) Would the righty-dominant lineup hold up over the entire year?
After a rash of early-season injuries, COVID outbreaks, and poor performances, however, fans were up in arms about the construction of the Yankees roster and, in particular, their lack of depth. After all, it wasn’t all that uncommon for skipper Aaron Boone to run out lineups that featured some combination of Rougned Odor, Tyler Wade, Mike Ford, Brett Gardner, and Kyle Higashioka in May.
Then, the trade deadline happened. Most fans know what went down, but just to recap: the Yankees added two major, must-play-every-day impact bats (and defenders) in Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo. Since the trade deadline, the Yankees have been the hottest team in baseball, going 18-4 in that time, including a current run of nine straight victories that has plunged them right back into the hunt for both the playoffs and the division.
Somehow, all of this has happened while the team was battling some serious injury woes — Jordan Montgomery, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rizzo, Gary Sánchez, and Clay Holmes all spent time on the COVID-IL; Luke Voit and Aroldis Chapman both just recently returned from IL stints; and Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, and Domingo Germán are still working their way back from the IL. And that’s not even including pre-existing injuries to the likes of Luis Severino, Michael King, Darren O’Day, Corey Kluber, Clint Frazier, Aaron Hicks, and Miguel Andújar. Needless to say, it’s not what you want.
But, as happens every September, reinforcements are on their way. Gleyber Torres has been hitting from a tee and Gio Urshela began his rehab assignment last night. While there is still a bit of pitching news to go over, I’ll be tackling the defensive side of the ball tomorrow. For now, we’ll stick with just the offence.
With a playoff spot to their name (for now) and the division within reach, there is a whole new set of questions that face Boone and the Yankees. Let’s try to tackle the three biggest ones.
Question #1: How do you keep Voit’s bat in the lineup on a consistent basis?
Luke Voit has been on a mission since coming back from injury. Since returning to action on August 8th, Voit has slashed .320/.370/.620 with four home runs and 17 runs driven in. Over that time, he’s posted a .417 wOBA and 169 wRC+. This is encouraging to see from Voit, especially after injuries ravaged the first half of his season, and in light of both his recent comments about the Rizzo trade and the question marks surrounding him during the deadline. But the question remains: how do you get Voit’s bat in the lineup on a daily basis?
The answer to that question ultimately comes down to your answer to the next question...
Question #2: Do you embrace the Death Star lineup or rotate the designated hitter?
After a near-three-year hiatus from playing the field, Giancarlo Stanton is finally patrolling the outfield in Yankee Stadium ... sometimes. Stanton has only played 10 games in the field, but he has also been on a tear since the trade deadline. In 21 games, he’s slashed .314/.435/.543 with four home runs and 15 runs driven in. He’s also posted a .421 wOBA and 172 WRC+.
Fans have been clamoring for the Death Star lineup and, from my perspective, that’s really the only way to guarantee that the Yankees are running their best players out there night in, night out for the stretch run. Rizzo, with his high OBP, exceptional bat-to-ball skills, and defensive prowess, is an everyday first baseman over Luke Voit. However, a now-healthy Voit has been too productive to leave on the bench. If you’re going to plug Stanton or Judge into the DH spot every second or third game, that’s seriously limiting the team’s ability to get one of their most productive hitters as many meaningful at-bats as possible.
On the other hand, I can see the logic behind rotating the DH, too. Judge, Stanton, and Voit all have a long history of injuries, and losing any of them for an extended period of time would seriously hamper this team’s playoff hopes. Needless to say, rest days are very important for this team. If you’re using the DH spot primarily to rotate off-days for Judge and Stanton, though, that means Brett Gardner or Tyler Wade will be getting more at-bats than Voit. I’m not exactly sure that’s a winning strategy.
Question #3: How long of a leash does Gleyber Torres have when he returns?
Gleyber Torres is having a bad year on both sides of the ball. As of late, replacements Wade and Andrew Velazquez have unexpectedly turned it on and looked pretty solid. It’s important to remember, though, that Torres had shown signs of potentially turning it around at the plate. In nine games since the trade deadline, he was slashing .333/.333/.455 with a .329 wOBA and 109 wRC+ before he injured his thumb.
Though Wade and Velazquez are serviceable backups, a team with playoff aspirations cannot run them out on a nightly basis. But, if Gleyber slips back to his overall levels of production on both sides of the ball (91 WRC+ and poor defence), how long will it be before we see Wade’s name back in the lineup on a semi-regular basis?
Like I said, these are only some of the questions facing Aaron Boone et al. right now. Others that come to mind include: Is the DJ LeMahieu resurgence for real? Will Urshela be okay after his lengthy absence? How much longer can you afford to roll with Higashioka as Cole’s personal catcher? How can you rest players enough to ensure health while still remaining competitive?
With all these questions hanging over the team as they gear up for the stretch run, I have to say that I truly don’t envy Aaron Boone right now. And this is only the offensive side of the ball ... I’ll be tackling the pitching side of things tomorrow, but I want to know: What would your answers be to the above questions as the Yankees get ready for the homestretch?