After winning 13 games straight, the Yankees had plenty of reason to celebrate. One of the main reasons to feel a sense of optimism after a long streak is that it’s very difficult to regress so far past the mean so as to erase the effects of the streak in the first place.
The New York Yankees are doing just that, following up a win streak that lasted 14 days with a skid that has seen them drop 11 of the next 13. Regardless of how we got here, as things currently stand, five ball clubs find themselves right in the middle of the race for the two Wild Card spots, and each one controls their own destiny.
The main reason for the struggles in the Bronx has been the offense. Outside of a 8-7 loss at the hand of the last place Orioles, this lineup has failed to score even five runs in any of their last 10 games, other than last night’s game in Queens.
I’ll be the first to tell you that lineup construction isn’t the primary reason the lineup has scuffled; hitters hitting poorly explains almost the entirety of the slump. But with the roster relatively healthy and each game becoming more and more crucial, let’s step back and look to build the best lineup for the Yankees right now.
Over at the site Diamond Digest, Avery Hamel wrote a very interesting piece utilizing methods from The Book by Tom Tango to try and build out an optimal Red Sox lineup. I'll use those methods to design the best batting order for the Yankees.
We’ve seen a lot of DJ LeMahieu and Brett Gardner at the top of the order lately, and that’s the main point I’d like to focus on. It’s no secret that Joey Gallo has struggled since leaving Texas, but the sample size is not big enough to justify moving such an accomplished hitter to the sixth spot when you’re running out two league average hitters (in 2021) at the top of your order.
I’d advocate to move LeMahieu and Gardner down and have Gallo in the middle of the order, where he might struggle just as much as he currently is, but he’ll get more at-bats, get on base at a higher clip and provide a higher potential than either. It’s fair to keep LeMahieu toward the middle of the lineup because of how strong his recent track record is, and the fact that some of his underlying numbers, such as hard hit rate and his xwOBA, indicate that he has gotten a little unlucky this year.
Gardner shouldn’t be hitting at the top of the lineup, but lest it seem like I want to bash the longtime Yankee, his ability to get on base would be a boon at the bottom of the lineup. He could provide RBI opportunities for the big hitters at the top the lineup by drawing walks at the bottom.
Here’s the ideal lineup according to yours truly for Aaron Boone to choose from now until game 162, and if all goes well, the postseason too.
1: 1B Anthony Rizzo
2: RF Aaron Judge
3: LF Joey Gallo
4: DH Giancarlo Stanton
5: 2B DJ LeMahieu
6: C Gary Sánchez
7: SS Gleyber Torres
8: 3B Gio Urshela
9: CF Brett Gardner
2020 DJ LeMahieu would get the nod for the leadoff role, but unfortunately in 2021, Rizzo is a superior hitter and just the type you trust to make a seamless transition to the top. Part of why he's there is his OBP ability; no he’s not fast, but he can set the table for the Yankees’ big sluggers.
As far as going with Judge second and Stanton fourth, The Book advocates for putting your best hitters in those two crucial spots. Given that Judge is the superior hitter overall, I opt to give him more plate appearances, and I trust Stanton to close the gap on slugging more than I do with OBP, making him an obvious cleanup hitter.
Gallo is in a huge slump since joining the Yankees, but even then he's maintained a OBP above .300, drawing walks in spite of his struggles. According to the numbers, you should place your best hitter with the most strikeouts at the third spot, and based on track record, that spot should go to Gallo.
I understand the impulse to have your best hitter batting third or fourth instead of second in order to get more opportunities with men on base, but with the likes of Gardner and Gleyber Torres at the bottom of the lineup, Judge should still get those opportunities, and also a higher number of at-bats. In totality, this construction should give the Yankees the best chance at maximizing the hitting talent at their disposal.
Of course, an optimized lineup means little if the hitters on the card don’t produce near their talent level. The Yankees will need both good strategy and actual onfield execution from their offense to climb out of the tailspin they’re in.