I am a big proponent of load management. In my mind, trading a few games in the early months of the season to ensure that your best players are healthy and ready to go when the games really begin to matter is a no-brainer.
What the Yankees are currently doing, however, is not load management, despite their best efforts to brand it as such. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what it actually is. To those paying attention to the construction of the lineup on a nightly basis, it has become apparent that the Yankees’ front office schedules rest days for their hitters regardless of the situation. As a result, this often means that the hottest hitters on the team are given days off in the middle of their streaks, or that the best lineup is not on the field during must-win games.
Exhibit A is Joey Gallo’s rest day on September 15th:
Aaron Boone says Joey Gallo being held out of tonight's lineup is just a day of rest, as well as trying to balance keeping Luke Voit & Brett Gardner in the lineup pic.twitter.com/BlTJvSuA3j— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) September 15, 2021
While it’s true that Gallo started his Yankees tenure off on a bit of a disappointing foot, he really started to turn things around in the games leading up to this scheduled rest day, hitting solo shots in back-to-back games against the Mets and Twins respectively. Just as he appeared to be turning the corner, however, he was given a rest day so that Aaron Boone could get Brett Gardner and his 92 wRC+ in the lineup.
Fortunately, the Yankees ended up winning this game against the Baltimore Orioles, but at the time, the Yankees were tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot. In my non-professional opinion, I don’t think that’s a situation where you want to rest a player who happens to be key to this team on both sides of the ball.
Exhibit B is Giancarlo Stanton and how they’ve begun to get creative for his rest days:
It’s no secret that Stanton’s injury history makes rest days a near-necessity for him; that’s inescapable. But look at how many rest days (highlighted in yellow) — and by rest days I mean days where he’s the designated hitter instead of playing the field — he’s had this month already!
While this might not seem like an issue because he’s still in the lineup virtually every day, it becomes an issue when you realize that it’s causing the team’s third-best hitter according to wRC+ — Luke Voit — to ride pine as a result. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the Yankees weren’t insistent on getting Gardner into the everyday lineup, but c’est la vie. In fact, Voit has started just 5 of the last 14 games. The only folks happy to not see Voit’s name in the lineup are probably wearing the jerseys of the opposing team.
With the standings jumping around the way that they are and every game being so important at this stage of the season, you need your best hitters in the lineup on a daily basis. By throwing Stanton in the designated hitter role, the Yankees are not allowing themselves to do that.
And, not for nothing, Stanton’s numbers when he plays the field this season are outstanding. Though it’s a sample size of just 23 games, he has slashed .310/.368/.644 with eight home runs and a 172 wRC+ in games when he has played either left field or right field.
Exhibit C is, sadly, the current AL East playoff odds, according to FanGraphs:
Baltimore’s hilariously consistent ineptitude aside, this chart is an absolute mess. At their peak on August 27th, the Yankees had a 97.8 percent chance of making the postseason. As of yesterday—just 25 days later—FanGraphs has their odds at 39.2 percent.
There is no way to sugarcoat this: The Yankees are running out of games to win. If they want to make a serious push at the postseason, they need to play their best lineup — whether you call it the Goal Line Offence, the Jumbo Package, or the Death Star lineup is up to you — every night. To do so, they need to start worrying more about winning today and less about resting guys for tomorrow. After all, what are you saving guys for if you don’t even make the playoffs?
Listen, I get it. 162 games is a long season. In fact, it’s probably too long. And sure, the stretch of 20 games in 20 days that they conclude today is pretty unheard of, especially at this stage of the season. But load management should never come at the expense of urgency at this time of the year. I mean, what were the rest days at the beginning of the season for, if not to ensure that big boppers like Aaron Judge, Stanton, Gallo, and Voit are healthy and ready to go for this exact type of situation? And all of this stands on its own without even mentioning the messy workloads in the bullpen and poor management of starting pitching workloads.
As it currently stands, the Yankees are a half-game back of the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot and a 1.5 games behind the Red Sox for the first spot. With just 10 games left in the season, a lineup that doesn’t feature all of Judge, Stanton, Voit, Gallo, Anthony Rizzo, and Gary Sánchez is, to put it bluntly, a waste of everyone’s time. As my colleague Erica pointed out recently, the team can get creative with late-game substitutions if they’re that worried about trading a bit of defence for better hitting. At this point, the plan should be to get all of their best hitters into every single game from here on out. Anything less is excusable.
I don’t know about you, but I, for one, would rather see the Yankees go down swinging than saving players for a game that might not even happen. The time to play games and tinker with the lineup is over. After all, if they don’t make the playoffs, they’ll have the whole offseason to rest.