Giancarlo Stanton’s lost 2019 season had an unfortunate affect on the New York Yankees. Besides robbing the team of his incredible power, it also pushed Aaron Boone to almost exclusively slot him into the DH role for the next two seasons in an effort to keep the former MVP healthy. In the pandemic-shortened 2021 seasons, he was the DH in all 23 games in which he played. In 2021, he at least had 26 games playing in the field, but that was dwarfed by his 108 starts as DH.
Later in the 2021 season, it became apparent to Boone and the viewers at home that Stanton and the team in general would benefit from Stanton playing more in the outfield. From spring training of this year, Boone has made it even more clear that Stanton will be a regular fixture there, and he’s lived up to his word — as of this writing, Stanton has almost an even split with 11 starts in right field and 12 as the DH.
Stanton will almost certainly have more starts as the DH than any other Yankee this year, but the flexibility with which they’re using the DH is a necessity towards keeping this year’s offense operating at max capacity. Gone are the days where, for example, Gary Sánchez had to sit and wait for a potential pinch-hitting opportunity when Kyle Higashioka started for Gerrit Cole days, even in the most moribund days of trying to scrounge up runs in 2021.
The signing of Anthony Rizzo, following the trade for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson, meant that the Yankees had more starters than they had spots in the lineup on any given day. If the Yankees were still married to having Stanton at DH even only 75 percent of the time, this trade probably wouldn’t have happened in this iteration, and if it had, it would have been much harder to have all of the teams’ best offensive performers so far all playing at the same time. If Stanton is at DH, it’s impossible to start Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, IFK, Josh Donaldson, and Gleyber Torres all in the same game.
To your potential argument that Donaldson and Torres shouldn’t start because of their struggles, I’d point out that the Bringer of Rain produced 11.9 offensive runs above average last season for the Minnesota Twins, even while battling injuries. Torres was obviously a wreck for much of past two seasons, but his defense has looked okay at second base so far in 2021 and his BABIP is super low at .224. The Yankees aren’t giving up on him yet, and rightfully so.
And more to point, if Donaldson or Torres or Joey Gallo are ice cold and look uncomfortable, the Yankees lineup can now show different looks. The “every day is a new lineup” approach Boone is using raised eyebrows when the Yankees were struggling at the start of the season, but the win streak has quieted all of that. And if Donaldson and Torres truly can’t pull out of their slumps, they don’t have all their eggs in one basket. If Donaldson was suddenly out of the picture, the new starter at third base is DJ LeMahieu, not the likes of Tyler Wade.
By committing to playing Stanton about half-time in the field, it meant that the Yankees could sign Rizzo and still keep LeMahieu in the lineup pretty much every day. That “extra player” that the Yankees were able to sign just happened to be the current MLB home run leader. That worked out just about as well as it possibly could have.
As a counter-example, the current iteration of the Philadelphia Phillies is reminding me of how agonizing it was to watch the stodgy 2021 Yankees lineup. Last year’s MVP Bryce Harper has an elbow injury that’s keeping him from throwing the ball, but the issue doesn’t bother him while he swings, so he’s DHing every day rather than going to the injured list. The Phillies desperately need his offensive contributions, so the majority of the time the DH spot must belong to Harper.
But the Phillies, definitely in “win now” mode, spent the offseason loading up on sluggers who can’t play defense in the likes of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. Schwarber or Castellanos or anyone else who is a little sore can’t DH for a day without Harper sitting, which greatly reduces their chance of scoring runs. It’s the same simple math the Yankees faced — if Stanton is almost always the DH, someone else can’t get a half-day at the position without sitting one of their best run producers. The Phillies can certainly score, yet they’re plagued by, for lack of any better term, bad vibes, and when they’re behind fans don’t feel like they can rally a comeback. Sounds like the 2021 Yankees to me.
Time will tell how good the 2022 New York offense really is, but so far the results are vindicating the lack of the one-man DH. Already it looks horribly rigid to have had one for so long.