Yesterday, Jason and Andrew previewed the Yankees' rotation and bullpen. Today, we'll take a look at the lineup and defense. Since the Yankees avoided the free agent market, they did not experience much roster turnover over the offseason. Both the lineup and the defense look to be much the same as last year, aside from the addition of Starlin Castro.
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Alex Rodriguez
C Brian McCann
3B Chase Headley
SS Didi Gregorius
2B Starlin Castro
As fans saw last year, when healthy the 1-2 punch of Ellsbury and Gardner is a legitimate threat to opposing teams' pitchers. The Yankees led the majors in 2015 by averaging .77 runs in the first inning, and that would not have been possible without "Ellsgard" leading the way. While Mark Teixeira has a firm grasp on the four-spot in the lineup, the three and five-spots could cause the biggest debate in setting the projected lineup. Beltran was the team's most consistent hitter last year, and should have the first chance to prove he can keep it up again in 2016. While Rodriguez's power could also make him a contender for the three-hole, Beltran's consistency likely gives him the edge in Joe Girardi's lineup.
While Brian McCann definitely has his place as the sixth hitter locked, the bottom of the lineup is also an area Girardi could have some fun with. I've seen some people argue for a Castro-Gregorius-Headley bottom third. A few times this spring Girardi has gone with Headley-Castro-Gregorius, and ultimately Headley-Gregorius-Castro likely sees the most action as the regular bottom of the lineup.
Castro probably has the highest potential of the three, so batting him behind McCann could make sense, but I believe putting him at the bottom works best for the team. Girardi will likely shy away from having three lefties hit in a row, so Gregorius isn't likely to see much time outside of the eight-spot. And while it takes potential at-bats away from Castro, having a high average right-handed bat in front of Ellsbury and Gardner should help with scoring runs after the first time through the lineup.
The 2016 version of the lineup projects to be very similar to the 2015 version of the lineup, with one notable difference. Instead of "Black Hole" being penciled in the second baseman's spot, the Yankees will trot out a real live baseball player in Starlin Castro, something that hasn't been done since Robinson Cano was in pinstripes. By virtue of this, the Yankees already have an improved lineup from 2015. The biggest key, as has been said throughout the off-season, will be health. If everyone can remain healthy, there's no reason why the Yankees offense won't be the force it was in 2015 when it was second in the majors in runs scored.
The 2016 Yankees should be just about the same defensively as they were last year, when they made 92 errors over the course of the season, falling just under the American League average (94) and MLB average (95). The only major difference between this year's team and last year's team is that Starlin Castro will be playing second base instead of Stephen Drew.
Since Castro has only played 258 innings at second base, it is too soon to judge his defensive abilities. Hopefully the more reps he takes at second base, the more comfortable he will feel. His new double play partner, Didi Gregorius, made quite a few bad plays at the start of last season, between fielding mistakes and base running errors, but he really settled in as the season progressed.
The same cannot be said for Chase Headley, who committed a career-high 23 errors last year. It seemed like he had developed a case of the yips, but Rob Thomson thought his hands and feet were just out of sync. Whatever the issue is, the Yankees have to be hoping he figures it out this year since he is signed through 2018. Mark Teixeira's defense may not be quite a strong as it used to be, but he tends to save many of his teammates from being charged with errors.
Last year, Brian McCann was on the receiving end of 55 wild pitches, yet only one passed ball. He was personally offended that the Yankees were leading the majors in terms of wild pitches early on, but that isn't entirely in his control. His caught stealing and stolen base numbers have been almost identical over the past two seasons with the Yankees (28 CS, 50 SB vs. 29 CS, 49 SB), so expect more of the same moving forward.
Assuming that they can stay healthy, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are capable of covering a lot of ground in the outfield. The only real negative is that the Yankees can only keep Carlos Beltran's bat in the lineup by putting him in right field. The 38-year-old sometimes looks like he is more of a spectator than a player, and he will undoubtedly cost the team some runs.
Case in point:
As for the bench players, Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley should both be adequate defensive backups when necessary. It is still unclear who will take the last spot on the Yankees' roster, but if Rob Refsnyder does make the team, it will be interesting to see how he fares at third base. There was a lot of talk about his questionable defense at second base in Triple-A last year, so it seems strange to expect him not to experience those same issues backing up third.