Reshaping the Yankees Line-Up

The big topic of discussion before yesterday’s Yankees-Orioles game was whether Joe Girardi should move Alex Rodriguez down in the order so that Robinson Cano could hit third in the line-up. Girardi declined to make that change, but did have Rodriguez DH instead of play third, which seems to suggest that having Ibanez pinch-hit for him late in the game was premeditated and not simply a reaction to Rodriguez’s in-game struggles. Ibanez, of course, made Girardi look like a genius. So, now, what do the Yankees do about their line-up going forward?

In reality, we probably won’t get that answer today. The Orioles decided to swap out Chris Tillman for Joe Saunders, so Girardi’s going to go with his anti-LHP line-up today, and Rodriguez is clearly going to be part of that effort. Starting either Ibanez or Eric Chavez against a lefty isn’t a great idea, and the team doesn’t have any good right-handed alternatives, which is why Eduardo Nunez started at DH against Wei-Yin Chen. With Derek Jeter fouling a ball off his foot in Game Three, he very well could end-up DH’ing in Game Four, with Jayson Nix getting the start at shortstop. In some ways, Buck Showalter did Girardi a favor by starting Saunders, giving him an easy way out of the decision over whether to put A-Rod back in the line-up the day after he pinch hit for him. Against a lefty, he doesn’t really have much of a choice.

If this series goes to Game 5, however, then Girardi’s going to have to make some decisions, and not just about Alex Rodriguez.

While Rodriguez’s struggles are generating the headlines, Curtis Granderson is probably an even bigger problem. Like Rodriguez, he’s off to a miserable start in this series — 1 for 11 with 6 strikeouts — but this isn’t really something recent. Since a strong beginning to the season, Granderson has really struggled, and has particularly struggled with strikeouts. Since July 1st, Granderson has struck out 110 times in 345 trips to the plate, a strikeout rate of 33%. He didn’t even strike out this much back in his Detroit days, and his escalating contact problems speak to a potentially larger problem than just a four game slump.

Against right-handed pitching, the Yankees have some depth that they don’t have against lefties — which is likely one of the reasons why Showalter went with Joe Saunders in Game 4 — and could potentially make some adjustments for Game 5. For instance, if Girardi wanted to get radical and react strongly to recent performance, he could go for the overhaul plan:

1. Jeter, SS
2. Ichiro, LF
3. Cano, 2B
4. Texeira, 1B
5. Swisher, RF
6. Chavez, 3B
7. Martin, C
8. Ibanez, DH
9. Gardner, CF

Chavez hit .299/.366/.545 against right-handers this year, so starting him at third base isn’t really going out on any kind of limb. Likewise, Ibanez’s 114 wRC+ against right-handers this year is also quite a bit better than A-Rod’s 94, so giving him the start against a right-hander with the season on the line isn’t so crazy. Both Chavez and Ibanez have shown huge platoon splits, however, so starting them means you’re committed to pinch-hitting for them when Showalter goes to the bullpen. Depending on how early that ends up being, Rodriguez and Nunez might end up getting just as many at-bats as Chavez and Ibanez.

This is one of the problems with guys who have large platoon splits. In the playoffs, you can’t count on getting three trips to the plate against the starter, so putting a guy in the line-up because he has the platoon advantage might only result in that match-up happening once, especially if he’s hitting towards the bottom of the batting order. Even if Girardi wanted to reward Ibanez for his performance last night, it’s not clear that starting him in Game Five would be the best way to do that – it might just put him into a situation where he either has to face a bunch of left-handers or get pinch-hit for in the fourth or fifth inning.

The best way to use Ibanez and Rodriguez might be to just continue with the status quo, at least in terms of who starts the game. Having Ibanez available to pinch-hit against Jim Johnson, when you know Showalter won’t go to the bullpen and get a left-hander to counter the move, could very well be the best use of his skillset.

In center field, though, a switch may very well be in order, at least for one game. Gardner’s the superior defensive player and Granderson’s problems run deeper than just the ALDS. If there’s a significant move to be made in the Yankees line-up, it should probably come in center field.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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nik
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nik

That’s gonna be one ugly lineup next season in NY.

Andrew
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Andrew

Will it be that ugly? Martin will likely be a little better. A-Rod is clearly slowing down, but he and Teixeira will likely play more than the 245 games they played this year. Gardner will be back to replace Ichiro. Don’t see how it will be any uglier than this year, which somehow managed to eke out despite shelling out 800 plate appearances to Andruw Jones, Ibanez, Dewayne Wise and Casey McGehee. I have an odd feeling that the Yankees offense will be fine next year.

Andrew
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Andrew

which somehow managed to eke out 804 runs***

chuckb
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chuckb

Why are A-Rod and Teixeira likely to play more than 245 games? At their ages, that sounds about right to me.

I think the lineup will be better because they’ll find ways to fill holes, not because of increased production from aging former superstars.

JayT
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JayT

I don’t think you can really assume that the Yankees will get more games out of A-Rod next year seeing as though he hasn’t played a full season in six years. Also, I’m not sure why you would assume Martin will hit better when he basically put up the same line he’s been putting up for the last four years.
Add in the fact that Teixeira has been steadily declining, Jeter probably won’t hit as well as he did this year, Granderson has some big questions marks, and Swisher might leave, the Yanks will have some real problems in their line up.

Sure, they can upgrade, but where? Almost every one of their big question marks is locked in for a few more years, and I doubt they’ll want to just let them go for pennies on the dollar when they are trying to cut their payroll. The only positions they don’t have under contract for next year are left, right, and DH. For right, I don’t know that there is anyone better then Swisher. As for left and DH, there aren’t a whole lot of great free agent options out there.

Jim
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Jim

@JayT: LF is already filled for next year. How did everybody forget about Brett Gardner so quickly?

JayT
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JayT

@Jim: I did forget about Gardner, but I’m not sure how much that really helps. Gardner’s a nice player, but just looking at hitting, he’s pretty much a league average bat. I doubt he’ll really big that big of an improvement (hitting-wise only) over what the Yankees were using this year.

Preston
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Preston

David Ortiz playing DH with that left field porch would be a pretty good signing.

Steve
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Steve

especially with MLB’s off-season embargo on acquiring new players…

nik
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nik

Yes, that’s a very common practice for positions that are already filled.

Tom
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Tom

Catcher, RF, DH are filled? (and to some extent LF isn’t filled)

Interesting.

Jim
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Jim

If you want to get technical about it, the only positions the Yankees have filled for next year are 3B, SS, and 1B.

They still could decide to not tender a contract to Brett Gardner in LF. Granderson and Cano both have team options which have not been picked up yet. If they really feel like blowing up the team, they could decline Granderson’s option and go find a whole new outfield. The question is whether there are any options out there that are better. I’d rather pay B.J. Upton 4/$40 than Nick Swisher 6/$115, but I don’t know that the Yankees would actually be a better team that way.

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