Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been receiving a lot of heat for placing Yankees hard hitting outfielder Aaron Judge in the number 2 spot in the lineup. Traditionally, the second hitter in the lineup has been a good contact hitter, someone who either bunts well and/or gets on base, with less power. Willie Randolph was one of the Yankees’ longest tenured #2 hitters and he was a prototypical example. He hit after great players like Rickey Henderson and before Don Mattingly. Compared to Randolph, it seems extremely out of place to put someone with stats like Judge into the same slot. Is Girardi losing his mind or is there a method to his madness?
Brett Gardner leads off, and it is hard to argue with that choice. He has speed, and his OBP is one of the tops on the team while his veteran presence is something that sets the offensive stage. He tends to see some of the most pitches per at bat in the league, which incurs a negative impact right away unto the opposing pitchers, which can be a critical component to the overall offense. Easy choice.
Now the troublesome 2 spot. Let’s get down to the point. We are wrestling with the difference between the advantage of getting someone like Judge one extra at bat in a game, or valuing getting him quality base runners to drive in with his astronomical OPS. Just recently, he was able to get the last at bat in a game versus Toronto. He struck out but he had the chance to drive in a run to tie the game, whereas if he hit third or later, he would not have.
Lets look at the numbers. With some calculations, it shows that on an average team over a year, he may get 20 extra at bats per year. Since the Yankees tend to have a better offense than most, we can stretch that number higher, possibly to 25 (generously), which means an extra at bat approximately every 6 games. Now his WAR stat is higher than most, even relative to his above average teammates, but actually taking advantage of those at bats to score runs for the Yankees, let alone have them contribute to WINS vs LOSSES, is a very small number indeed. This is what looks logical on paper but in reality comes off as a lower percentage move.
What about putting the player with the second best OBP on the team before Judge, like Aaron Hicks at .398 or Sanchez at .376? If not them, next are Holliday and Castro at .366 and .348 respectively. That all sounds much more enticing doesn’t it, have guys getting on base over a third of the time hitting before Judge. However the real world issue is that Hicks, Holliday, and Castro are ALL out. So why not Sanchez? Well Sanchez happens to be second best on the Yankees in slugging, and 2nd among the actives in OPS. He is also slower than Judge, so it makes sense for him to hit behind Judge who boasts a .449 OBP.
So in the end, this is really not about Girardi’s mismanagement. Its about the fact that the Yankees are injured to a point that this type of move had to be made. Putting Didi Gregorius in #2 when he has walked 9 times all year just to keep the status quo of traditional baseball is not necessarily the clear cut move that random fans think it is. How many times more will Judge drive in Didi ONLY in the first inning? Because after the first, even this advantage gets watered down since you cannot control when Judge comes up to the plate in the inning. Then you are looking at how much difference there is between Didi and someone like Wade or Romine (also playing because of injuries to others) hitting 9th in a small sample size. The math says there is a negligible difference either way, and the real solution is for Holliday and Castro to come back, and hopefully Hicks, which will solidify this lineup again. For anyone to say that Girardi is the worst manager and should be fired for moves like this is clearly unwarranted.