One of our bigger complaints about Joe Girardi in 2009 was that he tinkered with the lineup a bit too much. Some of this was due to injury, but other times it was based on match-ups. While playing to the strengths of your roster is generally favorable, some of Girardi’s moves weren’t defensible with split data. Instead, it seemed he subscribed to the “sit lefties against lefties” mode of managerial thought. Unfortunately, that’s not always the best way to go.
We knew going into last season that Jason Giambi wouldn’t play 162 games. He’d have been lucky to play 150 games, especially since he was the primary first baseman. He ended up with 142, and only a few of his off-days were due to small injuries. For the most part, he sat against lefties, which caused some frustration at RAB. Jason does hit from the left side of the plate, but he holds his own well enough against lefties, posting identical splits in batting average and OBP in 2009. His slugging was a bit higher against righties, but that’s no reason to sit him against southpaws.
This issue was exacerbated by Giambi’s normal spot in the lineup, No. 5. The normal replacements at first, Wilson Betemit and Richie Sexson, weren’t going to slot in there. When Giambi sat, the guys at the bottom of the order had to move up. The problem was that the Yanks rarely had a player who could hit adequately behind A-Rod. This meant the order juggled when Giambi sat. I can’t imagine that being good for anyone.
Lesson: Don’t get into a platoon situation with a player at the heart of your order. It doesn’t appear as though this will be an issue this year, though one of the bounceback candidates will have to step up and take that slot. The top four are basically set in stone: Damon, Jeter, then Teixeira and A-Rod. A healthy Matsui could take the spot, as could Jorge Posada if his shoulder holds up. Even Robinson Cano could be a candidate.
Two guys who likely won’t get a chance to hit fifth: Xavier Nady and Nick Swisher. That’s a good thing, because those are two guys you could see platooned to some degree or another. Let’s check out their recent and career splits.
Last year, Swisher was equally crappy against lefties and righties, as you might expect. He had a much better eye against lefties, putting a .197 batting average against a .359 OBP (.162 ISO — .094 ISO against righties). His slugging against righties was a bit higher, but the ISO mark — slugging minus batting average to cancel out the singles — was along the same lines, .189 against lefties, .192 against righties). Career he’s a .240/.338/.459 hitter against righties, .253/.396/.429 against lefties. So it looks like if you’re going to platoon Swisher, you want him hitting against lefties.
(His 2007 stats were skewed heavily towards lefties, for what it’s worth.)
Problem there is that Xavier Nady has long been known as a lefty masher. In 2005 he posted a .700 OPS against righties vs. a .852 mark against lefties. In 2006 the split was even more pronounced, with a .969 OPS against lefties vs. a .736 OPS against righties. However, that started to change in 2007. In 366 plate appearances against righties Nady posted a .802 OPS, while posting a .819 mark against lefties. His .805 OPS against righties in 2008 might signal that he’s developed over the years and could be fine as an everyday player.
What does this mean for the Yankees lineup in 2009? It might mean Hideki Matsui gets in on the platoon situation. He has a career .870 OPS against righties vs. a .803 OPS against lefties. This includes splits of .815 vs. .751 in 2008 and .885 vs. .821 in 2007. Hideki could then take his off-days against lefties, allowing both Swisher and Nady to be in the lineup. Against righties, either Swisher or Nady could sit.
Of course, given the lesson posted above, this would disqualify Hideki from the fifth slot. Well, at least in my mind. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but I’d far rather see a consistent lineup one through five, day in and day out. Since Jorge won’t be in the lineup every day, that leaves Cano to round out the heart of the order. Slotting him fifth would allow the Yanks to trot out Damon-Jeter-Teixeira-Arod-Cano for almost every game. I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel more comfortable when the lineup fluctuations come at the bottom, not in the heart.