The Yanks batting order kind of writes itself, right? The top four guys are basically set in stone, there’s an obvious spot at the bottom of the order for Gardner or Cabrera, and the five through eight spots can be filled capably in almost any order. So why am I revisiting the topic? Because I love reading Beyond the Boxscore, and Sky Kalkman wrote a post today about lineup arrangement. It’s based on The Book, which is next on my stack of books (after I finish The Fielding Bible Volume II). Sky walks through the reasoning behind the importance of each batting order spot, and concludes with the order of on-base importance. We’ll jump to that part, and then get into what this means for a potential Yanks lineup.
As an exercise in the ability to not make an out, this is the order of lineup spot importance: #1, #4, #2, #5, #3, #6, #7, #8, #9. Power changes things around here — for instance, A-Rod is the best OBP guy on the team, but he’s not going to hit leadoff because he has a ton of pop. That means he’s best suited for the fourth slot. Make sure to click over and read Sky’s rationale for each position. Things might make a bit more sense after doing so.
With all this in mind, here’s how I would arrange the Yanks:
If Xavier Nady wins the right field job, I’d just as easily slot him into the seven spot. Ditto Cabrera and the CF job/ninth spot.
This actually isn’t that absurd when you think about it for a bit. Plenty of fans want to see Derek Jeter bat leadoff because he’s well-suited for the job. He gets on base at a good clip and doesn’t hit for much power these days. In fact, Damon hits for considerably more power, so Derek is arguably the best candidate for leadoff hitter on the team. Since this is an idealistic scenario and not based on the reality of the club, it was a no-brainer to hit him there.
One strange aspect you might see is Mark Teixeira hitting second. As Sky notes, “the #2 hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the #3 hitter, but more often.” So you want your #2 hitter to be better than your #3, since he will see more at bats, even if it’s just a few more per season. Teixeira is the Yanks second best hitter. He has power, which keeps him out of the leadoff role, but not as much as A-Rod, which keeps him from the fourth slot. The next best place for him, then is the #2 hole.
Having Johnny Damon hit near the top of the order is an advantage. He consistently has an above average OBP, has some speed on the basepaths, and has gap power. As a lefty at Yankee Stadium, he can also knock some balls out of the park. Under these guidelines he seems like the ideal #3 hitter — good average, good OBP, decent power, not one of the top three hitters on the team.
As for #5, I had a bit of trouble picking someone for here. As Sky notes, the old-school thought is that this is your second-best power hitter. However, that’s not exactly the case. Because of the guys hitting ahead of him, he can be valuable with all sorts of hits. So you want a high-average type player. That’s Matsui, who hasn’t hit below .285 in his six big league seasons. he has decent power, though we saw that come down a tick last year. Still, if he can manage a full season of his 2008 line — .294/.370/.424 — I don’t think any manager in the game would hesitate to hit him fifth.
The only notable changes to the probably lineup are in the top three spots. When the Yanks open on April 6 the order will almost certainly go Damon, Jeter, then Tex. Does that make a huge difference? I don’t know. Intuitively, I don’t think it makes much, if any difference in how the team scores its runs. Maybe Jeter hits into fewer double plays out of the leadoff spot and that creates a few runs for the Yanks. Maybe Johnny hits his home runs with a few more guys on base. Maybe Teixeira is in a greater position to score runs out of the #2 spot than the #3. I think that more than anything, this shows how blessed the Yanks are at the top of the order.