Setting a lineup is the most idiot-proof aspect of baseball. Except for catchers, the best players take the field every day. There are slight nuances, such as a player needing a rest, playing an occasional platoon advantage, and managing minor injuries. On the whole, the lineup changes very little. Furthermore, batting order doesn’t even matter too much. If the best players are in the lineup, the run expectancy changes very little based on when they take their turns. As Sky Kalkman wrote for Beyond the Box Score, “Believe it or not, the difference between an optimized lineup and a typical, mildly foolish one you’ll see MLB teams use is only about one win over 162 games.”
While it’s nearly impossible to screw up a lineup too badly, this also makes them rather boring. Even when a manager is fired mid-season, his replacement can’t make too many changes. The best players still have to play as often as possible.
In other sports, such as basketball and hockey, re-entry allows for more creative situational lineups. Teams can put out a defense-first lineup, a three-point-shooting lineup, a big or small lineup, etc. The limited rules and rosters of baseball that make lineup construction idiot-proof also keep it boring. If there were situational lineups it would be easier to make costly mistakes, but would probably be fun to watch. This is one idiot’s attempt to mess around with the Yankee lineup. But first, a few notes:
- All players must be on the Yankees’ current 40-man roster.
- Lineup order was determined by Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis tool. It’s far from perfect, but this is all fun and games, so who cares?
- The aforementioned lineup tool requires OBP and SLG inputs. These came from FanGraphs’ ZiPs projections.
This is the fastest possible Yankee lineup using Baseball Savant’s Sprint Speed Leaderboard.
1. LF Brett Gardner, 28.7 ft/s
2. 1B Greg Bird, 25.9 ft/s
3. CF Jacoby Ellsbury, 28.3 ft/s
4. DH Clint Frazier, 28.5 ft/s
5. RF Aaron Hicks, 28.5 ft/s
6. SS Didi Gregorius, 28.3 ft/s
7. C Austin Romine, 26.6 ft/s
8. 3B Ronald Torreyes, 27.9 ft/s
9. 2B Tyler Wade, 28.6 ft/s
This lineup is great because: To state the obvious, it’s really fast. Every player except Bird and Ellsbury is faster than average at their position. Even those two are basically middle-of-the-pack for a 1B and CF. Playing Hicks in RF and Torreyes at 3B allows for optimal speed across the diamond. League average sprint speed for all positions is 27.0 ft/s, and everyone except Bird and Romine surpasses that mark easily.
This lineup sucks because: There are two big omissions (literally): Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. Both have about average speed for a RF, even though they are well above average at pretty much everything else, but they trail Hicks by about a half a ft/s. Gary Sanchez is also conspicuously absent, but that’s more plausible because catchers require off days anyway. Nevertheless, let’s hope we never actually see this lineup in 2018.
This is the best possible lineup using FRAA (mostly).
1. LF Brett Gardner, 12.8 FRAA
2. 1B Greg Bird, -1.1 FRAA
3. 2B Tyler Wade, -1.2 FRAA
4. RF Giancarlo Stanton, 8.4 FRAA
5. CF Aaron Hicks, -3.9 FRAA
6. SS Didi Gregorius, 4.9 FRAA
7. C Austin Romine, 3.1 FRAA
8. DH CC Sabathia
9. 3B Ronald Torreyes, 3.6 FRAA
This lineup is great because: Actually, it’s not that great at all. Gardner was the second best LF in baseball behind Corey Dickerson. Stanton and Gregorius both posted strong marks, as did Romine despite only having a backup catcher’s workload. Gary Sanchez (1.9 FRAA) and Aaron Judge (4.4 FRAA) are on the bench in this scenario despite positive defensive contributions. Life’s not fair.
This lineup sucks because: In addition to Judge and Sanchez sitting out, 3/8 of the positions are negative defensively, even in the best possible alignment. The “small sample size” caveat applies to Wade, but this underscores how little experience the Yankees have at 2B and 3B. Even reaching deep onto the 40-man roster, the only player with significant playing time at either position is Torreyes. Wade played mostly shortstop in the minors, as did Gleyber Torres, who is expected to play quite a bit in the infield in 2018, presumedly not as a SS.
Now, about the Sabathia thing. Literally, anyone on the roster can play a defensive position except the DH, unless the team wants to lose the DH altogether. Therefore, the worst defensive player on the team should be the DH if defense is our only concern. For reasons that should be obvious, Sabathia is the least capable fielder at any position. In fact, he considers it, “the weak road” when opponents bunt against him. Making him the DH ensures that the other 24 players all have a higher likelihood of taking the field.
Using the lineup constructor might have been a bad decision. Tyler Wade batting third is somehow more preposterous than Sabathia batting eighth. There could be bruised egos for Hicks, Gregorius, and especially Torreyes. If Judge and Sanchez are already sitting, the ensuing clubhouse drama could put Aaron Boone in trouble. Anyway, this lineup sucks and should never see the light of day.
This lineup is designed to bludgeon opponents into oblivion.
1. OF Brett Gardner
2. OF Aaron Judge
3. OF Aaron Hicks
4. OF Giancarlo Stanton
5. 1B Greg Bird
6. C Gary Sanchez
7. OF Clint Frazier
8. SS Didi Gregorius
9. OF Jacoby Ellsbury
This lineup is great because: ZiPs expects these nine batters to smash 226 HR in 2018. Stanton and Judge alone are projected to slug 98 of them. Best of all, seven of these players actually will be starters in real life. As designated hitter, CC Sabathia said, “That’s why I wouldn’t have gone to the Blue Jays. I’m not coming to Yankee Stadium and getting my ass kicked.”
This lineup sucks because: Playing six outfielders at once might be problematic. Conventional wisdom suggests it’s good to have a second baseman and third baseman. They might give up a lot of ground ball singles and doubles. Honestly, considering all the runs this team would score, it might not matter.
Seventh Inning of a Spring Training Game Lineup
This lineup is what happens when the real major leaguers have already hit the showers.
1. CF Jake Cave
2. 2B Thairo Estrada
3. 3B Jace Peterson
4. RF Jabari Blash
5. LF Billy McKinney
6. 1B Tyler Austin
7. DH Zack Zehner
8. C Kyle Higashioka
9. SS Kyle Holder
This lineup is great because: , unlike the others, this lineup will actually happen, at least in spirit. One of the best parts of Spring Training is seeing young prospects like Estrada, Cave, and McKinney. Regardless of who’s in the lineup, they’ll be playing actual baseball, and after a long winter, nothing could be better!
This lineup sucks because: Depending on your level of empathy for John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, it’s tough to listen to them feign interest in the events unfolding before them. All of these players will wear uniform numbers between 70-98.
Confession time: I’ve never heard of Zack Zehner before. Allegedly, he played for Trenton in 2017, but it’s also possible he’s not a real person. Putting him in a Yankee lineup of any kind is risky at best. (Though he’s probably a better DH than Sabathia.) But the absence of risk is what makes lineups boring in the first place. Creativity of this sort might not help the Yankees win any ballgames, but at least it would keep things interesting for John, Suzyn, and the rest of us.
Photo credit: Richard Mackson / USA TODAY Sports