This season, the Yankees have averaged 4.6 runs per game despite not entirely clicking as a group. They’ve struggled with production from the bottom of the lineup, and while you imagine bats like Oswaldo Cabrera will turn it around soon, the Yankees took a huge blow when they lost Giancarlo Stanton to a Grade 2 hamstring strain, sidelining him for four to six weeks. It’ll be a massive injury to work around, but it could also force the Yankees to make some fundamental changes to the lineup order. #1 prospect Anthony Volpe has begun to find his stride at the plate, slashing .263/.417/.474 last week with four stolen bases as well.
In three out of those six starts, he hit leadoff, and with DJ LeMahieu’s hot start at the plate, the Yankees could be put in a position where they move Volpe to the leadoff spot and place LeMahieu in the middle of the lineup, and they could also look internal to supplement their poor bottom-of-the-lineup offense.
Should the Yankees Mess with the Leadoff Spot?
We have too small of a sample size to reasonably argue that Anthony Volpe is a better leadoff hitter than he is a bottom-of-the-order bat, but we’re seeing shifts in LeMahieu’s approach that could better suit him for the middle of the lineup. He’s quietly slugging .510 with a 62.5% Hard Hit% and 95.0 average exit velocity. He’s hammering baseballs, going to the opposite field less often than he has in the past, resulting in more out-in-front swings. LeMahieu’s always been able to hit the ball hard, but it seems he’s leaning into that entirely. With more aggressive swings, LeMahieu is chasing more and walking less, but that tradeoff has worked out well.
LeMahieu is projected to finish with a 124 wRC+ and 3.5 fWAR after a torrid start to his 2023 campaign, and while his health will determine how well he plays, there’s no denying what he’s capable of when healthy. Stanton being out of the lineup creates a void in the middle of the order for RBI opportunities, but the Yankees could fill it with the always-reliable LeMahieu. The transition could set up more opportunities for Volpe to terrorize pitchers on the basepaths while also giving LeMahieu the opportunity to clean up the bases after Judge-Rizzo-Torres, at least until Stanton gets back.
Volpe has an 83 wRC+, making him 17% worse than league-average on the season offensively, but he does have a 14.5% BB% and is trending in the right direction at the plate. It’s normal for rookies to struggle, and Steamer projects Volpe to end the year with a 101 wRC+ and 3.1 fWAR. His OBP skills are there in spite of his weaker quality of contact early on, and as his strikeout rates normalize, he’ll see his average climb from a putrid .180. His blazing speed has led him to the 5th best BsR (Baserunning Runs) in baseball at 1.8, and if the Yankees can utilize that with Judge-Rizzo-Torres-LeMahieu at the plate, they’ll make pitchers extremely uncomfortable.
He’ll have his growing pains, but for now, making Volpe the leadoff hitter could yield massive results for a Yankee team currently in need of an offensive identity. They could always move him back to the bottom of the order if things don’t work out, but Stanton’s injury could work as an audition for Volpe to be this team’s leadoff hitter. It’s almost a certainty that if Volpe’s bat transitions to the Major League level, he’ll end up this team’s leadoff hitter eventually, but they could accelerate the process. It also plays into LeMahieu’s new skillset, with him working fewer walks than he had in 2021 or 2022.
Volpe’s begun to find his selective approach once more, as in that aforementioned week-long sample size with a .414 OBP, he’s chased just 21.5% of the time, decreasing it by 10.6% in that time span. With more patience at the plate and more confidence in his own swing decisions, Volpe could get his OBP through the roof and round out his numbers well. Better swing decisions lead to more walks, but also, a higher percentage of his swings will be made on strikes, which are going to lead to better success rates with his swings.
When he’s right, he’s patient at the plate, and he’s taking his walks. For the Yankees, that could make him the perfect leadoff hitter when combining that discipline with incredible baserunning acumen and blistering speed.
Injured Reinforcements Have Something to Prove:
Josh Donaldson is going to play a rehab game with the Somerset Patriots on Tuesday, with Donaldson aiming to return this week. If all goes well for Donaldson, this is his month to prove his new stance is legit and his 2022 was just an aberration. Stanton’s going to be out for at least a month, opening up the DH spot for LeMahieu/Donaldson/Torres to rotate in and out of. In his first five games, Donaldson has a 28 wRC+ and -0.1 fWAR, but it’s a small sample size that could be turned around quickly with a couple of strong games.
He’s becoming off of a strong Spring Training, but that won’t be enough to quiet doubters who had a bad taste left in their mouths by his 2022 performance. He has a 95 wRC+ in his tenure in the Bronx with a .372 SLG%, and while he’s been an excellent defender, the Yankees acquired him for his bat. Projections are high on Donaldson relative to my expectations, with a 108-115 wRC+ median outcome depending on which system you use, and that would be a huge lift for the bottom of the order. The bottom third of the lineup has been ugly for NYY, and they need depth:
- 47 wRC+
- .538 OPS
- 28.2% K%
Donaldson doesn’t have to do much; the top of the lineup simply isn’t the spot for Donaldson at this point in his career, but if he can just be solid, the Yankees will get a massive lift in their lineup. It won’t make him worth his 2023 salary of over $20 million, but it will ease the vitriol Yankee fans have unleashed against the 2015 MVP. It looks like Aaron Hicks’ time in pinstripes could come to an end soon, and once he’s gone, they’ll turn to Josh Donaldson to shower with boos. He still has above-average power, and the reps in the lineup are there for him if he performs with Stanton out.
Harrison Bader was the shocking last-second acquisition the Yankees made at the 2022 trade deadline, and after a hot start in Spring Training, he was sidelined with a lower-body issue. Bader was incredible in the 2022 postseason for the Yankees, and while he’s more of a 100-105 wRC+ bat, his defense and speed will be heavily sought-after in the lineup. As mentioned with Donaldson, the Yankees just need solid production at the bottom of the lineup, as they’ve been beyond horrible to start the year.
2022 was a lost season for Bader in the regular season, with plantar fasciitis sapping all of his power, with it affecting his backfoot drive at the plate. Those familiar with the transfer of energy in a hitter or pitcher will note the importance of back leg drive, and without it, the “power” in your mechanics is inefficient in its transfer of energy. This is reflected in a poor SLG% at the plate of .356, but in 2021 we got a better reflection of who Bader is at the plate.
- 110 wRC+
- 16 HRs
- 3.3 fWAR
Bader is an elite defender and baserunner, but he also possesses solid skills at the plate due to a high pulled flyball rate and decent BABIP skills. He’s cut down the strikeouts from early in his career, and with ridiculous home-road splits away from Busch, the Yankees could see Bader live up to those 2021 heights. Steamer projects a 106 wRC+ out of Bader. With a monster postseason, once he got his back foot fully acclimated to in-game pitching, he showed that his raw power is solid, getting close to 110-111 MPH exit velocities.
With his elite glove and blistering speed, he’ll provide the supplements that look excellent in WAR and translate to on-field wins, but it’ll play even better with the new rules. The Yankees have become an ultra-aggressive baserunning team, with 17 stolen bases despite one of their fastest regulars being out of the lineup. Bader swiped 17 bags in under 90 games under last year’s rules, but add bigger bases and limited pickoffs, and you could see fireworks on the basepaths.
Bader’s a high-floor player with plenty of explosive athletic tools and incredible baseball IQ, which should allow him to excel in pinstripes. It’s a contract year for the Bronxville native, who could look to parlay a strong 2023 campaign into a big deal in the offseason. He’s expected to play rehab games this week, though the exact date is unknown. He’s going to need more time than Donaldson to build back up, with his 2022 rehab being a good point of reference where he played six rehab games before returning. If he and Donaldson can give the Yankees a 105-110 wRC+ bat each, suddenly, the bottom of the lineup doesn’t look nearly as futile as it has early on.
With the veterans getting some spotlight, it’s just as important to talk about potential roster call-ups. The Yankees debuted Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza in August and September, but who could be the next mid-season spark for this ballclub?
Taking a Look at the Farm System:
The Yankees have Everson Pereira and Oswald Peraza on the 40-Man Roster, and both are exciting young players that could factor in the 2023 game plan. Pereira is striking out over 46% of the time in Double-A despite a 120 wRC+, so he’ll need to cut down on the whiffs before the Yankees feel comfortable advancing him into Triple-A and onto the 2023 MLB roster. As for Peraza, he has all the makings of an MLB regular, just not the opening to do so. Torres and Volpe are holding the fort down at 2B and SS, so Peraza is the odd man out for now.
We could see both of these prospects traded, but time will tell as to what opportunities could open up at the Major League level. At the Triple-A level, there are two bats who are proving that they’ve got some value they could potentially provide to the big league team. First is Andres Chaparro, who doesn’t have an overly impressive wRC+ on the surface (88), but his recent tear over the last few games has shown that his early season slump was a fluke. With six HRs in his last eight games, he’s starting to put everything together at the plate.
The Yankees could certainly use a big thumper in their lineup with Stanton missing, though the issue would be with the positional fit. To say that Chaparro can play 3B is a bit misleading; Chaparro has been penciled in to play 3B in games, but he cannot handle the position very well. It’s unfortunate, considering he’d be the best internal option they have at the position, but there’s really not much to do about that. It’s hard to navigate a position like third when you’re as physically imposing as Chaparro, so 1B is a natural fit for him.
He’s handled 1B admirably, but the Yankees already have Anthony Rizzo. If he was able to competently hold his own at 3B for some spot starts, he’d likely have more momentum towards the Major Leagues, but even as a DH, he’s still pretty valuable. He’s similar to Luke Voit in his build, and that type of bat in the bottom half of the lineup could make a huge difference for this team.
Time will tell, but Chaparro’s whiffing at under 14% of pitches at Triple-A and isn’t expanding the zone too much, so maybe his bat gets him to the show even if he doesn’t have a position on the diamond.
As for Elijah Dunham, he’s gotten here by overperforming expectations time and time again. He posted a 119 wRC+ at Double-A in the regular season and had a monster postseason as well, and in Triple-A, he’s off to a solid start. He has 4 steals and a .344 OBP, showing off his great OBP and speed tools early. A versatile defender in the outfield, Dunham has the ability to play all three outfield spots at a strong level. With the struggles Aaron Hicks has had early in the season and the aforementioned boo-birds, it’s really hard to imagine that Hicks will be a Yankee for much longer.
It’s eerily similar to the Joey Gallo issue last Spring, where the Yankees and Gallo simply weren’t going to work. Just like Gallo, Hicks’ on-the-field play certainly hasn’t helped, with a -0.3 fWAR and -18 wRC+ in the early going. Unlike Gallo, however, Hicks does not present any value to an MLB team due to his contract, which would require another team to pay him for the next two seasons following this one. Without attaching a prospect, the Yankees would have to eat his money, and at this point, they might.
Dunham would present an immediate solution as a 4th outfielder, who is also infinitely more valuable than IKF, who’s been even more brutal with a -64 wRC+ and -0.5 fWAR. Getting any sort of offense from their 4th outfield depth would be nice, and if Dunham gives the Yankees a ~90 wRC+ with speed and defense he’s a valuable bench piece for this team. He doesn’t present much raw power, but he’s put up numbers wherever he’s played and that should account for something.
The Yankees currently are a team with a great middle of the lineup but are lacking at the bottom. With returning players clicking and some young players stepping up, the Yankees could look round itself out more and put up more runs. They’ve done a solid job getting runs across so far, but now it’s a matter of making minor adjustments to see who can contribute and where the team will need to upgrade in the summer. There’s plenty of baseball left to play, but this lineup could be making some changes in the near future.