The Yankees have a big decision at lead-off hitter, but could their 25-year-old superstar be the solution?

MLB: San Diego Padres at Chicago White Sox, juan soto, yankees
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have made noteworthy progress this off-season, enhancing their roster despite not securing a marquee addition to their starting rotation. The acquisition of Marcus Stroman on a two-year, $37 million deal is a significant move, even as they missed out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who opted for a long-term deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Bolstering the Offense with Key Additions

The Yankees have compensated for their rotation gamble by adding formidable offensive firepower. The arrival of Juan Soto marks a transformative moment for the team, significantly enhancing their batting capabilities. Soto’s impact on various offensive metrics, from batting average to on-base percentage to performance with runners in scoring position, is expected to be substantial.

Currently, there’s a debate over who should lead off in the 2024 lineup. While DJ LeMahieu is a strong contender, The Athletic posits that Juan Soto could also be a viable option, considering his exceptional offensive stats.

“I’ve seen a couple of lineups thrown out there,” Judge said. “I think he has me penciled into center field and right behind that new guy, (Juan) Soto. Just keep the top three: DJ (LeMahieu), Soto and me. We’ll get it going for you.”

The Yankees’ Lead-Off Debate: Soto or LeMahieu?

The argument for Soto as the lead-off hitter centers on his outstanding on-base percentage. He’s maintained an OBP above 40% throughout his career, including a .410 last season accompanied by 35 home runs and 109 RBIs. Soto leading off could set the stage for strong starts in games, especially with Aaron Judge following him in the lineup.

Conversely, the case against Soto leading off emphasizes LeMahieu’s post-All-Star break performance last year. His ability to get on base ahead of Soto could create ideal scenarios with multiple runners on base, maximizing Soto’s impressive stats with runners in scoring position.

With RISP, Soto’s .299/.439/.576 batting line, including a 1.015 OPS, highlights his proficiency. Having two men on base ahead of him could be a strategic advantage for the Yankees.

However, Judge isn’t too bad in his own right. His numbers are even better than Soto’s in some respects, but he still carries his weight with runners in scoring position. He hit .262/.422/.508 last season, but it is essential to know that he was dealing with a toe injury that derailed his second half of the year.

Back in 2022, Judge was arguably the best hitter in baseball, with runners in scoring position. He hit .346/.520/.721, including 11 homers, 41 walks, and 21 strikeouts. If he’s healthy and able to run back those numbers, the Yankees truly can’t go wrong with their number two or three hitters. However, this does suggest that LeMahieu features as the primary leadoff man, and Soto hits alongside Judge in whatever combination manager Aaron Boone prefers.

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Utilizing Soto’s Strengths and Lineup Dynamics

Soto has rarely featured as a lead-off hitter in his career, indicating a preference to use his talents with high on-base percentage hitters ahead of him. The Yankees’ top four batters are poised to provide early leads in games, potentially alleviating concerns about their starting rotation.