One of the biggest questions that Yankees fans are asking this winter is about the lineup construction, as the team could go multiple routes with their lineup. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a consistent lineup order early in the season as Aaron Boone sees how the offense operates best throughout the season and who breaks out or slumps. The Yankees have a myriad of candidates that have compelling cases to lead off, and the Bronx Bombers could feature some fun orders in 2024 that could maximize different skill sets that the Yankees have now that they’ve supercharged their outfield.
With their new pieces in the lineup, here’s how I believe the Yankees should align themselves on Opening Day and order their brand-new lineup.
1. Juan Soto – RF
It seems shocking to put the second-best hitter on the team at the leadoff spot, but the Yankees putting the hitter with the best On-Base Percentage in MLB since his debut back in 2018 (.421) at the top of their order. Juan Soto has one of the best eyes in all of baseball but could benefit from the number of pitches he would see hitting ahead of Aaron Judge. This is a hitter with some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the sport and 30+ HR power, and pitchers would immediately have one of the toughest hitters to pitch to in the game right out of the gate.
Reasonable arguments can be made about the fact that it shortens the Yankees’ lineup, but you limit one of the biggest holes in Juan Soto’s game by having a guaranteed plate appearance where he leads off an inning. This isn’t a hitter who relies on 40-50 HR power to be one of the best hitters in baseball, instead leaning on his watchful eye at the plate with good power to make himself one of the most unstoppable forces in baseball at the plate. Part of his contact-based approach is putting a lot of contact into the ground, and that means plenty of double plays, given his lackluster speed.
This past season, the 25-year-old outfielder slashed .275/.410/.519 with a 155 wRC+ across 162 games played yesterday, and he set a new career-high in HRs at 35 with his highest ISO in a full season since 2019 (.245). If the Yankees can get a similar outcome in 2024, the superstar could be in the AL MVP conversation, and entering just his age-25 season, he could have another level to his game to unlock. Soto hasn’t held an OBP of .400 or lower in a single season of his MLB career, letting him lead off for the Yankees means putting immediate pressure on a pitcher to throw strikes.
Starting pitchers this past season had by far their highest walk rate in the first inning (8.9%), and you could put up two easy runs to start a game by challenging a pitcher who doesn’t have a feel for their pitches early into their start.
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2. Aaron Judge – CF
Not only do the Yankees happen to have the hitter with the best OBP in baseball since 2018, but they also have the hitter with the most HRs in baseball since 2017 (253) right behind him. Aaron Judge has become baseball’s premier slugger, posting a league-best .615 SLG% since 2021 and showing off the ability to barrel pitches at a better rate than anybody in the Statcast Era. Judge happens to have every tool that you would need to have efficient run-scoring, as with one swing of his bat, he can change an entire game around in an instant.
Many would argue that Aaron Judge hitting second with Juan Soto in front of him would present issues with getting him pitches to hit, but this is something he’s already used to. The 31-year-old outfielder has the 15th-lowest rate of pitches seen in the strike zone (39.1%) and has the lowest in-zone rate for any hitter with an O-Swing Rate below 25%, with Juan Soot right behind him. He excels with hitting for power despite not seeing many offerings in the zone, and if teams want to put both he and Soto on base, be my guest.
Teams averaged over 1.4 runs per inning in situations where they had runners on first and second and nobody out this past season, and with Aaron Judge at the plate, there’s a chance he clears the bases for two runs on his own. There’s no denying the hitter that Judge has become, putting up a monstrous 174 wRC+ and 27.5% Barrel Rate this past season, hitting 37 HRs in just 106 games and once again flashing his incredible combination of getting on-base and hitting for power. For those concerned about his power post-toe injury, he slugged .557 with a 65.6% hard-hit rate after his IL stint.
Aaron Judge has led all of baseball in wRC+ since 2022 (195) and averages a 96.5 Average Exit Velocity, and he’ll probably make noise in the MVP race once again.
3. Anthony Rizzo – 1B
While Anthony Rizzo ended up posting his worst full-season wRC+ ever (100), the left-hander seemed to be in the midst of a career renaissance before a nasty concussion against the San Diego Padres in May. The left-handed slugger was slashing .304/.376/.505 with 11 HRs and a 146 wRC+ through his first 53 games, and he looked like he’d benefit mightily from the shift ban. After the concussion, he slugged just .225 and posted a 44 wRC+, hitting just one (1) more home run on the season across those final 46 games and ending his season on the IL as well.
This season is a huge one for Rizzo, who will look to rebound in a year that could be his last in the Bronx. His 2025 option is a club option, and the team can buy him out for the year instead of picking up a $20 million hit to the Luxury Tax, and he’ll need a convincing bounce back in order to do that. Steamer projects him for a 115 wRC+ and 24 HRs, expecting that his ISO will pick up, but his OBP will remain similar to where it was this past season. Perhaps the Yankees are able to iron out some of the bad habits he developed over the summer, but age is another variable in this as well.
2024 is Anthony Rizzo’s age-34 season, turning 35 this upcoming August and looking a bit questionable for the upcoming season. I believe that Anthony Rizzo can bounce back, but age and injuries present a question mark that the Yankees will have to be prepared for, which could come in the form of Ben Rice. Furthermore, the left-hander has a huge importance to this lineup as somebody to hit behind Judge and break up the righties, and if he finds his loft-centric swing again and hits north of 20 HRs with an OBP in the .330-.340 range, he’ll be a valued piece in the lineup.
His defense at first base getting better from 2022 is an indicator that the concussion had more to do with this than physical slowdown, but this year will be the true test of where he’s at in his career.
4. Gleyber Torres – 2B
Gleyber Torres was incredible with the bat last season, following up a solid performance at the plate in 2022 with even more skill progressions that made him look better than ever before. He put up a 123 wRC+ and 25 HRs this past year with a career-low 14.6% K%, looking like one of the most polished hitters in the game in the second half. The strides in contact clicked, and the power followed suit after a change with his two-strike approach that allowed him to make an earlier swing decision and generate more damage contact, increasing his pull rate and, as a result, slugging .504.
This is one of the most well-rounded hitters in the Yankee lineup, and by hitting him fourth, the team has a steady option in the middle of their lineup to drive in runs. He’s projected for a 122 wRC+ by Steamer, and there’s an off chance he will improve in 2024 with the aforementioned adjustments made in the second half. He’s entering his walk year at age 27 and could be looking to get paid, and if he wants to set the second base market, a big year in 2024 would help. Trade rumors have always surrounded him, but his underlying metric suggests that it would be foolish for the Yankees to let him go this winter.
- .282 xBA
- .362 xwOBA
- 21.8% Whiff%
- 112.4 Max EV
These were all career-best marks for Gleyber Torres last season, and if he can repeat his 2023 season in terms of quality and quantity of contact, he could win the AL Silver Slugger at the position. This upcoming year can be one for Gleyber Torres to finally win a championship in the Bronx, and he knows that a successful season and a ring could result in a longer-term situation with the Bronx Bombers.
5. Alex Verdugo – LF
Alex Verdugo is one of the most interesting players in the lineup. While he’s coming off of a season with a 98 wRC+, the team seems to be excited about his viability in the Bronx. The off-field antics are an issue the team will have to try and overcome, but the Yankees are certainly capable of getting more out of his profile. Entering his age-27 season, Verdugo is looking to improve some of his game power while continuing to have good contact skills, and Yankee Stadium might be the perfect place for him as he would have had 13 more HRs over the past three seasons had he played all of his games there.
He’s projected for a 107 wRC+ and 13 home runs across 117 games this upcoming season, as we could see him in a platoon role where he primarily faces right-handed pitching. Hitting in the fifth spot comes with the pressure of performing, but the Yankees likely feel as if they can get production closer to what we saw from 2019-2021. In his first presser since joining the team, Alex Verdugo mentioned wanting to get out in front of the ball more, citing the fact that sometimes you can make too much contact when the contact is harmless.
I doubt he will end up hitting 20+ HRs, but he could bring a well-rounded approach to the plate and impact the Yankees’ lineup from the left-handed side. The team finished in the bottom 10 in OPS, wRC+, and OBP against right-handed pitching, but Alex Verdugo possesses an OPS north of .800 in those matchups, and it’ll make a difference in games where New York would have struggled to get offense before. Baseball isn’t as much about fit as sports like the NBA or NFL, but a disciplined hitter from the left-handed side could be just what the doctor ordered.
Sporting a career strikeout rate of just 15.1%, Alex Verdugo stabilizes the middle of the order and could hit for some more power in 2024.
6. Giancarlo Stanton – DH
Giancarlo Stanton put up a ghastly 89 wRC+ last season, and because of it, he has to be moved out of the top five of the order in my mind. I’m sure the Yankees will hit him closer to the middle of the order than I have him, but I believe that the team needs to let him work out his problems without the pressure of driving in runs early in the season. Stanton could get off to a blistering start and make this look foolish (and I would hope he does), but his increasing age does present concerns about whether he can re-discover himself.
Despite the aforementioned down year, Stanton still managed to hit 24 HRs in 101 games, but the key here is him finding a way to hit for his usual .260 or .270 average again. As odd as that sounds, Stanton’s profile has tanked due to his BABIP and average dipping below the Mendoza Line over the past year and a half, but if he’s able to get even to .240, he’d likely sport one of the better slash lines in the game. His ability to hammer the baseball hasn’t gone away, but how he reacts to the worst year of his professional career will define how his tenure in the Bronx is remembered.
In some respects, this feels like Giancarlo Stanton’s last chance in pinstripes, as the addition of Juan Soto and the emergence of Jasson Dominguez complicate his role on the team if he struggles. The Yankees cannot afford to lose games trying to get Stanton back in a groove late in the season, and the team’s top prospect who’s yet to debut is Spencer Jones, another outfielder. It’s now or never for the 2017 MVP, but a huge year could propel the team back into the postseason and give the slugger a chance to hit his way into the good graces of the fanbase once more.
October is where Giancarlo Stanton shines, and hopefully the Yankees are hitting him in the middle of their order when that time comes.
7. Austin Wells – C
Austin Wells showed off incredible skills at the plate down the stretch, and he should take over the Yankees’ catching duties against right-handed pitching. He finished with a 104 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A, slumping heavily over the summer before getting back into a rhythm at the dish over his final 10 games in Scranton. He’d come up and slump in the beginning as he had just one hit through his first eight games in the Major Leagues, but he’d put up a 188 wRC+ and slug .732 to end his season, with a final wRC+ of 97.
While the left-handed catcher has some work to do behind the plate still, the bat is perfect for the Bronx with a left-handed swing that oozes potential. He consistently generates damage contact and is an aggressive hitter in-zone, with the ability to get out in front of the ball and pull it in the air for home runs. His bat packs a serious punch against RHP with a 116 wRC+ against them in his cup of coffee in the Major Leagues, and I think that the Yankees could platoon him in a way that maximizes his value with Jose Trevino.
The Platinum Glove-winning catcher is part of this equation as well, posting an OPS well above .800 against left-handed hitters in his career with the Yankees. We’re going to see a healthy amount of Trevino next season due to his excellent defensive skills, but Wells comes with the upside at the plate to be one of the better players at the position. He’s somebody I could see moving up the order in the near future, but the bottom third of the order is a place where he can develop without much immediate pressure to become an impact bat.
Austin Wells is projected for a 98 wRC+ next season but could be a breakout bat for the Yankees if his excellent quality of contact can translate over the course of a full season in the Major Leagues.
8. DJ LeMahieu – 3B
The Yankees seem to be going with DJ LeMahieu, as announced by manager Aaron Boone earlier this winter, and he’s a solid infielder who can help shore up the bottom of the order. He could be the leadoff hitter, but his older age makes it hard for me to believe that he can be the reliable everyday leadoff option. That being said, he still put up a 101 wRC+ and should remain a competent hitter, barring some massive regression, which again is possible due to his age. His second half was excellent with a 128 wRC+, and if he builds on that surge, he could be an excellent eighth hitter.
What the Yankees lack in dominant bats outside of Judge and Soto is made up for in their depth, as being able to hit LeMahieu eighth gives the team incredible length offensively. The average eighth hitter put up an 86 wRC+, and the Yankees’ average hitter in that spot put up an 82 wRC+, so a 101 wRC+ would be a great improvement over their 2023 options. His strikeouts were up but so was the quality of contact, and perhaps he’s able to better blend the two in 2024 with a normal offseason and a fully-healed toe.
Projections believe he’ll put up a 106 wRC+ in 2024, and while I’ll take the under on that projection, it’s not unrealistic for him to achieve that mark, and even a 100 wRC+ would be a fine outcome. Defensively, he put up +3 OAA and +3 DRS at third base in 592.2 innings there last year, and if he remains a stout infielder on that side of the ball, he’ll keep the Yankees afloat. It’s possible they revisit the position at the deadline, but LeMahieu will have a chance to earn the starting job.
He’s another one of the lineup’s question marks, and he’ll get looks at the top of the lineup, but I think he’ll settle best in a bottom-third spot of the lineup.
9. Anthony Volpe – SS
Last season was both a surprise and disappointment for Anthony Volpe, as he was one of the best defenders at his position despite early-season struggles with his glove. He also happened to be one of the worst hitters in baseball last season, sporting an 84 wRC+ and struggling to both get on base and put the ball in play. His game power is good, but the bat-to-ball skills are lacking, and the hiring of James Rowson could be beneficial for a guy like Volpe, as it seems as if the young shortstop didn’t have an offensive identity.
Early in the season, it was patience that helped him work a myriad of walks and improve his OBP, and that was the approach that helped him ascend through the Yankees’ system. One of the biggest focuses for him next season should be mastering his swing decisions and being more passive, as he has an OBP closer to .340 next season, he’ll find himself pushing for leadoff opportunities and could swipe even more bases. This isn’t to say that having 20 HR power is useless, but rather to say that the other skills in his profile need work, and the bottom of the order is the perfect place for him to develop those.
Progression isn’t always linear, and you can’t guarantee that Volpe is going to get better next year, but there are plenty of young hitters who have had poor rookie seasons at the plate but re-discovered themselves in the years following. Bobby Witt Jr. went from a 98 wRC+ hitter in his age-22 season to an MVP candidate the year after, and while I believe Volpe has less overall talent, there’s still plenty of upside in the Jersey native. Dansby Swanson is a comparison I think works really well for Anthony Volpe, and being a 104 wRC+ hitter with 20+ HRs would be an excellent outcome in 2024.
He was the Yankees’ top prospect for a reason, and with some clarity in the coaching staff, this could be the year for Anthony Volpe to establish himself as one of the better shortstops in the game.
How Will the Yankees Find Their Ideal Lineup?
Aaron Boone will have his work cut out for him this upcoming season, but instead of having to figure out whether he should put Franchy Cordero or Jake Bauers in right field, he’ll have some fun questions to answer. It’s evident that the Yankees’ skipper likes to mix things up in the lineup, and I don’t think they’ll have a single lineup stick for the team, but there are a lot of ‘correct’ answers at different spots. One could argue that leading off Juan Soto would shorten the team’s lineup and give pitchers lanes to handle the Yankees, but what if the other hitters in the lineup show up?
Will Giancarlo Stanton open the season hitting fourth, or will the Yankees give that to Gleyber Torres, who has outhit the former MVP in each of the last two seasons? Alex Verdugo, who could hit anywhere in the order, might find himself in front of or right behind Aaron Judge or Juan Soto, and his versatility in the order could be maximized. DJ LeMahieu has been a popular leadoff option for Boone in the infielders’ tenure with the Bronx Bombers, but will his older age limit the number of opportunities he sees there?
Youngsters like Anthony Volpe and Austin Wells are also vying for higher spots in the order, and it’s not impossible to see how either of the two could move their way up the lineup as well. How about Jasson Dominguez? He was remarkable for the Yankees last season, and perhaps the team looks to put him on their MLB roster in the summer. Other bench options like Oswald Peraza and Trent Grisham could also play their way into the lineup as guys slump or find themselves on the IL.
It’ll be a question all year for the Yankees, but this is my crack at finding the optimal lineup for the Yankees in 2024.