It’s no secret that the Yankees lacked heavy hitters in their lineup last season, as they slumped to an 82-80 record in a year where they were aiming for a World Series title. As we draw closer to Spring Training, the Bronx Bombers are looking to live up to their name and finish near the top of the league in Runs Scored, and Aaron Boone seems excited to put those pieces together in a lineup on Opening Day.
According to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, while discussing the Yankees’ new-look lineup, Boone raved about the “left-handed presence” and “balance” added to the team with the additions of various left-handed hitters headlined by Juan Soto.
“Oh yeah, I’ve done that a lot,” Boone said on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve got a handful that I could envision. A lot depends on some other guys, too. I’m certainly excited about the winter that DJ [LeMahieu] is having, and where [Alex] Verdugo slots in. Potentially, for the first time in a while, we have a chance to have three, four, five lefties or righties on a given day. To be able to alternate them is something that would be pretty nice.”
The Yankees have high expectations for their offense entering the 2024 season, but what alignments could the team try on Opening Day?
How Will the Yankees Handle the Leadoff Spot?
Aaron Boone was quick to mention how strong of a winter DJ LeMahieu was having, and there’s optimism about the idea that he could improve on his 2023 season. A nasty first-half slump created concerns about his long-term viability, but he’d end the season strong with a 128 wRC+ and .375 OBP after the All-Star Break, posting strong defensive numbers at third base as well. Projections like LeMahieu as well, viewing him as a 106 wRC+ hitter, but there are still massive questions about his profile.
Injuries have held LeMahieu back in the past, as while a 118 wRC+ is nothing to scoff at, his numbers tanked at the end of the season due to a toe injury that also knocked him out for the postseason. He posted a 50 wRC+ from August onward that season, and this year, while he finished with an above-average wRC+ (101), LeMahieu was completely ineffective in the first half. He’s projected to be their primary lead-off man next season, but I doubt that he’s their best option to open ballgames, especially with the addition of Alex Verdugo.
While not projected to be a much better hitter than LeMahieu in terms of wRC+ (107), Verdugo could be the team’s lead-off hitter against right-handed pitching. He has a career .346 OBP against righties with a 115 wRC+, and this past season, Verdugo had a 109 wRC+ and .464 SLG% against them. Alex Verdugo is an extremely patient hitter who sports low chase rates and could be a better hitter than LeMahieu next year, given how well his bat profiles for the Bronx. The 27-year-old outfielder mentioned trying to get out in front of the ball more, and according to Statcast, he would have had 51 HRs instead of 38 since 2021 had he played at Yankee Stadium.
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DJ LeMahieu has a 116 wRC+ and .375 OBP in his career against left-handed pitchers, and the two could platoon the lead-off spot based on the matchup. An aggressive idea would be to lead off the hitter with the highest OBP in baseball since his debut (.421), and that’s Juan Soto. It’s not traditional, but we’ve seen multiple MVPs hit from the top of the lineup, and Soto shouldn’t be an exception. If you want the player who will get on-base the most, it’s Juan Soto, and if you want the combination that’ll produce the most runs, it’s Aaron Judge hitting right behind him.
The better threat to clear the bases is Aaron Judge, as he’s the league leader in home runs since 2017 (253) and the most barrels as well (422). While it does make it easier to navigate through the later parts of the Yankees’ lineup, it ensures that Soto and Judge will take the most appearances in a game no matter what, and hitters like Rizzo and Torres can stabilize the third and fourth spots enough to keep the lineup afloat. Regardless, the Yankees are going to have a lot of hitters at the top spot this season, especially with their influx of youth talent.
Could Anthony Volpe break out and get on-base enough to set the table for the Yankees? Does Jasson Dominguez come back and use his advanced feel of the strike zone to earn the role? It seems that Aaron Boone is excited to find that out as the season goes on, and they’ll hope this leads them to find a permanent solution. The team ranked 24th in wRC+ (90) and 27th in OBP (.305) from the top spot of their lineup last season, and that won’t fly if they’re trying to win a World Series title.
Aaron Boone has more weapons than before, and the added balance in the order gives them an abundance of left-handed hitters to pounce on righties. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but deciding where Aaron Judge and Juan Soto should hit in a lineup sounds like an assignment any manager would want.