As the 2024 season approaches, Yankees manager Aaron Boone is meticulously planning his lineup for Opening Day. With the acquisition of Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo, Boone has a wealth of talent to utilize. The positioning of power hitters like Soto and Aaron Judge will be crucial, as both have the capability to significantly challenge opposing pitchers.
Evaluating Leadoff Options
Boone faces a critical decision regarding the leadoff spot in the lineup. There are three primary candidates he is considering, each with distinct strengths and potential roles:
1. Gleyber Torres:
Gleyber Torres has previously shown promise in the leadoff position.
In 2023, he had 146 plate appearances at the top of the order, posting a .272/.308/.404 batting line with four home runs and nine RBIs. Despite this success, his on-base percentage may not be ideal for a leadoff hitter. Torres excelled in the fifth spot last season, suggesting he might be more effective lower in the lineup, especially with the addition of new bats.
2. Alex Verdugo:
Alex Verdugo, another contender, had significant experience as the leadoff hitter for Boston last year. In 366 plate appearances, he hit .280/.331/.461.
Verdugo profiles well to man the top spot, but the Yankees could consider a platoon between him and DJ LeMahieu. Verdugo performs much better against right-handed pitching, hitting .279/.329/.464, including 12 of his 13 homers last season.
As a lefty, that makes perfect sense, so the Yankees could consider utilizing him as the lead-off man against righties and LeMahieu against lefties. His percentage could stand to increase slightly; he’s actually coming off of a down season with Boston, so there’s a reason to believe his numbers could enjoy a bit of a spike in the Bronx.
3. DJ LeMahieu:
DJ LeMahieu is a familiar leadoff option for the Yankees. In this role last season, he had a .235/.331/.394 slash line over 260 plate appearances. LeMahieu experienced a notable uptick in performance after the All-Star break, coinciding with a change in hitting coaches. Given his excellent record against left-handed pitchers, a platoon system with Verdugo could be a strategic approach for the Yankees.
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Balancing the Yankees’ Lineup for Optimal Performance
Ultimately, Boone’s decision will depend on balancing the lineup to maximize offensive production. With the likes of Judge and Soto anchoring the top of the order, selecting the right leadoff hitter will be crucial for setting the tone and providing opportunities for these power hitters. The combination of Torres, Verdugo, and LeMahieu offers Boone various options to consider, but platooning DJ and Verdugo seems to be the right choice, analytically.