The Yankees have received plenty of backlash and criticism for currently running a lineup that has no external additions. While it’s increasingly likely the Yankees complete a trade for a left-fielder, many believe the lineup as currently constructed is largely incapable of competing in the postseason. The ALCS sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros, where the Yankees struggled mightily at the plate (.228 wOBA), has scared many fans from believing in the offense, but we should call that perception into question.
Out of a 171-game sample, does drawing a conclusion from 2.3% of that sample make any sense? The vaunted Phillies lineup posted a .261 wOBA against the Astros, and the Mariners young electric offense posted just a .258 wOBA against the Astros.
This seems like a situation where you tip your cap to what was an incredible job by the Astros’ pitching staff in that postseason, not one where you claim the Yankees can’t hit. When analyzing their current projected roster, this team boasts a strong lineup that covers a lot of the flaws they had in the ALCS, and it’s one of the best in baseball.
Keeping The Middle of the Lineup In Place
The Yankees middle of the lineup is remarkably strong, with the trio of Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, and the 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge. With a projected 103 HRs between the three of them, the top three hitters on the Yankees can really mash. No trio in baseball has more projected HRs between them than the Yankees trio, and that bodes well for the postseason. There are no questions about what these three can do, and while Stanton has injury questions, the improved outfield depth from the internal talent should keep him from any freak accidents.
While Stanton only posted a 115 wRC+, it came with an unsustainably low .227 BABIP that should correct itself in 2023. Projections adore him, with a 132 projected wRC+ and 32 HRs in 126 games. We know what Stanton can do in the postseason as well, being the Yankees best postseason hitter since he’s arrived in the Bronx with a career 152 wRC+ and .635 SLG%. It’s not an aging issue, it’s just a BABIP issue that Stanton most likely will correct in 2023. Injuries derailed what was looking like another great season for the 2022 All-Star, but he’s due to bounce back in a huge way in 2023.
Anthony Rizzo provides the fewest question marks for 2023 in terms of performance, as his 133 wRC+ is pretty similar to his projected 126 wRC+ for 2023. We could see Rizzo hit for a higher average with a limited shift, which would explain the projected .251 BABIP after he posted a .216 BABIP in 2023. I believe it’s overstating the effects the shift ban will have, but I also believe the .449 SLG% is a bit low for Anthony Rizzo’s flyball profile in Yankee Stadium. When you adjust for those factors, you’ll still end up with a wRC+ around 126, but the shape of it will be more predicated on his SLG% and less on his OBP.
Rizzo provides a high-contact bat as a lefty to break things up between Judge and Stanton and protects both of them in that lineup, and with his strong swing decisions, he always gives a good at-bat. He’s the lowest ceiling hitter of the group, but he’s also the one who most likely will see the smallest change in his wRC+ next year. There’s value in stability, and Rizzo gives the Yankees a stable 125-130 wRC+ for 2023 and gives them the power threat from the left-handed side that they’ve sorely needed.
Aaron Judge is arguably the best hitter in baseball, but the discussion worth having is how far will he regress. Steamer adores Aaron Judge for 2023, with a 163 wRC+ and 44 HRs in 150 games, which seems like a reasonable middle ground between Judge’s 2021 and 2022 seasons. He won’t be the Bonds-like hitter he was last season, but he’ll still remain freakishly good. He conquered his issues with sliders in 2022, slugging .763 with a .498 wOBA, posting a +29 Run Value against the pitch. No hitter in baseball performed better against any pitch than Judge did against sliders in 2022, a farcry from when he had a 51.1% Whiff% against sliders in 2017.
Judge has figured out ways to cover the bottom half of the strike zone, and it’s the biggest development in his game. He went from a hitter who had struggles with anything in the lower quadrant of the strike zone to absolutely feasting on those pitches, and that has a lot to do with an improving hit tool with his freakish power.
Aaron Judge made massive strides in his game, and that allowed his freakish power to come through in a big way. His 26.2% Barrel% was the best in Statcast history, and he shattered the barrel record for a single season (86 in 2017), which was previously held by…Aaron Judge. He broke his own record by 20 barrels, which would match the amount of barrels Andrew Benintendi had in all of 2022.
He’s the only player to surpass 90 or 100 barrels, and it doesn’t seem like anyone will break that record for now. Yes, Aaron Judge is going to regress in 2022, but he’s going to remain an MVP candidate and one of the best hitters on the planet. He sets the tone of this lineup, and it completes what is a trio that rivals any in HR power.
The Overlooked Veterans in the Lineup
DJ LeMahieu didn’t really have the disastrous 2022 many people believe he did, and while his injuries are certainly concerning, he posted a 116 wRC+ in spite of playing through severe injuries in 2022. His final 14 games were clearly affected by LeMahieu trying to play through injuries, not hitting a single ball over 105.8 MPH, generating 0 barrels, and averaging 85.8 MPH on his exit velocity. This resulted in a wRC+ of just 3, and while he still worked walks and made contact, hit BABIP took a massive hit.
Generally speaking, harder-hit baseballs will go for hits more than softly-hit ones. Thus, there’s an active correlation between exit velocity and BABIP. Prior to those 14 games, LeMahieu had put together a remarkable 2022 as the Yankees’ primary leadoff option.
- 130 wRC+
- .374 OBP
- 12.6% BB%
- .408 SLG%
The Yankees not having their stable leadoff option certainly hurt the dynamic of their offense, and Steamer still really likes DJ for 2023. At a 119 wRC+ and .354 OBP, you can expect DJ to be the leadoff hitter this team needs. It’s a matter of whether he gets through the whole season or not, but I imagine with the new infield depth they have through their top prospects, he won’t be forced to play through injury to keep the team afloat.
Gleyber Torres was another player who just disappeared for a month after a great start to their season. Heading into the All-Star Break, Torres had a 129 wRC+ and a K% under 20%, but Torres would just weirdly lose his power entirely for 185 Plate Appearances, with a mere .109 ISO and a 28.6% K%. He just wasn’t the same hitter he was for most of the season, but he rediscovered himself in his final 16 games and rebounded to keep a strong wRC+ of 115 on the season. It seems like it was a nightmarish slump, but there are some things Torres himself seemed to figure out in 2022.
No one saw a greater increase with their hard-hit rate between 2021 and 2022 than Gleyber Torres, who had the highest hard-hit rate of his career (45.3%). This also came with a career-best 10.7% Barrel%, and projections noticed these gains in power output and slate him for a 120 wRC+ in 2023. Torres also continued to maintain his solid chase rate, ranking in the 60th Percentile, and if he’s able to just remain remotely consistent in 2023, he’ll hit his projections and fill in nicely as the 5th or 6th hitter in this lineup.
Harrison Bader was a huge reason why the Yankees even made it to the ALCS, with a heroic postseason performance that showed that when he’s healthy he has legit power. Bader hit multiple balls over 110 MPH in that postseason, and in 2021 we saw him reach exit velocities above 111 MPH. 2022 was a lost season for the speedy outfielder due to plantar fasciitis that zapped his ability to drive off of his foot for any power. It was on his right foot, which meant his back leg wasn’t stable as putting pressure on it would only inflict pain. When he finally got comfort with his right foot, he matched his season total for HRs in just 9 games.
Harrison Bader is projected for a 104 wRC+ in 2023, but in 153 games between 2020-2021, we saw a glimpse at what Bader could be at full health.
- 111 wRC+
- 20 HRs
- .457 SLG
- 4.4 fWAR
The power is certainly there, and Bader was significantly better in his career away from Busch Stadium. Bader was a career .210 hitter with a .634 OPS at Busch Stadium, hitting just 16 of his career 52 HRs at that ballpark. The Yankees could see Harrison Bader put up an ISO around .170 in 2023 with a ~.320 OBP and give them a .750 OPS with gold glove defense and elite baserunning. That would put him as a ~10% better than the league-average bat, and he would help round out the bottom of the lineup. He seems to have corrected his strikeout issues from early in his career as well, so he’ll add some contact to the team alongside the power, baserunning, and defense.
The Incoming Youth Movement
Oswaldo Cabrera was absolutely electric in 2022 as this team’s sparkplug. With a 111 wRC+ in 2022, he was a nice addition to this lineup who gave them a switch-hitting option for the 2022 postseason. He struggled in his first crack at the playoffs, and that’s due to Cabrera’s struggles with fastballs and high velocity. Cabrera’s going to have to improve in that regard, but he’s still just 23 years old and isn’t at his peak just yet. His 107.5 Max Exit Velocity (34th Percentile) would suggest he doesn’t have any raw power, but in his time at AAA in 2022 he registered a Max EV of 109.5 MPH, which would have ranked in the 56th Percentile.
Cabrera’s propensity to pull the ball also means that he’ll be able to overperform metrics like xwOBA as he’ll hit for more power than his physical tools suggest he should. He was already on a 20 HR pace in 2022 despite the fact that it took him until his 23rd game out of 44 to get that first HR off the checklist. While he’s the projected LF as of right now, the Yankees most likely will use him as a utilityman if they are to acquire LF. If he can have the 26.0% Chase Rate we saw in MiLB last season translate to the Major Leagues, he could blow past his projected 106 wRC+ for 2023.
Oswald Peraza is poised to take over as the starting shortstop for the 2023 team on Opening Day. He was mightily impressive with the bat in his MLB debut, hitting .306 with a .404 OBP and 146 wRC+ in 57 PAs. The low strikeout rate (15.8% K%) and high BB% (10.5% BB%) were stunning, but it comes from an approach that is far more disciplined than people give him credit for. He chased just 20.3% of pitches he saw at AAA in 2022. He’s great against breaking pitches, something the Yankees struggled with in the ALCS, as he had a .342 xwOBA and .463 xwOBACON against on them in AAA as well.
Peraza made great swing decisions at the Major League level, whiffing at just 17.7% of pitches and swinging at over 93% of what Statcast categorizes as “meatballs” that he saw. He didn’t just feast off of fastballs at the MLB level either, with a sub-20% whiff% against breaking pitches as well at the MLB level, which ultimately gives him a profile that’ll bode well for his contact skills as he adjusts to the Majors.
He’s registered a Max EV of 109.7 MPH, which could give him slightly better than league-average raw power, but his ability to generate flyballs and pull them should give him a boost to his HR power. Steamer projects him for a 105 wRC+, and his baserunning should aid his offensive output for the Yankees. He stole 35 bases in 40 attempts across AAA and MLB, and with bigger bases in 2023, we could see that translate almost entirely, which could give the Yankees an efficient 20-25 SB threat in the bottom third of the order. Going from a sub 90 wRC+ bat to a 105 wRC+ bat with upside would be a massive upgrade for this team.
Anthony Volpe is the best prospect the Yankees have had in a very long time. Very few players have had this much hype surrounding their debut, and Volpe looks to eventually become a franchise icon. Volpe is someone who doesn’t have the impressive raw power of other top prospects but possesses a truly elite hit tool. He’s registered Max EV numbers over the last two years around 110 MPH, but it’s the minuscule 17.7% Chase Rate, elite loft in his swing, and high contact rates that make him so special offensively. Projections adore Volpe, with a 111 Projected wRC+ despite having just a cup of coffee with the AAA team.
Anthony Volpe is going to have to prove himself at AAA before he gets a shot at the MLB level, but they’ve made it abundantly clear a good Spring Training could net him a spot on the Opening Day roster. He’s also phenomenal against breaking pitches, rarely whiffing or chasing against them, and generating consistently strong contact against those pitches. The Yankees could see a huge boost in the middle of the season from their top prospect, who stole 50 bases across AA and AAA in 2022 and posted a 133 wRC+ with a K% under 18% in his final 84 games of 2022.
Austin Wells is someone I’m buying stock on for 2023 as their best hitter among the rookie class. All he’s done is mash since becoming a pro, with a career 140 wRC+ in MiLB and 36 HRs in 195 games. Wells generates Max EVs over 110 MPH, has chase rates below 17%, and also finds the sweet spot of the bat over 40% of the time. He’s truly an incredible hitter who’s flyball profile as a left-handed hitter will fit beautifully in Yankee Stadium. As with Oswaldo Cabrera, he’ll overperform his already strong raw power because of his batted ball sprays, which is frightening for opposing pitchers.
There’s a real chance Austin Wells puts up a near 120 wRC+ with his offensive profile, but how he performs in AAA will be his biggest test to date. I’ve already detailed how he can impact the 2023 team, so I’ll link that article for a more in-depth analysis.
Another slept on name to watch out for is Andres Chaparro, who’s reached Max EVs north of 112 MPH and absolutely obliterated AA in 2022. He put up a 158 wRC+ and hit 19 HRs in 64 games, and the Yankees are fortunate that he didn’t get picked up in the Rule-5 Draft. His glove leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s one of the best pure hitters they have in their farm system. He ran just a 19.9% K% and slugged nearly .600 at a high level of the minors, and he could be a bat off the bench to use against LHP in 2023 for the MLB roster.
The Yankees have four young studs ready to impact the MLB lineup and provide value at positions the Yankees struggled to generate consistent offense in like SS, 3B, C, and LF. Betting on inexperienced players is risky business, but it also comes with massive benefits for a title contender.
How Are the 2023 Yankees Different?
The Yankees struggled in October due to injuries and an inability to adjust to the Astros’ shift toward using more breaking pitches. While MiLB is a different animal than facing an elite MLB pitching staff, the Yankees are infusing young talent that do more than just avoid whiffs on breaking pitches, but they can hunt and crush them as well. On top of this, the Yankees are getting a lot of addition by subtraction in 2023. Let’s take a look at their Game 1 lineup in the ALCS and break down what is likely to change:
- Gleyber Torres
- Aaron Judge
- Anthony Rizzo
- Giancarlo Stanton
- Josh Donaldson
- Matt Carpenter
- Harrison Bader
- Isiah Kiner-Falefa
- Jose Trevino
Josh Donaldson, Matt Carpenter, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are not starting any playoff games for the Yankees in 2023. Carp departed for San Diego, and the Yankees aren’t benching DJLM or Torres for Donaldson when he’s clearly the worst player of the three. IKF seems to have already lost his starting spot to Peraza, and while he wasn’t as bad as Donaldson/Carpenter were in that series, Peraza is an upgrade. Right there, you remove three of your worst everyday players at that point in the season, and you can replace them with better-equipped hitters for a postseason environment.
- DJ LeMahieu 3B
- Aaron Judge RF
- Anthony Rizzo 1B
- Giancarlo Stanton DH
- Gleyber Torres/Anthony Volpe 2B
- Oswaldo Cabrera LF
- Harrison Bader CF
- Oswald Peraza/Anthony Volpe SS
- Jose Trevino C
This lineup now has eight hitters projected to be above average in 2023, and that’s not including the possibility of Austin Wells (111 Projected wRC+) taking over at catcher with his improved framing we saw in 2022. The team isn’t drastically different, but there really isn’t much facelifting to do for a team that finished 4th in wRC+ last season. The Yankees are projected as the 5th best position player group by Depth Charts at 33.6 Batting WAR, and the addition of a LF could push them even higher.
The Yankees have added speed, contact, and some extra power to their lineup simply by plugging in young players for 2023 and bringing back key pieces, and it’s time we start acknowledging this team has a really good lineup.