Yankees make an interesting change at the top of their lineup

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees will look to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds this afternoon, and in doing so they’ve made a lineup change. Instead of running Anthony Volpe back out as the leadoff hitter following a nasty slump in June, it’ll be newcomer Ben Rice setting the table for the Bronx Bombers. Volpe, who has taken a massive step forward with his glove, has crashed hard at the plate, dipping below the league average in wRC+ (99) for the first time in 2024. He could use a demotion in the lineup, but the main storyline here is how Ben Rice will adjust to being the leadoff hitter.

He’s impressed early on with his plate discipline, batted ball data, and contact skills, but with how often teams have gone after hitters ahead of Soto and Judge in the order this could be a tough challenge for him.

Ben Rice Moved to the Top of the Yankees’ Lineup

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at New York Yankees

It’s been an encouraging start for Ben Rice thus far, who has displayed excellent plate recognition in his brief time with the Yankees. Through 14 games and 45 trips to the plate, Ben Rice has a 116 wRC+ and .378 OBP, as he’s swung at 80% of pitches in the zone while chasing just 17.6% of the time. It’s unclear whether he can maintain having arguably the best plate discipline in baseball, but he’s shown that he can recognize pitches at an advanced level.

That’s the big reason behind the decision to lead him off, as he has the aggression in-zone to handle being pitched to while also having the patience to lay off balls. His quality of contact has been better than the slugging percentage would indicate, sporting a 9.4% Barrel Rate with a .406 xwOBACON in his short stint with the Yankees. At the Minor League level, Ben Rice was a huge power hitter thanks to his pulled flyball approach, and I expect that it translates soon since he has remained a pull-heavy hitter who does damage on contact.

His first assignment as the leadoff hitter will come against former Yankee Frankie Montas, who has been up-and-down this season with a 4.23 ERA and 4.44 FIP. Montas struggles against LHP (.351 wOBA) but found a groove in June, pitching to a 3.55 ERA with a 24% strikeout rate in five starts.

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