The crowded infield postseason conundrum

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We’ve been waiting for the Yankees to get healthy all season. Finally, a whole bunch of guys are on the mend and either have returned already or will be back soon. In the infield, the Yankees have activated Edwin Encarnación, Luke Voit, and Gio Urshela recently. Great news, right? Of course. Having them back does create a new (and good) problem to have, however. The Yankees now have six healthy infielders with only five lineup spots (including DH) to go around.

Aaron Boone will have to figure out how to assemble Encarnación, Voit, Urshela, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Didi Gregorius once the postseason rolls around. There are still a few more weeks left in the regular season, so this sort of thing could sort itself out, but the ideal situation would be that all six of these players finish the season strong and present Boone with a lineup card challenge. Let’s look at what Boone might use to evaluate who to sit on any given night.

Platooning Gregorius against lefties

The Yankees’ lineup skews toward right-handed hitters, so platoons aren’t really a typical consideration for this team. Gregorius is the exception here, and depending on which team the Yankees face in the ALDS, he could be the odd man out when an opponent throws a southpaw. This season, Gregorius has a 54 wRC+ in 70 plate appearances against lefties. He’s had good numbers against them in the past (2016 and 2018), so he hasn’t always been useless against them, but Boone might still need some sort of tiebreaker.

Here are the potential left-handed starters on each potential first round opponent:

  • Oakland: Brett Anderson, Sean Manaea, Jesús Luzardo
  • Tampa Bay: Blake Snell, Ryan Yarbrough, Brendan McKay, Jalen Beeks
  • Minnesota: Martín Pérez
  • Cleveland: None

First and foremost, I’m sure these teams will be hesitant to throw a lefty against the Yanks. Some guys, like Manaea or Snell, are arguably those clubs’ best pitchers, so they won’t be held back in any case. Still, the Yankees could wind up seeing any of these guys.

Considering Didi’s memorable postseason moments in the past couple of years, it’ll be difficult to sit him. However, someone has to be the odd man out, and it might make sense in this situation. Besides, if we’re talking about overall performance this season, Gregorius has hit the least out of everyone in the infield group.

Now, just because Didi might not start against some of these pitchers doesn’t mean he’d be useless. At some point late in games, he can either pinch hit or enter as a defensive replacement. In fact, in any close and late situation, Boone should not have Voit or Encarnación playing first base. LeMahieu should slide over there, which opens a spot for Didi.

Home and Road Splits

PlayerAway wRC+Home wRC+
Luke Voit158109
Edwin Encarnación85140
DJ LeMahieu120153
Gleyber Torres139123
Didi Gregorius12251
Gio Urshela143144

It really surprised me to see Gregorius struggle so much at Yankee Stadium this season. He was great there last year (151 wRC+), so I wouldn’t bench him in the Bronx just because it’s a home game. If it’s against a lefty, that’s another story.

The difference between Voit and Encarnación at home might make for an opportunity. Encarnación has been superior at home since 2018, though he’s bounced around from Cleveland to Seattle to New York so it might not be meaningful. This entire exercise is grasping at straws to some extent, but the difference here could be enough to put Voit at DH and play LeMahieu at first while Edwin sits.

I don’t think anything else in the table really raises to the level of usefulness.

Batter vs. Pitcher Matchups

Analytics indicate that batter vs. pitcher history really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. A manager should always play the better player and not insert an inferior hitter just because the regular starter “struggles” vs. said pitcher.

That being said, all six players Boone has to juggle are good hitters. They’re not all of the same skill level, but sitting one of them because of prior history vs. an opposing starter wouldn’t be the end of the world. Let’s look at some of the matchups that could help Boone. I won’t go through every single potential starting pitcher they’ll face, because some guys (like Chris Bassitt) haven’t faced these players much. I’ll call out matchups I find interesting.

Oakland:

  • Encarnación is 3-for-28 vs. Mike Fiers.
  • LeMahieu is 3-for-15 vs. Homer Bailey.
  • Gregorius is 2-for-12 vs. Bailey.

Tampa Bay:

  • Gregorius is 2-for-14 vs. Blake Snell.
  • Encarnación is 2-for-13 vs. Snell.
  • LeMahieu is 6-for-13 vs. Snell.
  • Urshela is 0-for-7 vs. Charlie Morton.
  • Urshela is 6-for-7 vs. Yonny Chirinos.

Minnesota:

  • Encarnación is 4-for-18 vs. José Berríos.
  • Encarnación is 12-for-35 vs. Kyle Gibson (including 4 home runs).
  • Encarnación is 8-for-43 vs. Jake Odorizzi.
  • Gregorius is 4-for-25 vs. Odorizzi.

Cleveland: None of significance.

To be honest, none of these batter vs. pitcher stats make me feel certain about benching or playing any given player noted above. Still, it might help in the case of a tiebreaker or if someone is running hot or cold. I don’t think I would ever take LeMahieu or Torres out of the lineup, but everyone else is fair game depending on the situation.

Outside the box

This is all contingent on Giancarlo Stanton’s healthy return, but: would you stick Gio Urshela in left field? He has just one professional inning out there, this season with the Yankees.

Think about it this way: is Urshela a better hitter than Clint Frazier or Cameron Maybin right now? Can he handle the outfield better than Frazier? Those are some of the considerations here.

Ultimately, this is way too risky to try for the first time in the playoffs. The Yankees would need to run out Urshela in left a few times before the regular season ends, and there’s been no hint of that. Perhaps if there’s bad news about Stanton the Yankees could try it, but even then, don’t count on it.

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8 Comments

  1. lightSABR

    “I’m sure these teams will be hesitant to throw a lefty against the Yanks.”

    The Yankees have hit 117 wRC+ against lefties this year and 116 wRC+ against righties, so I’m not sure teams will hesitate that much.

    That said, full-team full-season statistics have their limits–there’s a lot of Mike Tauchman, Cameron Maybin, Austin Romine, etc. in the full-season stats that may not be in the Yanks’ lineup when they face those teams.

  2. dzb

    If I am not convinced Voit is healthy I go with DJ at 1B. If I need an outfielder I use Stanton if he looks like he is at least 85% back, after that Maybin if his wrist isn’t barking, and Frazier after that. I do not stick one of the infielders out there if I can use Frazier.

  3. This is truly ‘paralysis by analysis’-Didi plays shortstop in every game, if Voit continues to slump (he seems to be coming out of it as his swings the last couple of games are much better) he sits. There is nothing wrong with putting their best infield defense out there in each game and that’s DJ, Torres, Didi and Urshela.

  4. Rob in CT

    Are you convinced Voit is healthy? I’m not. He’s done very little since his return. That might “solve” this problem.

  5. michael serra

    “This season, Gregorius has a 54 wRC+ in 70 plate appearances against lefties. ” I’m an older person. Is that number good or bad? Geez. Just say the guy hits .290 or some sh#t.

    • Rob in CT

      It means he’s ben 54% as good as the average ML hitter vs LHP this season. Which is terrible. It’s a small # of ABs, and he’s coming off injury, but it’s terrible.

      2016-2018 vs LHP, Didi slashed .289/.331/.420 (.751 OPS), which isn’t bad for lefty on lefty.

    • Nick

      I think you might be on the wrong blog if you just want them to talk to you in Batting Average.

  6. Wire Fan

    While the Yankees don’t tend to believe in streaks, I think they need to consider who is hitting well or not hitting well over the last 2-3 weeks.

    One other platoon consideration is the Yankees starting pitcher – though in the playoffs that might be a lesser consideration as starters don’t tend to pitch as deep.

    Tanaka is really the only GB heavy starter on the staff, so on his starts it may be worth going with the best defensive IF (LeMahieu at first)

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