We all know that the Yankees are fixated on splitting up Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton with a lefty batter hitting 3rd. They’ve done so consistently over the past two seasons, generally with Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks. In the past two weeks, though, they’ve used Brett Gardner, who is, of course, having a career year. They even did so on Sunday, sandwiching the Yanks’ longest-tenured player between the two sluggers. On the surface, there is some inherent logic in this. Check this out:
- RHB against RHP: .247/.312/.423 (91 wRC+), 7.6% BB%, 23.9% K%
- LHB against RHP: .254/.331/.444 (101 wRC+), 9.6% BB%, 22.0% K%
As expected, batters with the platoon advantage overall perform much better than batters without it. I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone; the platoon advantage has been a well-known aspect of the game for as long as it’s been played.
Compounding matters for the Yankees is the fact that the Yankees will likely only carry 3 left-handed bats on their 25-man postseason roster: Gardner, Gregorius, and Tyler Wade. It is possible, as Steven notes here, that Mike Ford gets the nod, though that would surprise me personally. In any case, the Yankees’ lineup–and especially their big bats–are overwhelmingly right-handed. I can appreciate why the Yankees want to break up the drumbeat of right-handed bats, but I think doing so this weekend (and hopefully beyond) would be an unforced error on the Yankees’ part. Let’s break this one down.
Not Your Usual Righties
I think this is every bit as obvious as the fact that the platoon advantage exists, but it’s worth repeating and repeating again: the Yankees’ right-handed hitters are not your average right-handed hitters. Mike Axisa highlighted a truly incredible statistic in a Patreon column a week ago that I want to call out here. He noted that there have been 173 RHB with at least 500 plate appearances against RHP since 2017 and that 5 Yankee batters rank within the top 43 by wRC+: Aaron Judge (2nd), Giancarlo Stanton (14th), Edwin Encarnación (25th), Gleyber Torres (33rd), and Gary Sánchez (43rd).
In other words, the Yankees’ lineup includes some of baseball’s most prolific righty bats–and they don’t lose their effectiveness when going up against righty pitching. That’s why slotting Judge and Stanton after DJ LeMahieu, followed by some combination of Encarnación, Torres, and Sánchez has always been my preferred lineup order for the Yankees when everyone is healthy. Judging from comments here and across the fandom, I know I am not alone in this line of thinking.
But what has always bothered me the most has been the insistence to break up Judge and Stanton in particular. Check out their career lines overall regardless of pitcher handedness:
- Aaron Judge, 1718 PA: .273/.394/.558 (152 wRC+)
- Giancarlo Stanton, 4897 PA: .268/.358/.547 (142 wRC+)
And now check out their career lines against righty pitchers specifically:
- Aaron Judge, 1079 PA: .275/.380/.564 (150 wRC+)
- Giancarlo Stanton, 3278 PA: .260/.348/.521 (134 wRC+)
Yeah. There’s almost no drop off at all for Judge, although he does walk less against righties (14.1%) than lefties (21.9%). That’s it, though, and even with that drop-off, he’s still posting an on-base percentage of .380, which, as they say, is Good, Actually. There is a bit more of a drop off for Stanton, to be fair, but our man is still putting up absurd numbers. (Remember, DJ LeMahieu posted a 136 wRC+ in 2019.)
For more context, consider this: Stanton’s 134 wRC+ would rank 23rd in all of baseball among qualified hitters from 2010-2019, which spans his career. Remember, that’s removing the platoon advantage from his career figures. Judge’s 150 wRC+ would tie him for 5th place from 2017-2019, again removing the platoon advantage from his line. These are not your average righty bats. They’re anything but that.
No Worthy Lefty Substitutes
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the Yankees’ two main lefty bats: Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner. I think it’s fair to say that neither Tyler Wade nor Mike Ford will be sandwiched between Judge and Stanton, so we can just ignore them entirely. Odds are, if the Yankees do break them up, it will be with either Didi or Brett.
Last year, especially during the first half, using Didi made some sort of sense in this role. He got off to a torrid start, was getting on base, and even flashed some power. It was a defensible–if questionable–decision at least. This year it is borderline inexcusable. Didi, who is one of my all-time favorite Yankees to personally root for, has really struggled. Check out his line on the year, in case you’ve forgotten: .238/.276/.441 (84 wRC+). 2019 was his worst full season in the bigs since his sophomore 2014 campaign with Arizona.
But let’s leave that to the side for a second. I do think you can make a reasonable case that Gregorius’ injury is still playing a major role in his struggles and that, given a long enough sample, he’ll round out to form. My guess is that the Yankees feel the same. So let’s just take his career as a whole into account for a second. Here is his career line and his line with the platoon advantage in his favor:
- Didi Gregorius, 3383 PA: .264/.313/.429 (98 wRC+)
- Didi vs. RHP, 2468 PA: .267/.316/.451 (103 wRC+)
So, Gregorius is a bit better against righties, as we’d expect. But he still pales in comparison to both Judge and Stanton in the category overall. Now, to be fair, Gregorius did post a 122 and 128 wRC+ against RHP in 2017 and 2018, respectively. That’s not nothing–but it’s still not the same as everyone’s favorite sluggers. Regardless, that’s all academic anyway because this year he’s been struggling against everyone and he’s actually been a tad bit worse against RHP (82 wRC+) than he has been overall.
Gardner, on the other hand, is having a career year. The Yanks’ longest-tenured player posted a .251/.325/.503 (115 wRC+) line, which is the best of his career relative to the league. We all know how his power numbers have surged dramatically. This is all remarkable and extremely fun. I’ve written it about 500 times during our game takeaways this year and we’ve covered it a lot. Brett has been a beast. With that said, here is his 2019 line vs RHP and his career line:
- Gardner vs RHP in 2019, 407 PA: .263/.344/.536 (128 wRC+)
- Gardner vs RHP overall, 4341 PA: .264/.348/.418 (109 wRC+)
Pretty interesting, in my opinion, and also a bit surprising. His average and on-base percentage remain fairly constant, but his significant power surge just can’t be ignored. It’s turned him into a legitimate power threat (thanks, juiced ball) and slotting him between the two sluggers does break up the supposed monotony of the Yankees’ right-handed attack.
And yet, despite this, I find this whole line of reasoning as getting a bit too cute. There is an argument to be made–Gardner has mashed against RHP in 2019–but I’m sorry, and I love Brett, but he’s no Judge or Stanton. There’s not even a question about it. Besides, even with his career year, he still doesn’t stack up to the other two. It feels like a stretch to me.
Now, the usual caveats apply here. This analysis is admittedly a bit simplistic and there’s no doubt that the Aaron Boone and the Yankees’ analytical staff have considered these same figures. If I can see them, so can they, and that’s without the obvious fact that they have access to a level of depth and proprietary data that we can only begin to imagine. I fully accept that this might be dumb or misguided and that if I could see the same stats as them, I’d possibly feel differently. Maybe there really is something that suggests hitting a bunch of RHB in a row is bad. I’m loathe to distrust the Yankees on these things, so it must be true.
Now, with that said, given what it out there publicly, I just don’t see it. It’s similar to my philosophy with Severino and Tanaka that I highlighted yesterday: don’t get too cute. Stack the talent, give the talent the most chances, and don’t give the other team a break. When push comes to shove, I want Judge and Stanton to get the most chances possible to do the most damage. The numbers we can see back it up. The human effect–imagine having to face those two back-to-back in Yankee Stadium?–seems to back it up. And that means that, now that we’re in the short tournament, the Yankees should not shortchange themselves. It’s time for Judge and Stanton to hit back-to-back.