I know a lot of people are going to say it's way to early to start talking batting orders for next season, what with there still being a solid 2 months left in the offseason and the Yankees possibly being without a couple key members of their everyday lineup when the regular season starts on April 1st. But I don't see it that way. Injured or not, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are going to be part of the everyday lineup when they do return, and with the signing of Kevin Youkilis and the pending signing of Ichiro Suzuki, the starting 9 for 2013 is all but intact.
The lineup next year is going to be flush with platoon bats, which likely means a lot more of the lineup juggling that we started to see late last season. The presence of Youkilis and return of Brett Gardner should bring back some of the classic Yankee "grind it out" at-bat tactics, but the middle of the order has lost some of its luster with the injuries and natural decline of A-Rod and Teix. Even without a good everyday catcher, there is still the potential for the Yankees lineup to be relatively deep and dangerous next season, but a lot of things are going to have to turn around. After the jump, check out my preliminary ideas for next season's batting orders.
Just a quick note before I lay the 2 orders out, I'm not going to play around with whatever players the Yankees are going to fill the bench with to soak up early-season at-bats while A-Rod is on the shelf. To keep it simple, I'm just going to put these together as if everybody who would normally be in the everyday lineup was healthy and available to play. That's more than likely not how it's going to work out, and I get that, but I'm not trying to put 14 different lineups together here so just humor me.
Vs. Right-Handed Pitching
1) Brett Gardner- CF
2) Derek Jeter- SS
3) Robinson Cano- 2B
4) Mark Teixeira- 1B
5) Curtis Granderson- LF
6) Alex Rodriguez- 3B/DH
7) Kevin Youkilis- 3B/DH
8) Ichiro Suzuki- RF
9) Francisco Cervelli/Chris Stewart- C
I've always liked the idea of Gardner hitting leadoff, and even though Jeter had a great year this past season, the odds of him replicating it are very low. As good as he was last year, he still had an OPS gap of over 200 points between righties and lefties and his wRC+ against RHP was 99. Gardner brings the speed and count working skills you want ahead of your big hitters, and could easily be replaced by Ichiro if he struggles or if Ichiro catches fire as both have similar skill sets.
A-Rod and Youkilis are pretty much interchangeable at 6 and 7, as both performed poorly against righties in 2012 (.315 wOBA for A-Rod, .309 for Youkilis). They've each got a pedigree worthy of hitting above guys like Cervelli, but are no longer real power threats against RHP worthy of hitting above guys like Teix and C-Grand. If one of them really struggles against righties next season, they could very well end up on the bench for some of these games and have their ABs given to whatever lefty bench bat the Yankees end up signing.
Vs. Left-Handed Pitching
1) Jeter- SS
2) Youkilis- 3B/DH
3) Cano- 2B
4) Teix- 1B
5) A-Rod- 3B/DH
6) C-Grand- LF
7) Ichiro- RF
8) Cervelli/Stewart- C
9) Gardner- CF
The top of the "vs. lefty" lineup could be really tough, as Jeter murdered LHP pitching last season and Youkilis had a 15.2% BB rate and a .376 wOBA, making them an ideal table-setting pairing for the middle of the order. A-Rod can still be dangerous against lefties, Teix can hold his own, and if Cano can bounce back from his down year this season he could be a force behind the top 2.
The bottom of the order is where things get hairy. Granderson is a strikeout machine against lefties and has a lot of work to do to get back to his levels of success against southpaws from 2011, and chances are Ichiro won't even be in the lineup against LHP if he struggles out of the gate. Gardner at the end gives Joe that "2 leadoff hitters" thing that he likes to do, and can create even more run-scoring opportunities turning the lineup back over to Jeter and Youkilis at the top, but all in all the bottom third of that lineup isn't much to worry about.
There will still be the L/R balance that Joe likes to have, but it's the production that's going to come into question. The Yankees are in a tough spot right now in terms of bringing in useful bench pieces to work in as platoon bats, so there are going to be times where they're going to need these guys to step up and hit against same-handed pitching. It's not an ideal scenario, but it's one that can work if guys stay healthy.
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