Thursday, May 8, 2014

Musing On The Interleague Outfield Rotation

The Yankees have an off-day today as they make the trip from Los Angeles to good old Milwaukee.  They start a 3-game series against the Brewers tomorrow night, their 2nd interleague series of the young season and the first in which they'll be the road team.  Including these 3 upcoming games, the Yankees will play 7 of their next 12 games as the interleague road team, which means 7 of the next 12 without the benefit of the DH.

The Yanks have had a pretty solid outfield rotation working so far this year.  Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran are the clear top 3, but Alfonso Soriano has gotten some time in place of Beltran and Ichiro Suzuki has been a surprisingly consistent offensive and defensive contributor as the 5th outfielder.  Without the benefit of the DH spot in the lineup, that rotation will have to shorten and Joe's going to have some work to do when it comes to giving everybody the proper amount of playing time and rest.  Piggybacking on an idea that Mike Axisa touched on earlier this morning, I'm curious to see how Joe handles juggling those top 4 guys.

It's pretty obvious that Ellsbury isn't going anywhere.  He might get 1 day somewhere in the next 10 with the next off-day not coming until the 19th, but he's going to be starting in center field and hitting somewhere at the top of the order every day.  Between his plus defense, mini-hot streak at the plate, and left-handedness, Gardner seems like a safe bet to get a lion's share of the playing time as well.  The way the rotations project out over the next 12 games, all 7 NL road games are scheduled to be against right-handed starting pitchers.

But not so fast, my friend!  Gardner's actually rocking a pretty serious reverse platoon split right now.  He's OPSing .829 against left-handed pitching in 45 PA and .584 against righties in 65 PA.  His BB and K splits suggest the big BABIP gap at the heart of the reverse split is more luck-influenced than anything, but it's not like Gardner has been killing it against righties and earning the right to play against them every day.  While Beltran and Soriano are both slumping and making up 50% of the underperforming middle of the order, they each have way more experience against NL Central pitching than Gardner or anybody on the Yankee roster.  If ever there was a time for Joe to go to the binder, look at the numbers, and play to the matchups, these 7 games might be it.

For what it's worth, Soriano has been putrid against RHP so far (.532 OPS) and has been better against southpaws than Gardner (.920).  Based on all of that statistical evidence, logic would dictate that Joe should stick with a starting outfield of Ellsbury, Gardner, and Beltran in these road interleague games.  But managing NL games is different than managing in the AL, and sometimes logic has to go out the window from game to game.  Joe knows what his hitters are doing and he knows what they've done in the past against these NL pitchers.  If the historical matchups are favorable for one guy or another in some of these upcoming games, I think he'll roll the dice and play to those matchups to try to steal some extra runs and make up for that lost DH spot.

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