Friday, April 5, 2013

On Early-Season Lineup Tinkering

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

When the lineup for last night's game was released, there were probably a few eyebrows that went up.  After just two games, one against a right-handed pitcher, Joe decided to change things up a bit and shuffle the deck against Ryan Dempster.  Gone were Ichiro or Eduardo Nunez from the 2-spot in the lineup, and instead Joe moved the middle of the batting order up a spot to hit Robinson Cano 2nd, Kevin Youkilis 3rd, Travis Hafner 4th, and Vernon Wells 5th.  With such an incredibly small sample size to evaluate and base lineup decisions on, a move like this in the third game of the regular season could have come across as one of desperation.  Considering the circumstances surrounding the roster right now, and the severely depleted amount of above-average hitters in the lineup, I actually thought it was pretty smart and a great example of playing the hand you're dealt.

Nobody needs to be reminded of how much firepower the Yankees are missing and are going to be missing for the next month.  Offense was always going to be harder to come by this season than in years past, and the loss of Teix and C-Grand made that harder even harder.  It would be one thing if this were the playoffs again and Joe was moving his regular guys around to try to find a formula that worked, but this group he's got to work with right now is far from his regular lineup.

Any way you slice it, the Nunez-Wells-Overbay-Youkilis group of hitters is not as good as the Jeter-Teix-C-Grand-A-Rod collection.  The same age-related regression that's hitting guys like Rodriguez and Teixeira is also hitting Wells, Overbay, and Youkilis.  Keeping in mind that Ichiro for Swish and Chrisisco Stewvelli for Martin are two more offensive downgrades, it's clear that Joe has his work cut out for him to try to find a lineup that can score enough runs to compete and win ballgames.  The lineups in the first two games didn't do that, and he knows why just as well as we do.  A lot of these replacement guys playing right now are replacement-level guys at best.  It's a safe bet that they aren't going to be here full the long haul, at least not as everyday starting players, so what's the harm in moving them around?

And remember that he didn't just arbitrarily throw a different warm body out there in the 2-spot of the batting order; that was Robinson Cano, one of the 5-10 best hitters in the game and easily the best hitter in this current group.  With runs being at a premium, moving your best hitter up another spot in the batting order to get him an opportunity for more plate appearances is pretty sound strategy.  He had a good on-base guy in front of him in Gardner and a good on-base guy who's been swinging the bat well for a few weeks behind him in Youkilis.  It may not be optimal in a perfect world setting, but this is hardly a perfect world setting that Joe finds himself in and his logic in making the move he made was sound.

In the same way that new guys like Wells and Youkilis and Overbay are still adjusting and getting used to their new surroundings, so is Joe with respect to how to best use all these new players.  He wasn't counting on having to build a lineup with this many new bodies, bodies that are all basically platoon bench players.  He's learning and figuring things out as he goes just like they are, and he has an obligation to do that with the goal of winning games in mind.  Was it a little strange to see him pull a move like he did last night and bat Cano second?  Sure.  Was it a bad move?  I don't think so.  If somebody can step up and prove to be a consistent producer in the 2-spot ahead of Cano, great.  If they can't, I don't see any problem in hitting Cano and Youkilis higher in the order to get them as many ABs as possible.

No comments: