Demonstrating his capacity to think outside the box, Yankees manager, Aaron Boone, is toying with the idea of inserting Aaron Judge as his lead-off hitter against lefties. He’s a bit late in the game though as the prototypical lead-off batter is already as obsolete as buying beer after the seventh inning.
Among Yankees lead-off hitters over the last half-century, only Mickey Rivers has the attributes associated with a prototypical first in the order batter. “Mick The Quick” was a gangly slap hitter with better than average speed on the bases whose job was to get on base and create mayhem for the opposition once he was there. He performed well and, even today, Rivers is one of the most popular and well-received players at the annual Old-Timer’s Day celebration at Yankee Stadium.
But if Rivers was playing today, it’s a risky bet he would even have a job in the major leagues, much less as the Yankees lead-off hitter.
The skill-set of the lead-off hitter first began to change with the arrival of Ricky Henderson, who played five seasons with the Yankees in the 1980’s. As a five-tool player now in the Baseball Hall Of Fame, Henderson had back to back seasons with 24 and 28 home runs with the Yankees, and he also holds the record for most career lead-off home runs, with 81.
Brett Gardner, the Yankees current lead-off hitter, follows the trend of teams looking for some pop and contributed 21 home runs to the team’s league-leading home run total of 241 in 2017. It’s no coincidence either that the Houston Astros were led to a world title by George Springer as their lead-off hitter with only five stolen bases, but a whopping 34 home runs tacked on to 112 runs scored and 85 RBI.
The Yankees of 2018 will finish the season in the bottom third of the league in stolen bases, sacrifice bunts, and singles, which is the typical skill-set of a lead-off hitter. But that should not be cause for alarm among Yankees fans. Besides, any lineup card handed to an umpire is usually intact for the first inning of most games, after which who bats when is determined solely by the flow of the game being played.
Even so, it’s always nice to begin a game with a crooked number on the scoreboard by getting to a pitcher before he’s settled in and putting the opposition in the hole immediately. Which is most likely the thinking behind Aaron Boone‘s insertion of Aaron Judge into the lead-off spot.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s likely, but something like that I would consider,” Boone told reporters Tuesday, per MLB.com. “I’ve thought about it.”
According to Tom Gatto of Sporting News, Judge displayed no hesitation either, “They haven’t brought it up yet, but if they did, I’d just roll with it,” Judge told reporters.
As a disciplined hitter who took 120 walks last season, Judge can roll with it, even with and in spite of his strikeout tendencies. And with no disrespect intended, let’s face it. A starting pitcher throwing his first pitch of the game to Aaron Judge as opposed to Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury is bound to be a little more stressed from the get-go.
It’s almost a moot point though, as you could draw numbers out of a hat and still come out good when making up a lineup for these Yankees. But that’s not the way the team or Boone does things. Boone will create a lineup for each game based strictly on how the numbers/analytics look against a particular pitcher.
And there will come a time, and in fact, many times over the course of a season, when Aaron Boone is going to be called on to manage from his gut the old-fashioned way. Just like the time when his predecessor, Joe Girardi got caught with his pants down in the playoffs last year, having to make that split-second decision without the aid of someone whispering in his ear to call for a replay.
All senses point in the direction of Boone having the ability to fly by the seat of his pants when he has to. His time as an analyst for ESPN and the necessity to make intelligent commentary before everyone sees the replay should be of value to Boone now.
Practice makes perfect, and I hope that Boone is practicing for his “Girardi moment” by going with his hunches as well as those whispers in his ear.
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