Spring training is a time for teams to experiment with their lineups, or at the very least discuss the possibility of experimenting with their lineups.
Clearly this isn’t lost on new New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone. This week he’s caused quite a stir by suggesting he’d be open to the idea of batting Aaron Judge at the very top of the Yankees loaded lineup. As in, the leadoff spot.
That’s Aaron Judge, the man who set the MLB rookie home run record with 52 last season. That’s Aaron Judge, the man who’s struck out 250 times in 182 major league games. That’s Aaron Judge, who at six-foot-seven in no way looks like the leadoff hitters we grew up watching.
But you know how many of us love to see common thinking in baseball shattered. Such a move would certainly check that box, while giving baseball fans a little extra motivation to be in their seats for the game’s first pitch.
“I’d say it’s possible,” Boone told the media on Tuesday. “I’ve thought of it. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s likely. But something like that I would view as possible. It was considered. Something we’ve talked about.”
Or maybe not?
Many are already debuting the merits of such a move, and some believe there is a time and a place where it would make sense for Boone to give it a shot. That time and place being when the Yankees square off against left-handed pitching.
Against right-handers, the leadoff spot will be mostly occupied by veteran Brett Gardner. There’s no obvious choice though against left-handers, and Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News argues that Judge could actually fit the bill.
But while Judge may not profile as a prototypical leadoff man due to his stature (6-foot-7) and high strikeout total (208), he does have a leadoff approach. Last season, Judge led the AL in both walks (127) and pitches seen per plate appearance (4.41). His on-base percentage was a staggering .422 in his rookie campaign – including .439 in 113 at-bats against lefties. And 52 home run power plays well anywhere – especially early on, when a starting pitcher is just getting settled in.
It would definitely give the opposing pitcher something to think about on pitch one. The looming possibility of a mistake pitch putting him in a 1-0 hole right away would weigh heavily on any pitcher’s mind.
Pitching around Judge isn’t a great option either. He’s often patient enough to take his walk, which in this case would set the table for Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez.
The argument against Judge in the leadoff spot is that he becomes a little less dangerous when batting with the bases empty. That would be the case at least once every game if he’s leading off. By the same token, it does guarantee more at-bats, and more at-bats mean more opportunities to get a quick run on the board. Hitting a slugger leadoff has actually worked out pretty well in Houston, where George Springer topped 30 homers as a leadoff man last season. There are a lot of perspectives it can be viewed from, and those are what Boone will apparently weigh in the weeks ahead.
For what it’s worth, Boone has kept Judge in the No. 2 spot throughout the spring. For now, that seems to be his home. But if that changes we could be looking at one of the most interesting and powerful leadoff hitters in MLB history.
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