With the addition of Gerrit Cole this offseason, the Yankees look as stacked as ever and primed for another run at a championship. Their underwhelming starting rotation was the big weakness that Yankee fans glossed over and Red Sox fans took solace in for the past couple years. By pretending that you don’t need good starting pitching if your bullpen can give you 6 strong innings every night, the Yankees have derailed their championship hopes for at least the past three years.
I think this league-wide moronic trend of devaluing starting pitching started in 2015, when the Royals rode Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, and Wade Davis to a championship. Leave it to the nerds that are running major league teams nowadays to glorify the rare exception to the rule and turn it into the new baseball bible. Hopefully the 2019 season, which saw the Astros and Nationals ride their elite starting rotations to the World Series, will help slap some sense into these poindexters and convince them to stop trying to get in on the ground floor of the latest fad and go back to using some common sense. Moneyball, openers, constant defensive shifts … all this crap seems so cool and edgy until you realize that they are all just cheap, cosmetic window-dressing designed to save a few pennies. There’s a reason good starting pitchers are so expensive. It’s the same reason good quarterbacks and good goalies are so expensive. Because they’re in-frigging-dispensable. The recipe for a championship team is time-tested and indisputable: (ranked by level of importance) durable starters, a deep lineup, hard-throwing relievers, and a little luck.
Now that the Yankees have one of the three best pitchers in the major leagues anchoring their rotation, the only glaring weakness they have left is the incompetent way that they continue to handle the two home-grown franchise sluggers in the middle of their lineup. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are phenomenal sluggers that can hit the ball a mile. They both have the ability to hit 50 home runs a year if they play 150 games. My question is this: Why are the Yankees not putting either of them in the best possible position to be in the lineup every day?
When I say position, I mean it literally. Neither Judge nor Sanchez are great fielders. Sure, they both have hoses and can cut down a few baserunners and save a couple runs over the course of a year. But the primary value of both players resides in their ability to hit the ball far and drive in runs. Defensively speaking, their responsibilities should be two-fold:
- fielding the balls that are hit directly to them
- not getting hurt
Let’s start with the blue-chipper. Aaron Judge is 6’7” and 282 pounds. At 27 years old, without too many miles on his body, he can play a decent right field. But that is a giant frame to carry around the outfield day after day throughout a 162 game season. He has already missed two significant periods of time with oblique injuries in his young career, and the clock is running on those knees as long as he has to keep chasing balls into the gaps and corners of right fields across the major leagues. In nearly three and a half seasons, he’s played only 351 games. While it is true that the worst injury of his career was the wrist chip that had nothing to do with wear and tear, the fact is that bodies his size were not built to hold up over a career of major league baseball seasons. As a perennial MVP candidate, his workload should be micromanaged to the nth degree. He should have a team of massage therapists rubbing him down whenever he is in the dugout. He should be sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber surrounded by bodyguards that look like Lennox Lewis. Yet the Steinbrenners are letting the cornerstone of their team slowly obliterate his knees and ankles by lugging his huge body around the outfield every game. Has nobody told them what happened to Mickey Mantle? There may be no more drains in the outfield these days, but there are still fences, divots, tarps, and whatever opposing fans can smuggle in to the ballpark to throw at you. Is it so beyond the realm of possibility that an opposing fan may toss a foreign object in his path as he’s taking the field on the off chance that he may step on it, lose his footing, and injure himself? Hell, I’d do it. Hasn’t anybody in the Yankee organization seen Rookie of the Year? It happened to that little twerp twice in the same movie.
Judge had seven outfield assists in 92 games last year.. He hit 27 home runs and 75 RBI in those 92 games. Is the couple handfuls of guys he’ll throw out on the basepaths in a year worth risking his massive offensive production? What is the point of even putting Aaron Judge on the field defensively? He’s young, he’s huge, and he’s already arguably injury prone. Any GM with a brain would have Aaron Judge as his permanent DH and only allow him to play the outfield out of necessity if someone else is hurt. Teach Luke Voit to play right field. It’s the easiest position on the diamond to play, and he is way more expendable than Judge.
Now you may be asking yourself why moving the right fielder to DH would necessitate moving the first baseman to right field. That’s because the second best raw offensive talent on the team is incomprehensibly playing catcher. Like Judge, Gary Sanchez has a great throwing arm. But unlike Judge, Sanchez has spent most of his career as the worst defensive player at his position in the entire league. He improved behind the plate last year, with only seven passed balls after having the most in the league the previous two years. But his injury history is even more concerning than Judge’s. How many times has he pulled his groin? You think that may have a bit to do with squatting behind the plate four out of every five games? Not to mention the fact that being the starting catcher means that he’s either:
- out of the lineup for 20% of the games
- he’s DH’ing some of the days he’s not catching, meaning he’s actually getting less rest than the other starting catchers around the league
So he already has an injury history, he’s playing by far the most physically demanding position on the field, and he is a below average defender at that position. Isn’t it painfully obvious that this guy should be playing first base? You wouldn’t benefit from his throwing arm anymore, but even the best throwing catchers in the league only throw out 40% of base stealers. That lineup is more than deep enough to absorb a solid defensive catcher that will only hit .220. And don’t talk to me about having to learn a new position. Anybody that has played catcher at the major league level has the skills to be a very good defensive first baseman. It’s a walk in the park compared to the pressure cooker of playing catcher in the big leagues. And you can shut up about his damn game calling too. Starting pitching has been the Achilles heel of this team since Sanchez got there. He ain’t working wonders behind the plate, and all the pitchers who say he’s great at it are quite obviously towing the company line to defend the foolish decision to keep him behind the plate. Higashioka is already being spoken about as a good game caller anyway, and a rotation with the talent of Cole, Paxton, and Severino should manage to be effective regardless of who is back there holding fingers down.
With Aaron Judge as DH and Gary Sanchez at first base, the Yankees unquestionably win the 2020 World Series. Look at this lineup, which would not be changing nearly as much day-to-day as it did due to injury last year because the health of the team’s foundation would be adequately protected.
That’s a ballbusting lineup that can overmatch any team in the league offensively. With their bullpen and a revamped starting rotation anchored by Gerrit freaking Cole, there is nothing that could derail this team from winning it all for the next couple years.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am thrilled that the Yankees manage these two guys so poorly and are shortening their careers with their incompetence. If Bleacher Brawls was super popular, I probably wouldn’t even publish this article for fear of the Cash Man and Steinbrilliants catching wind of this painfully obvious idea. Maybe I will regret writing this once we’re the biggest blog in the world and front offices across the league begin monitoring us to benefit from the ingenious musings being spewed from my Lenovo. Regardless, I press on. For me, it’s not enough to simply know that I’m smarter than everybody else. I need everybody to know just how much smarter I am than everybody else … especially people in the Yankee organization.