New York Yankees: Why Didi Gregorius should be batting cleanup

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Didi Gregorius (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Didi Gregorius (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

With Greg Bird out 6-8 weeks with an ankle injury, Didi Gregorius should be batting cleanup for the New York Yankees.

Earlier this month, New York Yankees skipper Aaron Boone expressed that, in an “ideal” situation, he would have a lefty splitting up the right-handed trio of sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez. Greg Bird had been the assumed lefty with his 30+ home run potential, but he will now miss 6-8 weeks after having ankle surgery.

Luckily, the Yankees have another lefty who can hit in the middle of their order. Didi Gregorius should be batting cleanup, which is where he ended up in the order by the end of last season.

Here’s how the top of the New York Yankees lineup should look like:

  1. LF Brett Gardner (L)
  2. RF Aaron Judge (R)
  3. DH Giancarlo Stanton (R)
  4. SS Didi Gregorius (L)
  5. C Gary Sanchez (R)

Some configuration of Aaron Hicks, Brandon Drury, Tyler Austin, and Neil Walker/Tyler Wade can round out the bottom of the order.

I don’t think Judge should lead off. He’ll be better off having runners on base to drive in. Gardy has no problem getting on base and can set the table for all of the sluggers behind him.

Putting Stanton behind Judge will get the reigning AL Rookie of the Year plenty of fastballs to hit and help him avoid a sophomore slump.

As for the cleanup spot, I’d give the nod to Didi regardless of the righty-lefty situation. Gregorius worked his way up to the No. 4 spot in the Yankees lineup last season and proved he can handle the pressure and drive in runs.

In fact, when batting fourth last season, Gregorius drove in 40 of his 87 runs. He also hit eight home runs from the cleanup spot, more than in any other spot in the lineup.

As for Sanchez, he hit just .238 as a cleanup hitter last year. He did hit seven home runs from the four hole, but Gary also hit seven home runs from the two hole, 10 home runs from the three hole, and six home runs from the six hole.

Sanchez will hit homers no matter where you put him in the lineup. When it comes to average and on-base percentage, however, Gary did the most damage from the five or six spot in the order. As the No. 5 hitter last season, Sanchez slashed .447/.549/.737. That’s a 1.286 OPS! Sanchez drove in 10 runs in just 38 at-bats. He’d be driving in close to a run per game at that pace!

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It’s clear Sanchez thrives in the five hole, but let’s dive deeper into why Gregorius should continue to bat cleanup.

With Gardner, Judge, and Stanton in the first three spots of the lineup, the cleanup hitter will often be coming up with runners on base as well as with runners in scoring position. With runners on base last year, Gregorius hit .327 compared to Sanchez who hit just .289 with runners on. If the runners were in scoring position, that didn’t bother Didi as he hit .304 with runners in scoring position (Sanchez .281).

If Gardner and Judge both go down and Stanton rips a two-out double, Gregorius is the man you want up to bat. With runners in scoring position with two outs, Didi hit a ridiculous .313 last season! Sanchez hit just .241 in such situations.

Also, late in games, if the Yankees are trying to make a comeback, Gregorius is more likely to keep the line moving. Judge and Stanton will record their fair share of strikeouts, but Didi will put the ball in play and give Sanchez a chance to hit a big home run. Gregorius struck out just 70 times last year in 534 at-bats. Sanchez, on the other hand, struck out 120 times in 471 at-bats.

If the Yankees were down two runs in the ninth and had Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez hitting back-to-back-to-back, an opposing closer could very easily strike out the side without ever having to face the tying run. Gregorius would be stranded on deck.

Slide Gregorius in front of Sanchez and all you need is a single from Didi to give Sanchez a chance to tie the game with one swing. The pressure now dials up for the opposing closer and at the very least, he’ll have to throw more pitches, which becomes important late in the season and into the postseason.

Next: Yankees options to replace Greg Bird at first base

The numbers suggest Gregorius should bat cleanup with Sanchez following in the five hole. The fact that Didi would be a left-handed hitter splitting up all the right-handed power is just an added bonus.

The New York Yankees will score plenty of runs in 2018 regardless of how Boone fills out the lineup card. However, putting Didi Gregorius in the cleanup spot could help generate even more runs and who wouldn’t want that?

All statistics courtesy of ESPN