Today's Starting Lineup: Boone shakes things up

Today’s starting lineup was released earlier this afternoon and you don’t need to look at it long to see some interesting choices. Remember yesterday when reports came out that Aaron Judge will likely see some time in center with the absence of both Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury? Well, one day later and guess who’s playing center and batting second? Number 99. In the leadoff spot above Judge is typically Brett Gardner, but since he’s getting the day off today, it’ll be Neil Walker.

Fred Thornhill/ The Canadian Press via AP

It only took one day to see Judge playing center field despite many of us thinking it would take much longer. So why did this come together so quickly? Well since baseball is an analytic world now, let’s dive in!

C.C. Sabathia is on the mound for the Yanks today. Why does this matter? Well Sabathia’s ground ball rate has been 50% for the past two seasons. That is significantly better than his career rate. On top of that, his fly ball rate was the lowest of his career in 2017 at 27.9% which of course means less opportunities for Judge defensively.

Plus, Judge does have some center field experience and admittedly is comfortable with making the move. It may not have been recently, but in his college days and in a few minor league appearances, he did see some playing time in center. However, he wasn’t breaking any size records then. With Judge’s start in center today, he'll tie the record for the tallest center fielder (6’7) in baseball history.

Photo via Getty Images
As for Neil Walker batting leadoff, it’s not as questionable as it may initially seem. Gardner is getting the day off because in 39 at-bats against today's starting pitcher for the Jays, Marco Estrada, Gardy is hitting just .154 with an OBP of .195. Of the 24 pitchers in which Gardner has at least 30 at-bats against, his numbers against Estrada are the worst of the bunch.

Walker had a respectable OBP of .375 in 2018. In 38 games after being traded to the Brewers in August, his OBP was .409. Still not sold with him in the leadoff spot? Maybe this will convince you. Granted it is a small sample size, but Walker has very good numbers against Estrada in his career. He has eight hits in 25 at-bats, five of which are extra base hits, which equates to a slash line of .320/.346/.720 and an OPS of 1.066.

In the baseball world we live in now, where analytics play such a huge role, there is always reason behind every single move. Even if a move may seem questionable, there’s always a reason. Walker may not seem like your typical leadoff hitter but when you look into it deeper, it makes sense. Aaron Boone was hired by GM Brian Cashman partly because Cash wanted a skipper who would embrace analytics in a way Joe Girardi never did. Time will tell how good the returns are.

Article by: Shawn Maguire



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