Exploring Boone's idea of batting Judge leadoff

Last offseason, Yankees' manager Aaron Boone floated around the idea of batting Yankees’ star Aaron Judge in the leadoff role following the team’s acquisition of reigning NL MVP at the time, Giancarlo Stanton.  When asked about the possibility of batting the big man in the number one spot, Boone answered “I wouldn't necessarily say it's likely, but something like that I would consider, I've thought about it." We will look at the possibility of Boone employing Judge in the leadoff role, and what a possible lineup would look like with the slugger stepping into the box first for the team.

Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

First, let's look at the typical responsibilities of a leadoff hitter and what is usually expected from the players listed in the leadoff role.  Many coaches list the main objectives of a leadoff hitter to be a guy who can get on base, and someone who can work counts and see a lot of pitches, allowing the rest of his team the fortune of seeing the pitcher's full arsenal before even stepping into the batter's box. 

Why He Should

With the main objectives of getting on base and seeing as many pitches as possible, how does the Judge stack up with the rest of the Bombers?  In each of the last two seasons, he has led the Yankees, with a minimum of 40 games played for the team, in on-base percentage (he had lower OBP than Luke Voit and Andrew McCutchen in 2018 who played 39 and 25 games for the Yankees, respectively), as well as being near the top in walks (14 less than Aaron Hicks in 2018 in 25 less games) and average for the team.  Meanwhile, in 2018 he was second on the team in pitches per at-bat with an average of 4.27 pitches seen, second only to Aaron Hicks’ average of 4.28 pitches seen per at-bat.  So Judge checks off those boxes in terms of stereotypical leadoff hitter characteristics. Now, onto the unique qualities that make him an intriguing prospect for the Yankees leadoff spot.

Most significantly, Aaron Judge is unquestionably the Yankees best, and most important hitter.  Batting him in the leadoff spot ensures that he gets the most at-bats for the team should he stay healthy for the entire season.  It makes sense to want that out of your best hitter, as he is the one who gives the team the best chance to win on a day-to-day basis.  

Next, we’ll look at Judge’s stats as the leadoff batter in an inning, as a way of estimating how he would fair leading off the game for the Yanks.  In 215 plate appearances as the leadoff batter for the inning, Judge is batting .304 with an OBP of .405, with 19 leadoff homeruns and an OPS of .994.  For comparison, Yankees’ rival, and one of the top leadoff men in the MLB, Mookie Betts’ owns a career slash line of .287/.342/.509 with an OPS of .851 and 43 homeruns in over 1,000 plate appearances leading off an inning.  Another comparison is current Yankees leadoff hitter Aaron Hicks, who slashes .270/.350/.447 when leading off an inning, with an OPS of .797 and 21 homeruns in 548 plate appearances.

Utilizing Aaron Judge in the leadoff spot could be especially useful should Luke Voit win the starting first base job for the Yanks in Spring Training, as it would allow the team to split up Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, two similar style batters, with a left handed bat in the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks -  a rare opportunity for the team’s righty-heavy lineup, especially with shortstop Didi Gregorius out until at least the summer following Tommy John surgery. A lineup consisting of Judge in the leadoff spot and Hicks splitting the two mammoths up could look similar to this:

1.    Aaron Judge
2.   Aaron Hicks
3.   Giancarlo Stanton
4.   Gary Sanchez
5.    Miguel Andujar
6.   Gleyber Torres
7.    Luke Voit
8.   Troy Tulowitzki
9.   Brett Gardner

Will it Happen?

It is entirely possible that the Yankees could employ a Judge-as-the-leadoff-hitter lineup at some point during this season based solely on the fact that the team doesn’t have many lefty bats to split up Judge and Stanton with the Didi injury.  More likely, though, is that the team will just bat the two next to each other, as it means pitchers can’t be as careful with Judge as they might like to be.  As well, Aaron Hicks has proven to be a quite serviceable leadoff hitter since supplanting Gardy in the role in the middle of last season.  It would be a lot of fun to watch Judge hit bombs (pun intended) to lead off games for the Bombers in 2019, but the idea doesn’t seem very likely as Boone has not brought it up since last offseason, and did not try the big man in the leadoff spot at all last year.

Article by: Nick Simonelli


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