New York Yankees Are Stacked at Leadoff, but Rest of Lineup Is the Issue

Michael MandelkernContributor IIIApril 2, 2014

New York Yankees Are Stacked at Leadoff, but Rest of Lineup Is the Issue

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    Jacoby Ellsbury in his first game on the New York Yankees.
    Jacoby Ellsbury in his first game on the New York Yankees.Associated Press

    Some baseball teams do not have an ideal leadoff hitter. The New York Yankees have the luxurious problem of deciding who should hit first.

    The Yankees made substantial financial commitments to center fielders Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million) and Brett Gardner (four years, $52 million) this past offseason. The front office’s sky-high payroll allows for a variety of lineup options that most other teams could only dream about.

    Website Batting Leadoff argued that the Yankees should have traded Gardner in the offseason. The outfield is now crowded with Ellsbury, Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki, another potential top-of-the-order hitter.

    Both Gardner and Ellsbury are stellar defenders in center field, but Gardner will likely be fielding from a corner when Ellsbury is playing. They are two players with multiple offensive weapons.

    The Yankees have an embarrassment of riches. Ellsbury is the top leadoff candidate, but Gardner and Suzuki are enviable insurance.

Ichiro Suzuki

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    Ichiro Suzuki
    Ichiro SuzukiKathy Willens

    Ichiro Suzuki was not in the Opening Day lineup, but if both Gardner and Ellsbury become unavailable he is a leadoff candidate.

    At age 40, Suzuki’s best days are behind him. His .262 batting average and .297 on-base percentage in 2013 were both career lows.

    Still, he is a career .319 hitter with a .361 OBP and 472 stolen bases who had 68 leadoff at-bats in 2013. 

    He has also been remarkably healthy throughout his MLB career. His lowest amount of games played in a season is 146 in 2009.

    With five outfielders, Suzuki might spend more time on the bench than he is accustomed, but the Yankees can depend on him for insurance should Gardner and Ellsbury suffer injuries.

Brett Gardner

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    Brett Gardner
    Brett GardnerPat Sullivan

    One concern about Ellsbury is that he is injury prone. If he misses time, the Yankees have another solid leadoff hitter in Brett Gardner.

    Gardner posted a .273/.344/.416 slash line last season with eight home runs and 52 RBI. With Ellsbury on the team, he is likely to move around in the batting order, even hitting ninth to give the Yankees a double-leadoff attack. 

    According to Bronx Baseball Daily, manager Joe Girardi sees Gardner as a fit anywhere in the lineup due to his speed.

    One of his strengths, not shown in the box score, is his ability to foul off tough pitches and drive up pitch counts. His long at-bats provide the Yankees with more information on the opposing pitcher. 

    He ranked No. 6 last season in pitches per plate appearance with 4.23. Gardner even provides value when he is not getting on base. 

    Like Ellsbury, Gardner also has speed on the base paths. Gardner stole 24 bases last season and his career high is 49 in 2011.

Jacoby Ellsbury

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    The switch-hitter posted a .298/.355/.426 slash line and 52 stolen bases last season with the Boston Red Sox. Ellsbury’s dashing speed applies pressure on the opposing team’s defense. His career-high in stolen bases is 70 in 2009.

    He posted a 5.8 WAR in 2013. Bleacher Report writer Chris Stephens ranked Ellsbury as the No. 1 leadoff hitter in the free agent market this past offseason.

    Out of his 1,540 at-bats from 2011 to 2013, 1,402 of them came in the top spot in the batting order. He hit .303/.357/.469 batting leadoff during that time period.

    Aside from a 32-home run season with the Red Sox in 2011, however, Ellsbury never hit more than nine long balls in one year. The small dimensions of Yankee Stadium, especially the short porch in right field, could change that.

    Some players have speed but struggle to reach base. Ellsbury is a complete package capable of stealing more than 50 bases. With a powerful Yankees lineup behind him, he is also sure to notch plenty of runs.