Yankees’ lineup needs more outside of Aaron Judge-Juan Soto combination

TAMPA — I want to discuss an inaccuracy:

That the Yankees’ offense was bad last year.

Don’t misunderstand. The Yankees’ offense was, indeed, lousy last year.

It is just that last season is often framed to suggest that the attack fell off a high cliff. When in actuality the Yankees’ offense has been pretty bad the past three seasons.

They were 19th out of the 30 teams in run scored per game in 2021. They were 25th last year. Those that want to act like 2023 was an anomaly note that the Yankees were second in 2022.

But that was based on baseball being as much like basketball as I’ve ever seen — when one player, Aaron Judge, carried the offense like he was Allen Iverson with the Larry Brown 76ers. OK, forgive another basketball analogy, but saying that the Yankees averaged 4.98 runs per game in 2022 and not giving context to how they got there was like saying Wilt Chamberlain and Al Attles combined for 117 points for the Philadelphia Warriors on March 2, 1962.

That season Judge’s 1.111 OPS was the best by a Yankee since Mickey Mantle’s 1956 Triple Crown campaign and the rest of the team was .708, or what Billy Martin had in 1956. This particularly exacerbated in the second half as Judge thrived toward a historic 62 homers and near single-handedly helped the Yankees hold on to win the AL East with a 1.286 OPS, while the rest of the team managed .652 or what would have been the fourth worst after the All-Star break.

The Yankees brought Juan Soto in to complement Aaron Judge.

The Yankees brought Juan Soto in to complement Aaron Judge.AP

Want the accounting from the past three seasons in total? Judge has by far a MLB-best 1.017 OPS (Shohei Ohtani’s .964 is second). The rest of the Yankees from 2021-23 was .698 — subtract 15 plate appearances from pitchers, that would rank sixth-worst among all teams (thanks to MLB Network research).

Yankees officials want to alibi last season away to injury, notably freak ones that limited Judge to 106 games and Anthony Rizzo to 99. But using injuries as an excuse is generally weak tea, especially when you consider, for example, that the Astros’ two best offensive players, Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve, played just 114 and 90 games, respectively, and Houston still averaged the fifth most runs per game and somehow managed to make it to ALCS Game 7.

The Yankees attempted to remove the one-man-band stigma dramatically by trading for Juan Soto. A healthy Judge-Soto combination should make the Yankees, at minimum, a top-10 offense again. But the Yanks believe they are more than a 1-2 punch.

Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo was limited last year due to injury.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
“We have a chance to be an outstanding offense,” Aaron Boone said. “I’ve maintained that from the start, especially coming off a season where it was a struggle for us offensively. Obviously we gotta stay healthy, we gotta stay focused. But I feel like the opportunity to be an elite offense exists for us.”

There are three keys to a full assault:

1. Age: DJ LeMahieu (35), Anthony Rizzo (34) and Giancarlo Stanton (34) have injury concerns, including this spring training when (freak injury alert) LeMahieu fouled a ball off his right foot and is iffy for the Opening Day roster. With Josh Donaldson and Evan Longoria no longer playing, LeMahieu is now the game’s oldest regular third baseman.

Giancarlo Stanton is hoping to avoid injury this year.
Giancarlo Stanton is hoping to avoid injury this year.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
Rizzo had a lat issue he said he was unconcerned about, but he does have a chronic back issue. Stanton looks physically great this spring, but has been on the IL eight times in the past five seasons.

Rizzo was terrific before his concussion last year. LeMahieu was strong down the stretch of 2023 after a change at hitting coach and further healing of a foot injury. Stanton has his legs right now and is not just swinging with his upper body. That is the optimism for a group that will surround Soto and Judge in the lineup

2. Youth: Anthony Volpe altered his swing to better deal with fastballs upstairs, use the whole field and address a .207 average and 27.8 strikeout rate. The Yankees believe this version will have his batting average and walk rate climb to better capitalize on his legs. Catcher Austin Wells continued to impress Yankeedom that his defensive deficiencies are overstated or just incorrect. If so, he could offer lefty might. Let’s establish a .725 OPS as a baseline for both — anything above it moves the needle positively for this lineup.

3. Lefties: The team that plays in the House That Ruth Built and has a lineage from Gehrig to Mantle to Reggie to Mattingly, etc., has not finished in even the top 10 in lefty OPS since 2012. The Yanks have not finished better than 22nd in lefty plate appearances in the past six seasons. In 2023, their lefties took the second-fewest plate appearances and hit .217 with a 673 OS (27th out of 30).

New York Yankees left fielder Alex Verdugo #24, gets high-fives in the dugout after scoring on Aaron Judgeâs single in the 1st inning.
The Yankees picked up Alex Verdugo in a deal with the Red Sox.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post
The Yankees acquired Soto, Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham, who took more plate appearances combined last season (1,865) than the Yanks have gotten collectively from lefties since 2018. Wells should play regularly. Can the Yankees get the 2022 season of switch-hitter Oswaldo Cabrera? Can Jasson Dominguez successfully return from Tommy John surgery? Is that Spencer Jones on the horizon?

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