Yankees flip the script on southpaws with offseason shake-up

Yankees southpaws Juan Soto and Jasson Dominguez.

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When the Yankees are performing at their peak, dominating with a powerful and unyielding offense, their roster is filled with skilled left-handed hitters. This has been the hallmark of the esteemed franchise for a century, a strategic approach to leverage the dimensions of Yankee Stadium and accrue championships in the process.

Lately, the output from the left side of the plate has posed more challenges for the Yankees than anything else. In the previous season, the team’s overall offensive performance was mostly average—with the exceptions of Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres—but the left-handed hitters on the Yankees, in particular, struggled significantly. However, with the recent acquisitions and promotion of prospects, pinstripers load up on lefties to power offense their next season.

Yankees’ left-handed roster problem

In 2023, the Yankees had the lowest left-handed on-base percentage (.295) among all baseball teams. As pointed out by MLB.com’s Mike Petriello in a comprehensive analysis of the Juan Soto trade, this marks the second-lowest lefty OBP for the Yankees since 1974, when reliable platoon split data became available.

The Yankees’ left-handed batters recorded a .219 batting average in 2023 with a .763 OPS, an 87 wRC+, and 55 home runs. These figures positioned the team in the bottom four across the league in each of these statistical categories. It’s worth considering how these numbers might appear without the positive impact of Jasson Domínguez‘s impressive debut in pinstripes (cut short by Tommy John surgery) and Austin Wells’ encouraging performance in the final month of the season, which somewhat inflated the overall statistics.

The Yankees also recorded the second-fewest plate appearances by left-handed hitters in MLB this year, totaling 1,473. While loading the lineup with lefties doesn’t always guarantee success—illustrated by the Astros having the fewest left-handed plate appearances in the league this year—when a significant portion (75 percent) of those plate appearances is attributed to Jake Bauers, Oswaldo Cabrera, Willie Calhoun, Billy McKinney, Ben Rortvedt, Franchy Cordero, Estevan Florial, and Aaron Hicks (in descending order), it becomes evident why the Yankees faced considerable challenges.

General manager Brian Cashman has previously attempted to address this crucial flaw. The acquisitions of Anthony Rizzo, Joey Gallo, and Andrew Benintendi were well-intentioned, but none of these deals unfolded as anticipated by the Yankees. Gallo struggled during his time in pinstripes, and Benintendi, acquired as a rental, suffered an unforeseen season-ending injury. Rizzo, although a vital part of the Yankees, had the least productive season of his career in 2023, missing over two months due to post-concussion syndrome. Heading into 2024, Rizzo remains a question mark, though manager Aaron Boone mentioned at the Winter Meetings this week that the first baseman is in excellent shape and undergoing a normal offseason.

Once lacking, Yankees are now loaded with southpaws

This offseason marks the Yankees’ latest public effort to transform their left-handed production into a force that propels them closer to contention, rather than pushing them away from it.

The acquisition of Soto from the Padres introduces another superstar into the heart of the Yankees’ lineup—a generational talent that adds significant value, even with just one year of team control. Including outfielder Trent Grisham in the Soto, deal provides the team with a fourth outfielder who excels in playing center field. The addition of Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo through a trade is another positive move aligning with the Yankees’ needs. While the off-the-field dynamics of Verdugo’s fit will be worth monitoring, he is poised to deliver at least average production, assuming the role in left field. Notably, these three outfielders exhibit incredible durability, standing among the ten primary outfielders who have participated in over 435 games in the last three seasons.

With FanGraph’s projections, the improvement in the Yankees’ left-handed lineup for 2024 is striking. Soto, Rizzo, Verdugo, Wells, Grisham, and Cabrera are expected to accumulate 13 fWAR next season. This projection does not factor in Domínguez, who is anticipated to return in the second half after recovering from elbow surgery. In contrast, lefties and switch hitters on the Yankees who had more than 70 plate appearances last year collectively contributed 0.0 fWAR in 2023.

Between Wells’ inaugural full season in the majors and Domínguez’s anticipated comeback from the 60-day injured list, the Yankees are strategically positioning themselves for the future in terms of left-handed batting. The development of top prospects Spencer Jones, Trey Sweeney, and Ben Rice in the upper levels of the farm system underscores the Yankees’ commitment to drafting and nurturing left-handed talent, a commitment further exemplified by Wells. Additionally, recent draft picks Roc Riggio (fourth round, 2023) and Anthony Hall (fourth round, 2022) hold positions in the club’s top 20 prospects list according to MLB Pipeline.

While the success of this initiative remains uncertain and unforeseen circumstances and injuries are inevitable in 2024, projections are inherently imprecise, and various factors may influence the outcomes. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that what was once a glaring weakness for the Yankees is now appearing more like a promising strength.

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