It has been a while since the Yankees were the big, bad team of Major League Baseball. Gone are the days where every top free agent was a lock to be headed to New York with the Steinbrenner family winning the bidding wars. And it’s now been 14 years since the last time the Yankees won a World Series.
New York is looking to change all that. It might not have signed a big free agent, but it did land the biggest name on the trade market this offseason, completing a deal for Padres outfielder Juan Soto on Wednesday.
Landing Soto is a massive move for the Yankees. The team has lacked left-handed sluggers in recent years, and has not had the necessary lineup support behind 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge. In acquiring Soto, the Yankees are not only adding another MVP candidate, but one who bats left-handed and is fully capable of taking advantage of the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.
This move drastically impacts the Yankees’ 2024 outlook, immediately making their lineup one of the best in the sport. How does he impact the team’s starting nine? Here’s what you need to know.
Yankees lineup projection 2024
Aaron Boone is going to enjoy getting to pencil the lineup in every day. Though there are certainly some options for how it will look, here’s a projection for how the lineup might shake out in 2024:
- D.J. LeMahieu, 3B
- Juan Soto, RF
- Aaron Judge, CF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Giancarlo Stanton, DH
- Gleyber Torres, 2B
- Alex Verdugo, LF
- Anthony Volpe, SS
- Austin Wells, C
What Juan Soto brings to Yankees lineup
It’s not uncommon for lofty expectations to be placed on young players, particularly those who are considered to be top prospects. It’s a bit more uncommon for those comparisons to be to Hall of Famers. It’s rare for them to be inner-circle Hall of Famers. And it’s almost completely unheard of for those players to meet those expectations.
That’s what Soto has done in his career. He has been compared to Red Sox legend Ted Williams, with both batting from the left side, having an impeccable eye and disciplined approach and adding power to round out the offensive package.
To date, Soto has 640 walks in his career to 577 strikeouts. According to Stathead, only six players through their first six seasons in the majors have at least 640 walks and more walks than strikeouts: Ted Williams (813 walks to 287 strikeouts), Ferris Fain (662 to 194), Frank Thomas (661 to 443), Ralph Kiner (660 to 448), Roy Thomas (646 to 313) and Soto. Of those players, Williams, Thomas, Kiner and Soto are the only ones with an OPS above .900 and they’re the only four with at least 160 home runs.
Last year, the Yankees struck out at the 10th-highest rate in baseball and walked at the sixth-highest rate. Adding Soto will work to lower that strikeout rate and improve the already impressive walk rate.
Juan Soto in Yankee Stadium
But what everyone wants to know with Soto is how he will fit in at Yankee Stadium. The short porch in right field is tailor-made for left-handed hitters with a pull approach. Baseball Savant’s park factors have only Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park as a better place for lefties to hit home runs than Yankee Stadium.
There’s no doubt Soto will turn a few extra fly balls into home runs. He’ll also likely lose a few due to center field — and left center in particular — being a bit farther away than it was at Petco Park. Here’s a look at his 2023 batted ball data overlayed on Yankee Stadium:
For the most part, it’s clear Soto will benefit from the smaller ballpark, though still not as much as some might think. Baseball Savant tracked that if he played every 2023 game in Yankee Stadium, he would have had 27 home runs, six fewer than if he had played every game at Petco Park in San Diego.
Soto is not much of a pull hitter. Baseball Savant reported in 2023, he had a pull rate of 35.5 percent, a straight rate of 43.1 percent and an opposite field rate at 21.3 percent. Josh Lowe (30.4 percent), Brandon Nimmo (31 percent), Ryan McMahon (33.9 percent), Nolan Jones (34.7 percent), Freddie Freeman (35.3 percent) were the only left-handed hitters with at least 20 home runs and a lower pull rate than Soto.
Soto’s ability to spray the ball around the field is part of what makes him so dangerous. And his bat coming from the left side is sorely needed by the Yankees. New York has tried in recent years to add a left-handed presence to the lineup, signing or making moves for players like Jay Bruce, Joey Gallo, Andrew Benintendi, Rougned Odor, Franchy Cordero and Willie Calhoun.
In 2023, the Yankees ranked 24th in wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) by left-handed hitters at 91, and dating back to 2018, they rank 15th at 100. Last year, Soto ranked fifth among left-handed hitters with a 155 wRC+ and since 2018, he ranks second at 154.
Whether he hits more home runs or continues his steady rate of production, one thing is certain: he’s going to be the most prominent support Judge has had in his career. Since Judge’s rookie season (2017), he’s led the team in OPS every year with the exception of 2020, when he missed time due to injury. Among Yankee players with at least 100 games, no one has had a single-season OPS above .900 (in the 60-game 2020 season, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier and LeMahieu each cleared that mark). The highest OPS by a Yankee to play in at least 100 games since the start of 2021 was Anthony Rizzo’s .817 mark in 2022. Soto has had an OPS above .900 every season of his career except 2022.
That lineup support is going to go far, particularly given the struggles in 2023 from players like Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton, and the largely inconsistent career of Gleyber Torres.
And then there’s the defensive impact of acquiring Soto. Though he is an exceptional hitter, he is not a standout defensive player. Baseball Savant graded him in the third percentile for range (outs above average) and was valued at minus-9 OAA overall.
The year prior, he was somehow even worse. He spent all of 2022 in right field, and he was charted at minus-16 OAA (though he somehow was a Gold Glove finalist that year). Moving to New York, it’s possible the Yankees would opt to play him in right field, where there’s less room for him to cover. Alex Verdugo, acquired from Boston on Tuesday, is a standout defender in the corner spots and would be better suited to handle left field, while Judge has enough experience in center to handle the spot.
But defense isn’t why the Yankees are acquiring Soto. They’re getting him to make up for a disappointing 2023 season and to re-establish themselves as the Bronx Bombers. With pairing of Soto and Judge, it’s hard to argue they’re anything but one of the more feared lineups in the sport.
Source : ESPN.com