If there was one thing the New York Yankees needed to do this offseason, it was getting outfielder Aaron Judge some help in the lineup. General manager Brian Cashman did just that by acquiring outfielder Juan Soto via trade with the San Diego Padres. But where does Judge think he should hit in the lineup?
Someone asked him that question during the All Rise Foundation’s New York City Gala on January 25. By the end of his answer, the right-handed slugger shared a very specific preference. He said, “Just keep it DJ [LeMahieu], Soto and me, we’ll get it going.” You can see and hear his answer from X user (formerly Twitter) BAT1STA:
Hitting third was something Judge rarely did during the 2023 season. Of the 106 games he suited up for with the Bombers, he spent just two games (a total of eight plate appearances) batting third. Virtually all of his playing time (102 games) was spent hitting second.
It was also something he didn’t do much of during his historic 2022 campaign in which he slugged an American League record 62 home runs. Judge once again spent most of his time in the two-hole (112 games). He also hit leadoff in 34 contests and was penciled into the three-hole for just seven games.
The vast majority of his career games played have been spent hitting second. But since debuting in 2016, Judge has been the Yankees’ number three hitter in 164 games.
This Tracks With What Aaron Boone Wants to Do
During a January 19 appearance on Foul Territory, Yankees manager Aaron Boone shared some thoughts on what the top of New York’s lineup could look like in 2024. “I think about it all the time,” Boone said. “Yeah, right now, you know, you probably (want) Juan in the two-hole and Judgie third.”
The skipper did mention that the leadoff spot is up in the air right now. However, the first hitter he mentioned as an option was LeMahieu. He followed that by then mentioning recently acquired outfielder Alex Verdugo and second baseman Gleyber Torres. From how Boone discussed the leadoff spot, it sounds like LeMahieu is currently in the lead thanks to a strong second half of the 2023 season.
In 305 plate appearances before the All-Star break, LeMahieu slashed .220/.285/.357, which resulted in a .643 OPS. Over his final 257 trips to the plate, those numbers rose to .273/.377/.432 and .809, respectively.
Soto-Judge Should Be a Lethal Lineup Duo
Regardless of who Boone pencils into the leadoff spot, it won’t take away from how good of a lineup duo Soto and Judge will be in 2024.
Multiple trips to the injured list in 2023 limited Judge to 106 games played. However, he still managed to slug 37 homers with 75 RBI while hitting .267/.406/.613. As for Soto, he played in all 162 games and slashed .275/.410/.519. His 35 homers are a new single-season career-high mark and his 109 RBI were almost a new personal best (he drove in 110 in 2019).
Looking ahead to 2024, both sluggers are expected to do big things. According to FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections, compiled by Dan Szymborski, Soto is pegged for 33 homers, 103 RBI, a 160 OPS+ and 5.5 WAR. Judge is right there with him. He’s projected to slug 40 homers with 101 RBI, a 162 OPS+ and 5.5 WAR.
Between those two and whichever hitter emerges as the best leadoff option, opposing pitchers are going to have a tough time facing the Yankees’ offense.
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