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Yankees' Boone hints he could bat ‘big boy’ Judge leadoff

For The Win logo For The Win 2/17/2019 Ted Berg

a baseball player swinging a bat at a ball: Getty

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© Getty

TAMPA - Heck yeah, he should.

Weeks ago on this very website, one sharp-eyed author fantasized about the possibility of Aaron Judge batting leadoff for the Yankees, and the terror it would wreak in the hearts and minds of opposing starters.

Sure, I wrote it under the assumption that the New York club would ultimately sign Bryce Harper to bat second - breaking up righty-swinging sluggers Judge and Giancarlo Stanton - and that part of it may not happen.

But in discussing potential lineup configurations at Yankees camp on Sunday, manager Aaron Boone teased the possibility of using Judge atop his batting order. Boone called outfielder Aaron Hicks "the frontrunner" for leadoff duties and mentioned using Brett Gardner and D.J. LeMahieu in the spot based on matchups, but left open the possibility of batting Judge first.

"I could even flirt with the big boy up there, Judgey, in certain situations," said Boone. "If you've get a left-handed pitcher up there and you want Judge and Stanton coming up as much as possible - I don't think it's necessarily likely, but it's one of those things you consider."

For decades, conventional baseball wisdom held that a slugger like Judge should bat third or fourth in the lineup, under the assumption that it would maximize their opportunities to hit with runners on base. But the last few years have seen a lot of conventional baseball wisdom debunked by analytics, and now many of the sport's elite hitters - Judge among them - typically bat second.

Outs are an offensive team's most precious commodity, and the idea of a batting a slap-hitter in the No. 2 hole so he can bunt the leadoff man along now seems as antiquated as complete games and junkballing mop-up relievers.

Even in the new, better baseball, batting a guy like Judge leadoff would be enough to raise some eyebrows. But there's logic to it: The Yankees have a whole lineup full of guys that can hit homers, and no one else on the team has an on-base percentage to match Judge's career .398 mark. If the idea is that making the fewest outs will lead to scoring the most runs, then Judge is the guy you want getting the most plate appearances.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, it would be, in my considered opinion, extremely cool. Think again about being an opposing starter! You go to bed at night knowing that your first task the following day will be retiring the 6'7″, 282-pound colossus, and that if you can't, you get to face Giancarlo (expletive) Stanton with no outs and a runner on.

Judge missed more than a month of the second half of the 2018 campaign due to a lingering wrist fracture that hampered him after his September return. But Boone said Judge is fully healed from that injury and "as healthy as he has been since he has been in the big leagues."

"I think he had a really good offseason," the manager said. "He's so much further ahead of the game from where he was last year. Last year, we kept him out and kind of slow-played him the first week or two of games, because he was still recovering from (November, 2017 shoulder surgery). A lot of his winter was pored into the rehab of that shoulder. This year, it has been having a normal offseason, getting his body into condition."

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