Yankees should consider moving Anthony Volpe down in the lineup to maximize production (2024)

UPDATE:The Yankees moved Anthony Volpe down to sixth in the order for Thursday afternoon’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. Rookie first baseman Ben Rice will lead off for the Yankees. This is the first time in his major-league career that Rice will lead off.

NEW YORK — Since Anthony Volpe moved to the leadoff spot on April 10, he has had the worst on-base percentage among every New York Yankees player with at least 250 plate appearances. He ranks as the third-worst leadoff hitter with his 87 wRC+. No leadoff hitter is generating more soft contact than Volpe. Despite discouraging numbers across the board, Volpe has led off for 76 games. It raises the question: Why?

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His spot in the lineup is prime real estate. He hits in front of two generational hitters: Juan Soto and Aaron Judge. Soto and Judge have the two highest OPS numbers in the American League. The Yankees aren’t maximizing their run production with their player who has the worst on-base percentage hitting in front of them.

“Look, that’s a fluid situation and something we’re paying attention to,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before Wednesday’s game when asked why Volpe continues leading off. “Hopefully, he’s on the end of a little downturn of a week or 10 days that has suppressed that a little bit. It’s still a very young player figuring out who he is as a hitter, finding his way and making a significant swing change and adjustment over the winter. … But it’s something I’m paying attention to and we’ll see.”

One issue the Yankees have is there’s no clear replacement in the lineup. Since April 10, seven Yankees with over 100 plate appearances have a higher on-base percentage than Volpe. Alex Verdugo would be a candidate because he has ample leadoff experience from his time with the Boston Red Sox, but he entered Wednesday’s game with a barely higher on-base percentage (.299 compared to Volpe’s .294). Gleyber Torres, who has led off sparingly for the Yankees, has an on-base percentage just over .300 during this period but was recently benched for underperformance. DJ LeMahieu, who was expected to lead off for the Yankees coming into the season, hasn’t produced since returning from a foot injury.

The ideal leadoff hitter for the Yankees is Soto. Since beginning his career in 2018, Soto has the highest OBP (.422) in MLB. The Yankees putting intense pressure on opposing pitchers from the moment a game begins is generally a good strategy. This season, the Yankees are 34-10 when they score first and 20-24 when they don’t. Even last season when the team was mediocre, it was 56-20 scoring first.

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Since Mookie Betts fractured his hand, the Los Angeles Dodgers have batted designated hitter Shohei Ohtani in their leadoff spot, ensuring their best player sees the most plate appearances in every game. The Yankees might have benefitted from having someone else at the top of the order in Tuesday’s game when Volpe came up in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and down one run. He popped out to end the game.

However, it’s unlikely that the Yankees would move Soto to the leadoff spot. He has only hit there twice in his career, and he’s a player who thrives on a regular routine. He’s likened changing spots in the batting order to moving positions on the field. But even if the Yankees make a change to their leadoff hitter, it may not solve all of their lineup problems.

“At different points of the year, sometimes it’s a challenge,” Boone said of making the lineup. “The first half, it was kind of rolling it out there. You knew where everyone was falling and kind of seamless. It was easy. Obviously, these last couple of weeks, there’s been more thought that goes into that because a couple of guys are injured, where to plug in a guy knowing you might pinch hit for this guy, so it’s kind of two players. A little more challenging at different times of the year and this being one of those (times), but that’s part of it.”

Perhaps a bigger problem for Volpe than where he hits in the order is the drastic change in his approach this season. He’s no longer hitting for any power whatsoever. He hasn’t homered in 43 games. Volpe did not delve into what he thinks of his new approach.

“I don’t know if I’ve necessarily (taken) a step back yet,” Volpe said. “I’m just day by day, pitch by pitch, at-bat to at-bat. I try to stick to it. After the season, I’ll come up for air and look it over.”

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Last year, Volpe focused on power, which hurt his contact rates. But this year, Volpe has gone too far in his quest for contact. He’s cut his pulled fly-ball rate over 50 percent from last season. He hit 11 home runs in 34 at-bats that ended with a pulled fly ball in 2023. This year, it’s down to three home runs in 11 at-bats. Volpe showed the benefits of pulling the ball in the air in Wednesday’s game: He split the left-center field gap for a two-run double to cut the Cincinnati Reds’ lead to 3-2 in the seventh inning.

Volpe Volt ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/XaP0WaZQCT

— New York Yankees (@Yankees) July 4, 2024

But his fly-ball rate is down over 7 percentage points this season. He’s hitting a groundball in over 50 percent of his plate appearances this year, up from 40.1 percent in 2023. The approach for Volpe coming into the season seems to have been trying to get an extreme amount of BABIP luck.

The strategy worked in the first two weeks of the season; Volpe looked like a star, but his BABIP was an unsustainable .448. Since becoming the team’s leadoff hitter, his BABIP is .307 and he’s no longer getting consistently good results. The main reason why is he frequently doesn’t hit the ball with much authority.

“He’s a guy that can hit for contact and I don’t want to say power — I want to say he’s a good hitter with power,” Yankees hitting coach James Rowson said. “What he’s doing right now is basically he’s learning how to use the whole field. He’s not a guy that has to try to hit home runs. He’s a guy who’s going to be able to be a really good hitter who’s going to be able to hit balls out of the ballpark when you make mistakes where he drives the ball. He’s not close to a finished product of what he’s going to be. I think this is a really good guy who’s at the early stages of becoming a really great hitter in the game.”

It’s still too early to determine whether Volpe will become a great hitter in MLB. Over his first 1,000 plate appearances in the big leagues, he’s been a below-average hitter. The ideal version of Volpe sees him marry good contact rates while not sacrificing much power. The fact that he hasn’t been able to maintain much of the power he displayed in his rookie season may suggest it’s not feasible. But the Yankees insist this year’s version of Volpe is a “way better hitter” than what he showed last year.

“I think what he’s going through and the adjustments he’s made are making him a better hitter,” Boone said. “Those other things will come along with experience and growth. What is he (23) years old now? He’s just scratching the surface. The reality is he’s doing a heck of a job. I’m really excited about the adjustments he has made that I think are going to be part of the process of getting him to that next level in being a complete hitter.”

(Photo: Luke Hales / Getty Images)

Yankees should consider moving Anthony Volpe down in the lineup to maximize production (1)Yankees should consider moving Anthony Volpe down in the lineup to maximize production (2)

Chris Kirschner is a staff writer for The Athletic covering the New York Yankees. He previously covered the Atlanta Hawks from 2018-2022 for The Athletic. Chris was named Georgia's Sportswriter of the Year in 2021 for his work covering the Hawks. Chris is a native of Bronx, NY. Follow Chris on Twitter @chriskirschner

Yankees should consider moving Anthony Volpe down in the lineup to maximize production (2024)
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