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Parsing Joe Girardi’s Lineup

The Yankees play their first full-squad game under Joe Girardi today in an exhibition against the University of South Florida. Among other things, this gives us our first glimpse of a Joe Girardi-penned Yankee lineup. Here’s how it looks:

L – Johnny Damon (LF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
S – Jorge Posasa (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
R – Shelley Duncan (DH)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

No real surprises there. In fact, one of the few things that can be gleaned from that lineup is that Girardi is indeed serious about giving Jason Giambi a shot to claim the first base job, thus opening DH up for Hideki Matsui full time. Notice that Matsui is absent from the above as he’s still rehabbing his knee. Once Matsui joins the action on or around March 9 (per the Star-Ledger‘s Ed Price), Girardi, who clearly prefers to alternate his righties and lefties throughout the order, will be forced to hit two lefties back-to-back.

The good news is that, other than Bobby Abreu, who is firmly ensconced between the two best right-handed hitters on the team, none of the Yankee lefties really struggle all that much against their own kind. Cano was largely neutralized by lefties in 2006, but last year he hit them better than righties (.328/.374/.490 v. L; .296/.344/.487 v. R). Damon hit lefties better than righties in 2006. Matsui absolutely crushed lefties back in 2005, doing most of his damage against them, and while Jason Giambi’s production does drop against lefties, he’s been so productive over the course of his career that he still has a career .855 OPS against portsiders.

In fact, if there’s one player on the team other than Abreu who might need to be kept away from lefties it’s Melky Cabrera, who has hit 13 of his 15 career home runs and all 10 of his major league triples against right-handed pitching (including one homer hit righty off a righty). Then again, if the idea is for Melky to make or break, forcing him to hit lefties might be a necessary part of the process.

Thus it may not matter how Girardi works Matsui into the lineup. Last year, Joe Torre hit him fifth with Giambi and Cano hitting seventh and eighth respectively. I’d like to see Cano hit higher in the order, possibly even serving as Alex Rodriguez’s protection, with Posada, Matsui, and Giambi to follow. If Girardi is willing to give up the ghost on alternating his lefties (though I generally approve of that strategy), a Posada-Cano-Matsui-Giambi order, despite it placing three consecutive lefties in front of Cabrera, might also be compelling.

Still, the lesson here is not to expect anything radical from Joe Girardi’s lineup construction. The top four seem set in stone and, honestly, until Cano proves himself worth of hitting third over the course of a full season, there’s no real reason to tinker with that structure. The Yankee offense is so potent and well-balanced that putting the hitters in order is an almost fool-proof exercise. The real trick is not how to order them, but how and when to rest them and whom to play in their stead on those occasions, and Girardi’s facility with that won’t become evident until the regular season is well underway.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the Yanks fair against USF today. According to Peter Abraham, the Red Sox swept a double-header against Boston College and Northeastern yesterday by a combined score of 39-0, drawing 27 walks in the process. It’s no wonder Tino told his old USF buddies to throw strikes today. Still, the Yankee starters will only play four or five innings and Kei Igawa is scheduled to pitch in the fifth, so I expect USF to fair a bit better than their Massachusetts counterparts.

In far more important news, Bobby Murcer is scheduled to undergo a biopsy on Monday as his doctors have detected something in his brain that is either scar tissue or another tumor. Obviously, we’re all rooting for scar tissue. I’m not, however, rooting for Bill Madden or the Daily News, who broke this story by publishing a personal email from Murcer’s wife under a sensational headline. No link for Bill, but good thoughts for Bobby.

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