Even though most studies suggest that incremental changes in batting order position have minimal impact on run production, each slot still carries a certain connotation. Leadoff is usually reserved for a player with speed, while cleanup is the domain of a slugger. The third position, however, is the slot usually reserved for a team’s best hitter. As the Yankees enter the 2011 post season, Joe Girardi has decided that Robinson Cano is the hitter on his team who best fits that description, at least against right handed pitchers.
Cano’s elevation in the lineup not only represents a promotion for the second baseman, but it also constitutes a partial demotion for Mark Teixeira, who has primarily occupied the role over the last three seasons. Most teams coasting into the playoffs with their league’s best record usually don’t make significant changes at the end of the season, but Girardi should be commended for his willingness to reverse course at such a late stage. With consecutive MVP-caliber seasons under his belt, Cano has firmly established himself as one of the American League’s best players and arguably the most feared hitter in the Yankees lineup. Meanwhile, Teixeira has seen his overall production decline, particularly from the left side. On that basis alone, the lineup adjustment seems warranted, but when you consider the relative post season performance of each player, the switch makes even more sense (although that’s more of an indictment of Teixeira than complement to Cano).
Mark Teixeira vs. Robinson Cano, Post Season Performance
It remains to be seen whether Girardi’s lineup switch will be maintained after the 2011 post season, but regardless, Teixeira has had a pretty good run in the three-hole. Since 1919, the Yankees have had 183 players bat third, but only eight have been penciled into that slot more than Teixeira. What’s more, Teixeira is one of only six Yankees to primarily bat third in three consecutive seasons.
No Yankee has been slotted third in the starting lineup more often than Babe Ruth, whose uniform number three was derived from his spot in the batting order. After the Babe parted ways with the Yankees in 1934, the three-hole was more like a revolving door as 10 different hitters served as the primary occupant over the next 20 seasons. In 1954, Mickey Mantle was slotted third and remained there until 1961, when Roger Maris was penciled in ahead of him. Mantle would eventually return to being the Yankees’ primary third place hitter for four more seasons before retiring after the 1968 season.
In the late 1970s, Reggie Jackson may have been the straw that stirred the drink, but Thurman Munson was the batter who most frequently hit third. Unfortunately, his tenure was cut short by the tragic plane crash that took his life. Fittingly, the next Yankee to become a staple in the third slot was another team Captain. From 1984 to 1994, Don Mattingly was the team’s primary third place hitter in all but one season. However, in 1995, it was time to pass the torch to Paul O’Neill, who before Teixeira, was the last batter to predominately occupy the spot for three consecutive seasons.
The Yankees probably envisioned that Teixeira would bat third for most of his seven-year contract, but his grip on the coveted spot in the batting order has started to slip. Then again, if Wednesday night’s performance against the Rays is any indication, the Yankees’ first baseman isn’t likely to cede the position without a fight. Hopefully, that battle continues all the way through the World Series.