With the ever rising cost of offense, more and more teams are looking to platoons as low-cost, high-reward options. The platoon is hardly a new managerial tool, but it seems as though there are more teams using the stat-heavy angle to leverage player’s stronger sides to enhance the team’s production–while also saving a penny or two in the process. Below is an in-depth, projected list of National League organizations and their respective platoons for 2013.
THIRD BASE -As much as the Braves like Juan Francisco‘s pop, it still looks like the Reds got the better end of the deal that sent him to Atlanta for power-reliever J.J. Hoover (208 ERA+ in 30.6 IP in ’12). But that’s a moot point. The Braves plan to use a combination of Francisco and Chris Johnson at third base to replace Chipper Jones. It was pretty evident last season that the 25 year-old was not a full-time player (88 OPS+ and 5.3% BB%), but he was, at least, better against RHP (.245/.291/.477) than he was versus LHP (.189/.225/.243). Also, all 9 of Francisco’s homeruns came against righties.
Using Chris Johnson in a traditional platoon might be a bad move, as the right-handed hitter is actually better against his own kind (career .283/.323/.452) than he is against southpaws (career .255/.294/.372). The 28 year-old enjoyed a better overall season than Francisco did in 2012, posting a 108 OPS+ and 15 HR. Even though Johnson was a minor piece in the deal that landed Justin Upton in Atlanta, with a giant void at third base, the hitter might become an integral part of the organization–at least for 2013.
LEFT FIELD - Juan Pierre once served as the dividing line between stat-head’s and non-stat-head’s definition of a “good” player. Stat-heads pointed to his lack of on-base skills, pop, and mediocre defense, while non-stat-heads applauded his scrappy-nature. Yet, in his old age, Pierre found a niche as a part-time player. As such for the Philles in 2012, the 34 year-old posted a .307/.351/.371 line with 37 SB in 439 PA’s and a -0.1 dWAR. The left-handed hitter did much of that damage versus RHP (.329/.374/.405 line in 370 PA’s), as he was clueless against southpaws (.190/.227/.190 line in 69 PA’s). It’s likely the Marlins signed him to be a low-cost RHP-masher. Hard to dislike the move, stat-head or non-stat-head.
It wasn’t too long ago that Gorkys Hernandez was considered a top prospect in baseball. Baseball America tabbed the outfielder as the 92nd best prospect pre-2008, and the 62nd rank in pre-2009. Hernandez was also included in two high-profile trades, being paired with Jair Jurrjens to the Braves for Edgar Renteria in 2007, and again in 2009, this time packaged with Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton to the Pirates for Nate McLouth. Without much pop (career .720 OPS) or patience (career 7.8% BB%), the 24 year-old’s only true asset is his speed (164 SB in 697 career MiLB games). But the Marlins also probably like his splits against lefties, as the righty owns a .295/.386/.415 career MiLB line against them. The combination of Pierre and Hernandez will surely make a speedy platoon.
CATCHER - It’s fair to assume that at the beginning of the 2012 season, Rob Brantly did not think he’d make it to the bigs. The 22 year-old catcher began 2012 in Double-A for the Tigers (.311/.359/.461 line in 195 PA’s), and was eventually promoted to Triple-A, where he did not fare well (.254/.295/.285 line in 139 PA’s). And with Alex Avila having a strong hold on the starting gig in Detroit, there was little reason to think Brantly would see action. Heck, even 2013 would seem like a stretch. But on July 23,
Brantly was shipped to the Marlins with Brian Flynn and Jacob Turner for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. Badly needing some offense–due to the lack of which from John Buck–the Marlins handed Brantly the majority of at-bats versus RHP. Given the backstop’s good career splits in the Minors (career .292/.334/.428 vs. RHP), his success against RHP for the Marlins shouldn’t have been that surprisingly. But regardless, his .313/.396/.513 line against far exceeded expectations. Brantly has to learn to hit lefties (career MiLB .259/.316/.323 line vs. LHP, 2012 MLB .200/.273/.250 line vs. LHP) a bit better before earning full-time duties, but time is on his side.
Perhaps the Marlins just want to get Jeff Mathis‘ sterling defense (career 6.8 dWAR) in the game, or don’t want to tire out youngster Rob Brantly, but let’s be clear: Jeff Mathis is a horrible hitter. Aside from owning a career 53 OPS+, the right-handed hitter is as bad versus lefties (career .209/.269/.337 line) as he is against righties (career .193/.250/.305 line). His .406 SLG against RHP pitching last season was his best clip since 2008 (.421 SLG), but it’s unlikely he can even maintain that rate. If and when the Marlins get sick of Mathis’ negative offensive contribution, watch the training wheels fly off of Rob Brantly.
RIGHT FIELD - The New York Mets right field platoon might be the worst in history. The organization plans to use Mike Baxter, a career .253/.354/.407 hitter, and Andrew Brown, a career .224/.284/.396 hitter, against RHP and LHP, respectively. Baxter has a little more Major League experience to speak of, but still barely enough put much weight in his splits. The 28 year-old owns a .275/.370/.440 line versus RHP in the bigs, but just a .277/.367/.370 line against them over the past two seasons in the Minors. With a small skill set as it is, there’s very little that could go right to outweigh what is likely to go wrong.
Andrew Brown is the more intriguing option given his three consecutive twenty-plus homerun seasons in the Minors. Brown’s 2012 stint in Triple-A was also his most fruitful, swatting a .308/.364/.597 line and 24 HR in 438 PA’s. The more eye-popping stat in 2012 may be his slash versus LHP, posting an impressive .284/.365/.608 line. The 28 year-old also hit well against LHP in 48 PA’s for the Rockies last season too, hitting to the tune of a .275/.375/.400 line. Brown will have to produce somewhere between his MLB and MiLB vs. LHP splits in order to merit the playing time he’s in position to receive.
CENTER FIELD - “Captain” Kirk Nieuwenhuis will likely be the Mets main man in center field in 2013. Kirk’s 2012 was a mixed-bag, posting a lackluster .252/.315/.376 overall line and 31.2% K%, but did enjoy two more-or-less solid months in April (.325/.386/.475 line and 2 HR in 88 PA’s) and June (.238/.281/.464 line and 5 HR in 90 PA’s). The 25 year-old will have to prove his health after tearing his plantar fascia in early-August, but will likely garner the lion’s share of PA’s versus RHP (.271/.324/.416 line against and 6 HR in 241 PA’s).
Collin Cowgill was acquired in the second trade the Mets conducted this off-season. The right-handed hitter hasn’t done much in the Majors (career .255/.319/.311 line in 216 PA’s), but does own a career .291/.371/.470 line, 10.1% BB%, and 16.4% K% in the Minors. Cowgill is considered a plus defender. The Mets will use the 26 year-old in a platoon with Kirk in center field, since Cowgill has hammered LHP over the past two seasons in the Minors (.281/.330/.536). But if Kirk struggles–which is likely, given his 2012 season–there’s a good chance Cowgill will just become the starter, as he also hit well against RHP in the Minors too (.327/.402/.457 line from 2011-12).
LEFT FIELD - Has there been an organizational that has shown more public and undeserved discontent with a top prospect than the Phillies and Domonic Brown? As recent as 2011, Brown was not only considered the Phillies top prospect, but also, a top five prospect in all of baseball (according to Baseball America, pre-2011). This was due to an explosive 2010 season, where the then 22 year-old posted a combined .327/.391/.589 line with 20 HR over 389 PA’s. But even though the young outfielder deserved a starting gig, the Phillies acquired Hunter Pence in a July 2011 trade to play right field, and Manager Charlie Manuel preferred using veterans like Raul Ibanez (91 OPS+ in 2011) and Juan Pierre (94 OPS+ in 2012) in left field.
Perhaps attributed to the constant shuttling back and forth between the Minors and Majors, as well as the obvious lack of confidence the organization showed in Brown, the former top prospect doesn’t appear to carry the same luster he once had. Despite the .310/.360/.473 line he posted in Triple-A this past season, he only collected 5 HR (in 261 PA’s). The left-handed hitter also only owns a mere .236/.315/.388 line in 492 career Major League PA’s. It’s likely Brown will finally be used in a more-or-less starting role–versus righties–but it’s a good bet the Phillies will keep him on a short leash.
John Mayberry Jr. was a nice surprise for the Phillies in 2011, when he swatted a 131 OPS+ with 15 HR over 296 PA’s. But 2012 wasn’t nearly as kind to the 29 year-old. Mayberry slumped to an 86 OPS+ and 14 HR over 479 PA’s, mostly in part to a horrid .229/.291/.335 line versus RHP. The outfielder also posted a 7.0% BB% and 23.1% K% in 2012, two rates that would need significant improvements looking ahead to 2013. With even splits in 2011, it seemed as though Mayberry could be a starting outfielder, but for now, the Phillies plan to platoon him versus LHP.
RIGHT FIELD - From a career perspective, Nate Schierholtz isn’t a platoon player; he’s been equally mediocre versus lefties (career .284/.317/.391 line) and righties (career .266/.319/.413 line). But in both 2011 and 2012, that changed. Schierholtz went from a fourth or fifth outfielder, to a viable vs. LHP platoon. The right-handed hitter has combined for a .279/.341/.458 line against LHP over the past two seasons, and subsequently, yielded a one-year, $2.25MM free-agent contract with the Cubs. The 29 year-old will get significant PA’s in 2013.
Scott Hairston has withstood an impressive volume of injuries since 2002, formally being placed on the disabled list seven times in the ten-year span. And while Hairston has never played a full-season in the Majors due to his knack for getting injured, the right-handed hitter did illustrate what he’s capable of when healthy–at least, versus left-handed pitching. The 32 year-old posted an overall 117 OPS+ over 398 PA’s, including a dominant .286/.317/.550 line versus southpaws. Yet, even though 2012 was arguably the righty’s best offensive season, the 32 year-old also walked a career-low clip (4.7% BB% versus prior career 7.1% BB%). Hariston also strikes out at an alarming rate for a part-time player (career 21.1% K%), so if 2013 turns out to be closer to 2011 (.247/.307/.395 line vs. LHP), he’ll be pretty useless.
RIGHT FIELD / FIRST BASE - When the Blue Jays traded Travis Snider to the Pirates last season, it was essentially a public admittance by the organization that “Travis Snider is a bust.” Snider was picked 14th overall in the 2006, but never amounted to much in the Majors (career 94 OPS+ in 1061 PA’s). And even though the left-handed hitter didn’t impress upon moving the NL (84 OPS+ in 145 PA’s), the 25 year-old might still play a significant role in the Pirates’ 2013 outfield. Over the past two seasons in the Minors, Snider has owned a fantastic .344/.422/.569 line against RHP. Even though there is a tremendous disparity between the former-prospect’s MiLB (career .308/.383/.528 line) and MLB (career .248/.309/.415 line) numbers, perhaps Snider will find a new life as a platoon player.
With back-to-back solid seasons for the Marlins (108 OPS+ in 2010 and 113 OPS+ in 2011), it appeared as though Gaby Sanchez would be the team’s starting first baseman for the next few seasons. Yet, after posting a horrid 51 OPS+ over his first 196 PA’s in 2012, the Marlins sent the 28 year-old packing. Sanchez improved moderately with the Pirates (101 OPS+ in 130 PA’s), but still seemed to lack the double-digit homerun power he had exhibited in years prior. Sanchez probably won’t get a chance to be a full-time starter in 2013, but the Pirates will likely take advantage of his career .291/.385/.484 line against LHP.
Garrett Jones has never been a productive hitter against LHP (career .198/.237/.353 line), which is why the Pirates will platoon him against RHP with Snider in right field, and Sanchez at first base. The 31 year-old Jones enjoyed his fourth consecutive double-digit homerun season in 2012, and best individual homerun total to boot. But even though Jones swatted 27 HR and posted a 129 OPS+, it’s worth noting that 92.5% of his homeruns came against right-handed pitching.
RIGHT FIELD - Will Venable has quietly been a valuable asset for the Padres over the past four seasons. Since 2009, Venable has owned a 107 OPS+, and averaged 21 SB. But as valuable as Venable has been, he can’t hit a lick versus LHP. The left-handed hitter owns a career .216/.295/.287 line vs. southpaws. And yes, his OBP is higher than his SLG. The Padres have done their best to limit Venable’s exposure to left-handed pitching over the years, so 2013 should be no different.
Chris Denorfia will finally find himself in a pure platoon versus LHP in 2013. Despite owning a career .317/.381/.451 line against LHP and .255/.314/.389 line against RHP, the Padres continued to feed him to the lions in 2010 (194 PA’s), 2011 (207 PA’s), and 2012 (185 PA’s). If Carlos Quentin can keep healthy, the Padres might be able to avoid using the 32 year-old Denorfia in a more or less full-time role.
LEFT FIELD - It’s possible that one of Gregor Blanco or Andres Torres will outright win the the left field gig for the San Francisco Giants in 2013, but the pair of mediocre outfield could also just share the job with their stronger side. Blanco has historically been a better hitter versus RHP (career .262/.358/.340 line) than against LHP (career .229/.325/.307 line), but he actually was pretty even against both righties (.242/.332/.335 line) and lefties (.248/.333/.361 line) in 2012. Blanco also has age (29 years-old) and speed (26 SB in 2012) going for him over Torres.
In 2010, when Andres Torres posted a 122 OPS+ in 570 PA’s for the Giants in his first full Major League season–despite being 32 years-old–it became a classic “underdog” story. Yet, when Torres follow-up his amazing display with perhaps a more indicative 84 OPS+, he immediately became expendable. The Giants shipped the maligned outfielder with reliever Ramon Ramirez to the Mets for Angel Pagan, a trade which quickly became an eye-roller for Mets fans. Torres looked like his insignificant 2011-self again in 2012, posting a 85 OPS+ over 434 PA’s.
After the season, the Mets non-tendered the 35 year-old, and the Giants ironically scooped him up on a Minor League deal. Even though Torres is technically a switch-hitter, he wasn’t particularly effective as a LHH (.195/.292/.310 line against RHP), so if he does have anything left in the tank in 2013, the Giants might only use him against LHP as a RHH (.286/.382/.381 line in 2012).