American League: Projected Platoons for 2013

American League platoon With the ever rising cost of offense, more and more teams are looking to platoons as a low-cost, high-reward alternative. Even though penny-pinching organizations like the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays have long been using the platoon, now even bigger market teams–like the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, and Boston Red Sox–are beginning to join the fray. Below is an in-depth, projected list of the organizations and their respective platoons for 2013.

Baltimore Orioles:

LEFT FIELD – Nate McLouth quickly went from a hot young player to mysterious dud. After posting a combined 116 OPS+ and 6.6 WAR between 2007 and 2009 (ages 25-27), the left-handed hitting outfielder plummeted to a mere 79 OPS+ and -2.9 WAR over the next two seasons. The Atlanta Braves non-tendered McLouth, enabling him to sign a Minor League deal with the Pirates–the organization that originally drafted and raised him. The reunion didn’t last long, however, as McLouth continued with his strangely unproductive ways, swatting a 10 OPS+ in 62 PA’s.

Orioles NewsYet, the Baltimore Orioles threw the 30 year-old McLouth a lifeline, and it paid off. Over the course of his next 236 PA’s, McLouth enjoyed a fruitful 111 OPS+ and 0.8 WAR. Even though it was still a far cry from his 2008-self (125 OPS+ in 685 PA’s), the outfielder trotted onto the free-agent market as a borderline Major League-worthy option. The Orioles rewarded McLouth with a one-year, $2MM deal, but the lefty will still most likely platoon with Nolan Reimold in left-field, as McLouth only posted a .197/.293/.288 line against LHP, while obviously faring better against RHP (.255/.321/.410 line against).

Nolan Reimond has overcome a barrage of injuries and ineffectiveness to be where he is today–but he still has a ways to go. In 2009, Reimold was more or less handed the starting left-field gig, and produced a promising 116 OPS+ as a rookie. The Orioles eagerly tabbed the 26 year-old as a starter the following season, but he floundered–swatting a mere 67 OPS+ in 131 PA’s. His 401 PA’s in Triple-A were hardly impressive either, posting a .738 OPS and just 10 HR. Going into Spring Training, few expected much from Reimold, but he surprised doubters with a solid 111 OPS+, and smacked a .258/.353/.478 line against RHP.

The 28 year-old entered 2012 as the starting left-fielder, and through the month of April, looked like the real deal. Reimold posted a career-high 154 OPS+ with 5 HR, before succumbing to a painful neck injury, which required season-ending surgery. Even though Reimold’s career vs. LHP (.258/.336/.438 line against) and RHP (.263/.339/.465 line against) splits are pretty even, the Orioles will likely use him primarily against LHP in a platoon with McLouth. It’s possible that if either player truly has a terrific Spring, one of them could end-up with the full-time left-field gig.

DESIGNATED HITTER – The Orioles became Wilson Betemit‘s seventh organization in his ten-year career in 2012, after signing a two-year, $3.25MM contract. Even though Betemit is technically a switch-hitter, he has never fared well against LHP as a RHH (career .228/.285/.352 line against), and 2012 wasn’t any different (.140/.219/.186 line against). Yet, despite the 31 year-old’s trouble against LHP, the infielder basks in joy against RHP. In 280 PA’s last season, Betemit posted a .302/.357/.502 line against, including 11 HR. Even though there doesn’t seem to be much competition at DH, there’s a good chance the Orioles will still platoon Betemit with Danny Valencia, who has some success against LHP.

The Baltimore Orioles un-glamorously acquired Danny Valencia by purchasing him from the Boston Red Sox on November 28, 2012. Valencia was never considered a top prospect, but he did post a 119 OPS+ as a 25 year-old in 322 PA’s for the Minnesota Twins back in 2010. Yet between 2011 and 2012, the infielder combined for a horrid 75 OPS+ over 769 PA’s. Valencia’s saving grace is his ability to smack around LHP (career .316/.359/.472 line against), though that wasn’t the case in 2012 (.226/.214/.377 line against). If Valencia can return to his 2011 vs. LHP levels (.309/.352/.470 line against), the Orioles might have a nice, cheap designated hitter platoon.

Boston Red Sox:

CATCHER – Jarrod Saltalmacchia‘s homerun total in 2012 tends to get a lot of people’s attention. Sure, the 27 year-old catcher smacked 25 dingers, but it was at the cost of 139 strikeouts, a .222 BA, and a poor walk rate (8.4%). Similar to Betemit, Salty is a bad switch-hitter, as he cannot hit LHP for the life of him (career .203/.256/.335 line against). And even though the young backstop enjoyed his best offensive season to-date, he only managed a .170/.211/.283 line against LHP. Needless to say, the Red Sox will most certainly use Salty in a platoon with off-season acquisition David Ross.

Braves NewsThe Boston Red Sox surprisingly struck early in free-agency, inking long-time Braves backup catcher David Ross to a two-year, $6.2MM contract. The move raised some eyebrows, but Ross’s contribution on defense and 119 OPS+ from 2009 to 2012 proved to be solid deciding factors.

Even though the Red Sox figure to use Ross as platoon vs. LHP, the 35 year-old is hardly as lefty-masher. In his career, the catcher owns a .244/.325/.438 clip against southpaws, and only mustered a .241/.307/.405 line against in 2012. As far as platoons go, the pairing of Salty and Ross isn’t a traditionally strong one, yet substituting Ross’s mediocre–but still superior, compared to Salty’s–line vs. LHP, as well as his strong defense will still make for better catcher production in 2013 than what the organization had in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Tampa Bay Rays NewsDESIGNATED HITTER- Luke Scott seemed like a good buy-low candidate for the Rays last off-season after slumping from a 144 OPS+ in 2010 to a 90 OPS+ in 2011. While the outspoken outfielder/DH was slightly better in 2012 (101 OPS+)–despite making two trips to the DL–he was still a far cry from the guy who averaged 25 HR from 2008-2010. Yet, with a career .270/.353/.502 line against RHP, the 34 year-old still provides some instant value for the Rays in 2013.

Ryan Roberts shocked fans (and probably Kevin Towers too) when he swatted a career-best 108 OPS+ and 19 HR over 555 PA’s in 2011. His .275 BABIP (vs. career .294 BABIP) supported the outburst, as it more or less mirrored his 2009 production (103 OPS+, 7 HR over 351 PA’s), albeit, in 200 less PA’s. But the 31 year-old just couldn’t find his stroke in 2012.

After posting a mere 76 OPS+, the Diamondbacks dealt Roberts to the Rays in late-July for a minor leaguer. Roberts didn’t fare too much better in Tampa, posting a 81 OPS+ over 209 PA’s. Looking ahead to 2013, the Rays are hoping the infielder can team-up with Scott, and be a force versus LHP (career .259/.341/.434 line against). It’s a pretty risky platoon for the Rays, but things always seem to workout for them.

SECOND BASE – Kelly Johnson has been pretty mediocre over the past two seasons (combined 88 OPS+), but for a middle-infielder, he still has good pop (averaged 16 HR since 2007). To-date, his best season was in 2010, when he posted a 127 OPS+ and 26 HR for the Arizona Diamondbacks–production the Rays hope Johnson can channel again.

Even though KJ still has good homerun power for a middle-infielder, his rising strikeout rate (an 11.8% spike since 2009) and declining contact rate (a 13.0% decrease since 2009) make it difficult for an organization–even the Rays–to give him a full-time gig. If Johnson struggles against LHP like he did in 2012 (.201/.297/.309 line against), it’s likely the Rays will turn to Sean Rodriguez to steal at-bats in a platoon.

There’s very little an organization can do with Sean Rodriguez and his career .225/.301/.356, 83 OPS+. While Rodriguez is better known for his glove (career 4.5 dWAR),  2012 was still his worst season with at least 300 PA’s. Rodriguez has seen three-year decreases in OPS+ (from 95 to 93 to 71) and BA (from .251 to .223 to .213), and never was much of a patient hitter (career 7.5 BB% and 21.3% K%).

Yet, the 27 year-old does own a career .252/.362/.389 line against LHP, which might come into handy if Kelly Johnson presumably struggles against southpaws. If KJ has a renaissance season, look for Rodriguez to go the way of Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson.

Rays NewsFIRST BASE – Inking low-cost, high-ceiling players like Kelly Johnson and Luke Scott is a Rays trademark–which is why the addition of James Loney was so befuddling. Unlike the above pair, Loney has not been a viable offensive option since 2007, when he posted a 134 OPS+. Since then, the 28 year-old has combined for a 99 OPS+, and swatted a career-low 73 OPS+ in 2012. The lefty does hit RHP well, owning a career .294/.351/.441 line against, but only managed a .257/.305/.357 line against them last season. It’s likely the Rays will platoon Loney with the recently-acquired Shelley Duncan, but the pair is an early favorite for the least productive platoon in 2013.

Shelley Duncan’s best year came around in 2011, when he posted a 125 OPS+ and 11 HR in 247 PA’s for the Indians. Interestingly enough, the right-handed hitter fared better against his own kind (.273/.331/.587 line) than LHP (.245/.316/.363). Duncan’s career line against LHP is slightly better (.243/.319/.428), but it’s barely good enough to use in an exclusive platoon. Given the 33 year-old’s sub-par 2012 season (90 OPS+ in 264 PA’s), it’s unlikely he’ll stick with the organization for the whole year.

Kansas City Royals:

SECOND BASE – Aside from three double-digit SB seasons (2009 through 2011), with a career 71 OPS+ and forgettable -0.7 dWAR, Chris Getz is barely worthy of a Major League roster spot. Yet, the Royals still plan to use the 28 year-old in a platoon versus RHP–despite the hitter faring just as “well” against righties (career .253/.313/.314 line) as he does against lefties (.270/.317/.320). To Getz’ credit, the infielder is coming off his “best” season, where he posted a 85 OPS+ in 210 PA’s, and a .291/.331/.383 line against RHP. But it’s still debatable whether he’s worth handing the lion’s share of PA’s to in a platoon.

Johnny Giavotella hasn’t had much success in the Majors (career 67 OPS+ in 376 PA’s), but his career Minor League line is a promising .308/.380/.443. And even though his Minor League splits versus righties (.333/.394/.493) and lefties (.327/.404/.435) are pretty even, the Royals will likely use him against LHP in a platoon with Getz. At age 25, Giavotella has at least two more seasons before the organization writes him off as Minor League fodder, so he’ll likely get a long look at second base in 2013.

Oakland Athletics:

A's NewsDESIGNATED HITTER – As expected, Seth Smith smacked around RHP for the Athletics in 2012, posting a prolific .259/.352/.454 line. Even though it was inferior to his career split (.283/.361/.503 line against), the combination of his production against RHP, and Jonny Gomes‘ against LHP (.299/.413/.561) made for a fierce platoon. Smith will once again be the A’s designated hitter option vs. RHP, but this year, he’ll be paired with the recently acquired Chris Young.

The A’s might have lost a great LHP-masher in Jonny Gomes, but that’s only because Billy Beane acquired Chris Young in a trade from the Diamondbacks to take his place. The 29 year-old is coming off a bad 2012 season, where he posted a mere 95 OPS+ over 3623 PA’s, but he still managed to swat a .267/.343.467 line against LHP. Crushing southpaws is nothing new to Young, as he owns a .271/.371/.489 career line against them. Not that it matters in terms of being a DH, but Young is also a plus fielder (career 5.7 dWAR).

CATCHER – Some people were astonished when the Athletics acquired John Jaso from the Seattle Mariners this off-season. Prior to acquiring Jaso, it appeared as though the A’s had paved the way for 23 year-old Norris when they cleared Kurt Suzuki in August. Alas, the A’s couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add Jaso to their depth chart. The 29 year-old enjoyed a fantastic season in Seattle, swatting a 144 OPS+ over 361 PA’s. His superb 15.5% BB% and respectable 14.1% K% fit perfectly within the Athletics’ credo.

Yet, it’s important to note that 85.3% of Jaso’s PA’s last season were against RHP (.302/.419/.508 line), as he couldn’t hit a lick versus LHP (.119/.250/.143 line in 52 PA’s). If Norris can duplicate his Minor League success (career .252/.394/.461 line), the A’s will have an extremely exciting catching platoon in 2013.

Derek Norris was one of the four prospects the Athletics received in the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals in 2011. Of those four prospects, only two remain, as the A’s have already dealt A.J. Cole (for John Jaso) and Brad Peacock (for Jed Lowrie) this off-season.

Considering the A’s also dealt Max Stassi (their other top catching prospect) in the Lowrie deal, it obvious the A’s have a lot of confidence in Norris. Even though the youngster struggled a bit in 232 PA’s for the Athletics last season (73 OPS+), he did fare pretty well against LHP in the Minors (.245/.331/.478). Even with Jaso in the picture, the 23 year-old Norris is still considered the “catcher of the future,” but in the meantime, he’ll sit versus RHP.

Seattle Mariners:

DESIGNATED HITTER – In an attempt to address their power hitting woes, the Mariners acquired Kendrys Morales from the Angels in exchange for Jason Vargas. Whether or not Vargas’ solid innings are more valuable than Morales’ pop, the slugger’s career 119 OPS+ and career .290/.345/.515 line against RHP is certainly an asset in its own right.  Even though the 29 year-old is technically a switch-hitter, his pathetic .250/.286/.416  line as a RHP (vs. LHP) will limit his 2013 PA’s.

As bad as Morales might be against LHP,  there’s a good chance it will still be more productive than whatever Jason Bay might provide. After becoming a complete enigma for the New York Mets, the team cut their losses, and made the 34 year-old a free agent. While Bay boasts a fruitful .275/.386/.502 line against LHP in his career, the former slugger could only muster a .172/.264/.301 line against southpaws in 2012. It’s likely Bay is toast, so expect Morales to pick-up the slack.

Texas Rangers:

CATCHER – At age 35, A.J.Pierzynski Pierzynskiproduced his most productive Major League season. In 520 PA’s the free-spirited-catcher posted career-highs in OPS+ (118), homeruns (27), and BB% (5.45 BB%). Yet, the veteran was only able to ink a one-year, $7.5MM deal in free agency. On top of that, Pierzynski is projected to platoon with incumbent Geovany Soto. How is the possible?

Career year aside, Pierzynski still struggled mightily against LHP (.248/.283/.389), but of course, tortured RHP to the tune of a .287/.338/.536 line against. With Soto stealing most, if not all PA’s versus LHP, it will be difficult for Pierzynski to market himself as anything but a platoon after the year.

In 2008 (119 OPS+) and 2010 (135 OPS+), Geovany Soto appeared to be one of the top young catchers in the game. But since 2010, Soto has combined for a mere 82 OPS+, and a pathetic 64 OPS+ in 2012 alone. Injuries might be a factor, but a decreasing LD% (from 24.4% LD% in 2010 to 18.8% in 2011 to 20.8% in 2012) and BB% (from 16.0% BB% in 2010 to 9.5% in 2011 to 8.3% in 2012), and increasingly poor eye (from 16.9% O-Swing% in 2010 to 22.5% in 2011 to 25.0% in 2012) paint a clearer picture of his demise.

Soto didn’t even hit well against LHP in 2012 (.239/.302/.375), so it’s obvious the Rangers are just hoping the 30 year-old can somehow find his former-lefty-mashing-self (career .295/.390/.501 line against LHP).

CENTER FIELD – John Sickels ranked Leonys Martin as the  third best prospect in the Texas Rangers system, based on his ever-progressing power (from .783 OPS in 2011 to 1.033 OPS in 2012) and stellar glove. Heck, in 260 PA’s at Triple-A last season, the 24 year-old posted a .359/.422/.610 line with 12 HR. What’s not to like? Even though Martin has struggled a bit in a few cups of coffee (combined 66 OPS+ between 2011 and 2012), 60 PA’s is hardly enough time to pass judgement on a player.

Given the disparity between his Major and Minor League stats, it’s likely he’ll be paired with Craig Gentry in center field, as Martin smoked RHP in the minors (career .330/.400/.532 line against). That said, since Martin has a far higher upside than Gentry, it’s possible the former will supplant the latter entirely.

Craig Gentry quietly had a productive season in 2012. Mostly due to wielding a mighty glove (1.8 dWAR), the right-handed hitter posted a 2.8 WAR last season. In addition, the 29 year-old’s 100 OPS+ was 15 points better than his clip the year before, much due to his spike in doubles (from 5 in 2011 to 12 in 2012). Since the Rangers want to get Martin in the lineup, it’s likely Gentry will just handle LHP in 2013. Luckily for him, he owns a career .294/.364/.392 clip against them.

New York Yankees

DESIGNATED HITTER – It seemed only appropriate that the geriatric-friendly New York Yankees inked Travis Hafner to a Major League contract, and handed him, more or less, a leading DH role. Hafner’s injury history–especially in the last few seasons–rivals the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. So why even bother? With a whole heck of a lot of money tied up to Alex Rodriguez, it’s obvious the Yankees couldn’t afford to sign a David Ortiz-type to fill the void. To the Yanks’ credit, the 35 year-old Pronk crushes RHP (career .287/.391/.534 line), even though his 2012 clip (.241/.361/.437 line) wasn’t as impressive. It’s also important to note that Hafner hasn’t collected over 500 PA’s since 2007.

A guy with a career 88 OPS+ should never be slotted into a designated hitter role. Yet, the Yankees plan to do just that with Eduardo Nunez–at least, versus LHP. The light-hitting infielder, who enjoyed a career year in 2012 (96 OPS+), will likely steal at-bats from Hafner versus southpaws, as he owns a career .298/.332/.436 line against them. Granted, while Nunez only has 202 career PA’s against left-handed pitching, Pronk posted a miserable .197 BA against them in 2012–so using Nunez might be necessary, albeit odd, evil.