The lone move the Pittsburgh Pirates made on day two was the signing of outfielder Matt Diaz. The Pirates were reported to have interest in Diaz last week after he was non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves. The signing of Diaz raises an interesting question about how the Pirates will handle their starting first base and right field positions in 2011, and whether they will employ a platoon situation.
Diaz is very similar to recently departed outfielder Lastings Milledge. The signing doesn’t really upgrade the Pirates, considering all of the similarities between the two players. In fact, it could provide a downgrade, considering that Diaz is 33, had a down year in 2010, and Milledge is 26 and was improving against left handers in 2010. Just like Milledge, Diaz won’t be a strong every day right fielder. His defense, in limited playing time, has been poor at the position, and he struggles against right handed pitching. That’s why Diaz would be best used in a platoon.
Diaz is a career .335/.373/.533 hitter against left handers, compared to a .269/.327/.382 hitter against right handers. He’s received most of his career playing time in the last five years with Atlanta. His yearly breakdown:
2006 – Good numbers against RHP (.358/.400/.477 in 151 AB) and good numbers against LHP (.295/.327/.473 in 146 AB) led to a .327/.364/.475 line in 297 at-bats.
2007 – Power numbers struggled against RHP, but average was good (.318/.350/.406 in 170 AB). Strong against LHP (.356/.384/.580 in 188 AB) leading to an overall .338/.368/.497 line.
2008 – Poor numbers against RHP (.159/.182/.175 in 63 AB) but good numbers against LHP (.319/.338/.417 in 72 AB) in an injury shortened season led to a .244/.264/.304 line.
2009 – More bad results against RHP (.255/.349/.400 in 235 AB), compared to great results against LHP (.412/.464/.640 in 136 AB) led to a .313/.390/.488 season.
2010 – More poor numbers against RHP (.223/.283/.350 in 103 AB) and good numbers against LHP (.273/.318/.512 in 121 AB) led to a .250/.302/.438 line.
Diaz had good results in 2006 against right handers. His average was good in 2007, but his power dropped. In 2008-2010 his numbers against right handers were poor. In each season from 2006-2010, he was good against left handers, with 2010 being his worst season.
The Pirates have a few players on the roster similar to Diaz:
-Garrett Jones is a career .282/.359/.495 hitter in 655 at-bats against right handers. He struggles against left handers, with a .210/.249/.381 line in 328 at-bats.
-John Bowker is a career .248/.302/.420 hitter in 491 at-bats against right handers. He’s horrible against left handers, with a .132/.158/.151 line in a small 53 at-bat sample size.
-Steve Pearce is a career .304/.372/.557 hitter in 115 at-bats against left handers. He’s got a .211/.286/.320 line in 256 at-bats against right handers.
-Ryan Doumit is a switch hitter, but has been better as a left hander against right handed pitching. He’s a career .272/.336/.461 hitter in 1301 at-bats against right handers as a lefty. He’s a career .256/.321/.373 hitter in 442 at-bats as a right handed hitter against left handers.
Pearce and Diaz have both been strong against left handed hitting, but have struggled against right handed hitting. The best options to complement them are Garrett Jones and Ryan Doumit. There is a chance that Doumit could be traded this off-season, at which point Bowker would step in as the new option.
The Pirates could go find an every day first baseman or right fielder, although it’s unlikely they find two options capable of starting full time without the use of a platoon. A platoon is a great way for teams like the Pirates to maximize the production out of a position, without pulling a Washington Nationals and spending $126 M on an everyday player.
The Pirates could pair Jones (.282/.359/.495 vs RHP) and Pearce (.304/.372/.557 vs LHP) together at first base. Looking at their career numbers, they could combine to put up a very strong year from the position. They could also pair Diaz (.335/.373/.533 vs LHP) and either Doumit (.272/.336/.461 vs RHP) or Bowker (.248/.302/.420 vs RHP) and get a similar effect in right field. Out of that group, the Doumit/Bowker duo is the one I would be the most concerned over. Doumit’s defense in right field would be horrible, and Bowker hasn’t really been good against right handers, he’s just been much better than his horrid numbers against left handers.
Multiple platoon situations raise the question as to whether a team can afford to have two spots on the bench taken up by platoon players. I don’t feel that would be an issue for the Pirates. Most of their starters are young. Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, and Jose Tabata will all get everyday playing time. They will obviously need a backup catcher, a backup middle infielder, and a backup corner infielder, but they don’t exactly need an outfielder specifically to spell McCutchen and Tabata, as one of the platoon players could fill that role if needed.
The platoon situation doesn’t really impact the bench either. If the Pirates had an everyday first baseman, they’d still have one of the platoon options on the bench. The only difference is that the platoon option wouldn’t see as much playing time, and wouldn’t get regular starts in favorable match-ups.
None of the individual options are overly exciting, as none of them stand out as an everyday player. However, if platooned together, the Pirates could piece together a respectable lineup. The top spots are already occupied with McCutchen, Tabata, Walker, and Alvarez, so it’s not like the platoon positions would be expected to carry the lineup. My preference would be for the Pirates to add someone better than Doumit/Bowker for the right field platoon, or add an everyday first baseman to create a Diaz/Jones platoon. That said, based on the current roster, the best approach would be platoons at first base and right field.
-The Pirates are making a lot of offers to relievers. They offered a deal to J.J. Putz before he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for two years and $10 M. They currently have an offer out to Kevin Gregg. They’re strongly pursuing Jeremy Accardo. They’ve also shown interest in Hiroyuki Kobayashi and Aaron Heilman, both as relievers. It should be noted that they were linked to Putz, Gregg, and Accardo last year. I’ll be writing about their pursuit of bullpen arms tomorrow morning.
-The Pirates inquired on Orlando Cabrera, although they are not interested.
-With Correia and Scott Olsen on the verge of officially signing, the Pirates’ interest in Kenshin Kawakami has probably cooled.
-The Pirates haven’t approached Andrew McCutchen about a long term deal yet.
-Pat also looks at the future of the rotation after the Correia/Olsen signings.
-Matt at Pittsburgh Lumber Company has an interesting look at how Correia’s home run totals translate to PNC Park.
-Jesse Behr has a quote from Kevin Correia about the Pirates from when he was with the Padres.