Lyle Overbay: Platoon Candidate

Overbay is a strong platoon candidate.

Garrett Jones is doing his job.

The Pittsburgh Pirates moved Jones to right field this year, and brought in Matt Diaz to platoon with Jones, utilizing the strength and favorable platoon splits for each player.  So far this season, that is working out favorably for Jones.

The left hander is batting for a .280/.393/.547 line on the season, with six homers in 75 at-bats.  That’s entirely fueled by his performance against right handers.  Jones currently has a .303/.425/.606 line against right handers, with all six of his homers in 66 at-bats.  Against left handers he is a mere 1-for-9.

The other side of the platoon hasn’t worked out so far.  Diaz, who hit for a .340/.384/.544 line against left handers from 2008-2010, has struggled in the early part of the 2011 season, going 1-for-16 against southpaws.  Diaz is hitting for a .273 average in 33 at-bats against right handers, although the average is empty, with a low on-base percentage (.294) and not a lot of power (.333 slugging percentage).

It’s too early to suggest a change, especially when we consider that Diaz has a whole career of success against left handers, and just 16 at-bats in his struggles against left handers in 2011.  Because Diaz is struggling, the platoon isn’t working as expected, although it’s definitely working for Jones.  The Pirates were willing to move Jones to that platoon role after just a year and a half of splits from him.  For that reason, it makes no sense that Lyle Overbay is currently a full time starter.

Overbay is also doing his job.  Correction.  Overbay would be doing his job, if his job was to serve in a platoon role.  In his career, which is almost 4000 at-bats long, he has an .836 OPS against right handers, and a .699 OPS against left handers.  So far this year, Overbay has a .267/.360/.373 line in 75 at-bats against right handers, with an 11:11 K/BB ratio.  Against left handers he has a .111/.172/.111 line, with an 8:2 K/BB ratio in 27 at-bats.

I can see why the Pirates wanted Overbay in a full time role, despite his obvious platoon splits.  His defense has been very strong, which justifies his struggles against left handers.  That hasn’t been the case this year.  His success against right handers in the early part of the season hasn’t been as strong as years past. His defense hasn’t looked elite, at least not to the point where it could make up for the poor hitting against left handers, and the struggles against right handers compared to Overbay’s normal numbers.

Just like with Diaz, it’s still early to worry about Overbay, although his leash should be shorter, since we’re not talking about 16 at-bats in this case.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many options available to assist Overbay.  Steve Pearce is the best option to platoon with him, although Pearce is struggling this year with his normal platoon stats, hitting for a .250/.308/.333 line in 12 at-bats against left handers.

There’s not really help on the way in the minors any time soon.  Matt Hague is strong defensively, and hits for average, although he’s suffered the same problems as Overbay, with success against right handers, and major struggles against left handers.  At best, Hague would be an average first baseman, and very comparable to Overbay.  Beyond Hague, Aaron Baker and Matt Curry seem to be the best options, although neither will be ready in time for the 2011 season, and the earliest either of them could be ready would be June 2012, which requires aggressive movement and success in the upper levels.

In the short term, the best option would be to platoon Overbay with Pearce, and hope that both players revert to their career platoon splits.  Overbay is obviously a platoon option, and his defense this year hasn’t been strong enough to ignore that trend.  If his early season struggles continue throughout the month of May, I don’t see how the Pirates can keep playing him as an everyday starter.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Anonymous

    Overbays defense is far superior to anyone the Pirates have right now for 1st bast, he makes a lot of plays look routine, yes he has had a couple of hiccups, but that defense relects on the pitching. Pearce did play reasonable defense at first base when he was given a chance last year, but there is still a big difference in defensive quality betweent the two.
    My suggestion would be to give Pearce some fill in time at first base, not a platoon at this time, Pearce needs to play some and first or third is the only places he can get playing time, doing this will give Overbay some rest.
    Don’t forget Pedro can’t hit left or right hand pitching right now, but the Pirates are content to let him swing until he gets it.
    Might even think about giving Wood a game or two at 1st base now and then.

    • Anonymous

      Like the idea of getting Wood ABs at 1b. I just don’t like Pearce at 1st, he doesnt look athletic enough and certainly doesnt have the size to add to his range or ability to stretch off the bag. I would love for him to become adequate in RF and be Jones’s platoon partner after getting some modest return in a Diaz trade.

      • Anonymous

        Obviously you have never seen Pearce play 1B if you question his ability to stretch for balls. And how is one not athletic enough for first base but suitable for RF?

        • Anonymous

          I have seen him play 1st and I see balls go over his head and to the left and right of him because he doesnt have the length or range at the position. With Walker still learning at 2nd that could leave awfully big holes through there. I’ll take my chances with a slug in Rf like Diaz at PNC its pretty small and opportunities to commit errors way less than 1B. My point is for a team lacking at defense putting a smaller man with his glove on his left hand who is marginal at best at the position is no way to. Pearce needs to learn to play OF if wants reg ABs in the bigs.

  • http://twitter.com/cbar30 Corey Barcus

    This article is why you are not/never will be/never should be a major league manager, GM, scout, or coach of any kind. You are aware we are only a month into the season. Just chill. All your articles are like chicken little (the sky is falling, the sky is falling). Its insane. Just last week you do an article on “whats wrong with Andrew McCutchen”, then he jacks 2 hr’s in two days and hits the cover off the ball. Again, just chill……..

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      1. I have no desire to do any of those jobs.
      2. I’ve been saying this about Overbay since he was signed.
      3. I didn’t write the McCutchen article. That was Matt Bandi, and it was hardly a “sky is falling” article. I’m guessing you just looked at the title, and didn’t read it.