First Pitch: Will a Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez Platoon Work?

Garrett Jones is currently projected to be part of a platoon at first base. -- Image Credit: Mark Olson

Garrett Jones is currently projected to be part of a platoon at first base. — Image Credit: Mark Olson

For the third year in a row, the Pittsburgh Pirates are projected to enter the season with a platoon at one of their positions. Right now we’re assuming that will be Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez at first base. This could change if Jones is traded over the off-season.

In 2011 the Pirates went with a platoon of Jones and Matt Diaz in right field. On paper it looked like it would work. Diaz had a history of success against left-handers, and Jones was successful against right-handers. Jones did his part in the platoon, hitting for an .808 OPS against right handers, and struggling with a .460 OPS against left handers. The problem was that Diaz saw some major struggles against left handers.

In 2012 Jones moved to first base and platooned with Casey McGehee. McGehee was a similar situation as Diaz, although McGehee was coming off a down year against lefties. After a .947 OPS in 2010 against lefties, McGehee hit for a .413 OPS in 2011 in 124 at-bats. In 2012 both players did their parts. McGehee hit for an .807 OPS against left-handers, while Jones hit for an .888 OPS against right-handers. The problem this time was that Jose Tabata and Alex Presley both struggled in the outfield. That moved Jones to right-field and gave McGehee everyday playing time and 200 plate appearances against right-handers, with a .616 OPS.

In his career, Jones had a .279/.348/.504 line against right-handers and a .198/.237/.353 line against left-handers. Sanchez has a .291/.385/.484 line in his career against left-handers and a .248/.314/.398 line in his career against right-handers. If you combine those career ratios, and give Jones 425 plate appearances and Sanchez 125, you get a .282/.356/.500 line.

On paper, the combo looks good. By comparison, current free agent Adam LaRoche had a .271/.343/.510 line last year with Washington. LaRoche had more slightly power, but the Jones/Sanchez line above had the slightly better OPS due to the on-base percentage. Mike Napoli had a .227/.343/.469 line last year, and a .259/.356/.507 in his career. The Jones/Sanchez combo is better than the 2012 Napoli. The career Napoli has slightly better power, and the same OBP, edging Jones and Sanchez out by seven OPS points. He also comes with injury concerns.

The key here is that this is on paper. As we’ve seen the last two years, the on paper predictions don’t always play out. With all of the outfield options the Pirates have (Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley, and now Jerry Sands), I don’t think they will run into last year’s problem with Jones having to move to right-field and Sanchez playing first base every day. If they did, the Pirates could bring up Clint Robinson. That might not be a favorable situation, but if Jones is needed in the outfield then Clint Robinson’s inexperience will be the least of the worries for the Pirates.

It’s more likely that the Pirates could run into a 2011 situation. In that year Diaz failed to live up to his platoon splits. The right-hander in a platoon gets significantly less playing time, which can lead to small sample size variations. Diaz struggled in 2010 against lefties, so there were signs that he might have been on the decline. Sanchez didn’t have his career numbers in 2012. He had a .729 OPS in 96 at-bats. I don’t think that’s a sign of a decline, but it is a sign that a small sample of at-bats can bring a variation of numbers. I’ll also point out that Sanchez improved across the board after coming to Pittsburgh. That included his splits, which went up to a .799 OPS against lefties in an even smaller sample of 42 at-bats.

Another big thing to consider is that platoons don’t work out perfectly. Jones isn’t going to get all of his plate appearances against right-handers. Sanchez isn’t going to get all of his plate appearances against left-handers. To factor that in, I gave each player 100 plate appearances against their platoon opposite. Adding those (very poor) results to the combined numbers above gets a .269/.339/.472 line. That’s if each player stays healthy, plays around their career averages, and gets around that playing time (425/75 R/L for Jones, 75/125 R/L for Sanchez). Getting a combined .811 OPS isn’t bad. Last year the MLB average at first base was .766, and the NL average was .761.

The more I look at Jones, and the more I look at the makeup of the team, the more I think the Pirates should just keep Jones. That’s a bigger topic, and probably something I’ll look at over the weekend.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!

**Update on the Pirates Prospects Job Postings.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Four Hits For DeJesus.

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.zielinski.169 Steve Zielinski

    Keeping Jones makes sense if the Pirates cannot trade him for a high-quality prospect that would soon make it to the major leagues.

    The fans want improvement at the major league level. As we recently saw, some fans criticized the Hanrahan deal because it was a salary dump trade. The Pirates are not likely to improve on Jones this year either through a trade or a free agent signing — unless they adopt the KC strategy. These facts make Jones more valuable to the Pirates than he would be to most if not to every other team.

    • https://profiles.google.com/116255365477483987850 jalcorn

      Please do not adopt the KC strategy, ever.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        jalcorn….amen brother on the KC ‘model’!

        Also, I am all for keeping Jones. I’m only trading him if we get one hellacious return….and that ain’t happening!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=661881564 Bob Smith

    Im all for trading Jones in a package with mckenry for.a shortstop real prospect and signing napoli to backup catch and play first base with Gabby but im dreaming…even though financially it would barely put is over 70 mil payroll

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=661881564 Bob Smith

      Forgot to add this would free a spot on roster to carry a guy like d’arnoud who can fly for situational insertion to steal a base…even though clint who I love doesnt do that

      • https://profiles.google.com/106319534587520336922 Rick Peluso

        Going off Napoli’s recent deal,13 MM/year for a backup catcher in Pittsburgh…..yeah that will happen, not to mention that Napoli might want to be a starter. And if Hanrahan and Holt couldn’t even return Boston’s all glove no bat SS Iglesias I’m pretty sure we won’t get a “shortstop real prospect” for a backup catcher and GI, even at his peak value.
        By the way, you don’t carry a player to be a situational pinch runner, you just don’t. Do not be critical of Hurdle for avoiding those moves, d’Arnaud will make it to Pittsburgh if he figures it out with the bat and glove not because he can steal bases.

  • leadoff

    The Pirates do not have any positions of real need, IMO, trading him is not necessary and if they trade him they might end up with a someones top ten prospect if they are lucky. Jones and Sanchez in addition to the batting line would also figure to hit about 30 Hrs. They can’t trade for that or buy that on the open market. They are either deep at every position or solid at every position, of course they don’t have another Alvarez for 3rd base, but no team in baseball has 2 starters for every position and given the economics of baseball, I think we are lucky we have what we have.

  • jg941

    Great breakdown as usual, Tim (and probably the right conclusion), but you left out one essential part of the formula – whether the manager uses the platoon(s) the right way.

    I’m sure you assumed that was a ‘given’, but there were far too many times this year that the manager had the wrong player in the wrong situation.

    Poor in-game/in-situation management of these platoons can certainly reduce their effectiveness, even when the players are holding up their end of it.

  • leadoff

    Could not agree more, Hurdle has a way of over managing. Pinch hitting for a guy in the 5th inning with one of his famous double shifts throws platooning out the window.

  • piratemike

    Why does a GM go through the trouble to assemble a team then allow the manager to disregard what had to be a team concept that everybody had to be on board with?
    I like Hurdles personality but his use of players and game strategy sucks.
    A strong GM shouldn’t allow that crap to go on or should have done a better job vetting Hurdle.

    • leadoff

      Most GM’s don’t supervise in game activity. I did hear Huntington say that he does not tell the manager who to play.

      • piratemike

        I understand that a GM isn’t going to hover over a mgr’s shoulder and make out a batting order every day.
        What I am talking about is that they must have meetings and discusions about the roster and how those players are going to be used. If Hurdle has a problem with a player on the roster and doesn’t want to use him the way he was brought on board for then those problems should be worked out before the season starts.
        If Hurdle isn’t using Sanchez the way he is supposed to be used after the meetings and discusions

        • piratemike

          sorry,,,,contnue….Then he should be made to answer to NH more than I just had a hunch to play this guy.

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/johnrussellskinner johnrussellskinner

    All in all the order looks much better than the previous 2 years. You can see the progress being made in my opinion. Just please keep Jones!

    1. Marte
    2. Walker
    3. McCutchen
    4. Jones/Sanchez
    5, Alvarez
    6. Snider
    7. Martin
    8. Barmes

    SP

    1. Burnette
    2. Rodriguez
    3. McDonald
    4. Liriano
    5. Locke/McPherson

    • http://www.facebook.com/steve.zielinski.169 Steve Zielinski

      6. Snider/Tabata

      Especially if Tabata arrives in camp in better condition and better able to hit than he did last season.

      • leadoff

        I still think there will be more moves IMO, the lineup still needs a leadoff hitter.

    • http://www.facebook.com/backwardnikomahs Kirk Weaver

      If this truly is the lineup more often then not I could live with it as long as Hurdle is bright enough to space the LHH. Can you imagine Jones ,Alvarez and Snider (in that order)facing some of the LHP out of the pen that the Reds, Cards will throw out there late in a close game? Game over!!
      RHP LHP
      Snider Tabata
      Walker Walker
      McCutchen McCutchen
      Alvarez or Jones Alvarez
      Marte Sanchez
      Jones or Alvarez Marte
      Martin Martin
      Barmes Barmes

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.busch.98 Mark Busch

    Tim –

    You mentioned that platoon players – especially the guy who hits lefties – don’t get a ton of ABs, so their numbers may be skewed based on small sample sizes. But do you also think it is more difficult to put up your career numbers when you are getting a limited number of at bats, like it is difficult to get into that rhythm?