We’re one game into the season, and already there’s a decision made by Clint Hurdle to second guess. The Pirates started Gaby Sanchez over Travis Snider today, putting Garrett Jones in right field. The lineup was announced yesterday, and I withheld my opinion, figuring it could just be a one game move. But it didn’t sound like a one game move based on comments by Hurdle today. It sounded more like Hurdle views a lineup with Sanchez and Jones playing everyday as the best lineup the Pirates have.
The Pirates could have Jones get the majority of the playing time and still skip starts against left-handers. That would be smart, since Jones is clearly established as a platoon player. Having Sanchez get the majority of the playing time in the lineup is not smart. In his career against left-handers he has a .291/.385/.484 line in 374 at-bats. In his career versus right-handers, Sanchez has a .248/.314/.398 line in 1098 at-bats.
Travis Snider isn’t exactly a better option. He has a .251/.315/.422 line in 774 at-bats against right-handers. One key difference is that Snider is 25, while Sanchez is 29. There’s still a chance that Snider could improve on his numbers. There’s little chance that Sanchez will see any improvements. Even in his best years, Sanchez wasn’t great against right-handers. In 2010 he had a .742 OPS. It was the exact same in 2011. So in his best seasons, Sanchez only managed to put up a .742 OPS versus right-handers. Snider’s career OPS against right-handers is five points lower, and he’s still got a chance to improve.
The Pirates added both Snider and Sanchez at the trade deadline. They dealt Brad Lincoln to get Snider, and traded a first round compensation pick and Gorkys Hernandez for Sanchez and Kyle Kaminska. The price paid for Sanchez was arguably higher, but the potential from each player should have been clear. Sanchez had a clear history of being a platoon player, and a guy who was barely passable versus right-handers in his best year. There’s some value in that, especially when the Pirates have the perfect platoon mate in Jones. Meanwhile, Snider didn’t really have a history. He didn’t have a real shot at proving himself in the majors, and was looking good before the trade and before his hamstring problems.
It’s not a guarantee that Snider could finally realize his potential. He could very well continue to be the same player we’ve seen in his first 963 at-bats in the majors. The hope rests in the fact that he’s 25 years old, and hasn’t been given a full season to adjust to the majors. He’s pretty much in the same situation that Pedro Alvarez was in a year ago. Alvarez was given a chance to adjust to the majors. Based on the early indications, it doesn’t look like Snider will get that same chance.
There’s really no upside to starting Sanchez everyday. Sure, he had a good Spring. But Spring Training stats are largely meaningless. They definitely don’t mean as much as his career stats, especially at the age of 29. The best case with starting Sanchez against right-handers seems like the worst case for Snider. Sanchez isn’t at the age to improve over his career numbers. Snider still has a shot. The Pirates would be better off sticking with the plan of having Jones and Sanchez platoon, while hoping for a breakout from Snider or Jose Tabata in the outfield.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5. Get them both just in time for the start of the season.
**Today we finished uploading the Major League previews (links below). Tomorrow the minor league season previews will start with Indianapolis and Altoona. Bradenton and West Virginia will be on Wednesday. The minor league season starts on Thursday.