First Pitch: Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez Could be the New Moneyball
I’ve talked about platoons a lot this week, first questioning whether Travis Snider should be in a platoon, then pointing out all of the different platoon candidates the Pirates have. In the process I noticed that the platoon at first base is working. Like, really well. Take a look at the numbers and how they stack up to the production every other team is getting from their first base position.
AVG – .291 (10th)
OBP – .359 (10th)
SLG – .535 (5th)
OPS – .894 (7th)
I talked about this briefly on the podcast this week, but the fact that the Pirates are only paying their first basemen $6.25 M, and getting production in the top third of the league is a massive value. To get that same production from one first baseman, the Pirates would either have to draft said first baseman, or pay him three times this amount per year on the open market.
The key to the platoon is Sanchez. We’ve seen platoons fail with Jones in the past, but it was never the fault of Jones. He always held up his end of the platoon. In 2011 he was being platooned with Matt Diaz and had an .808 OPS against right-handers. Diaz had a .692 OPS against lefties in 132 at-bats. In 2012 the Pirates tried again with Casey McGehee. Jones had an .888 OPS against right-handers, while McGehee had an .807 OPS in 80 at-bats against lefties. That was largely influenced by some late success right before the Pirates traded him to the Yankees.
This year Jones has an .829 OPS against right-handers in 94 at-bats, and only four at-bats against lefties. Sanchez has an astounding 1.183 OPS in 29 at-bats against lefties. He also has 29 at-bats against right-handers with a .581 OPS. Except for a few early season games where Sanchez was starting against right-handers, the Pirates have avoided a lot of playing time outside of each player’s platoon advantage.
It’s early in the season, and these results come from two small sample sizes. But this is exactly what you want to see from Jones and Sanchez. It could also be considered a new form of Moneyball, when you consider the cheap production the Pirates are getting, and the strong results. My question is, why not try this at other positions?
I’ve never understood the thinking that you couldn’t have multiple platoons, and that platoons took away from the makeup of your bench. If you platoon two positions, you don’t lose two bench spots. You just have Garrett Jones and Travis Snider on the bench one day, and Gaby Sanchez and whoever is platooning with Snider on the bench the next day. You want your bench to have a backup for the outfield, and a few backup infielders. The Pirates are in a situation where they could have platoons, and still have backups for each position. They could have a platoon in the outfield with Snider, which covers the backup outfielder. A platoon with Neil Walker could cover the backup middle infield position. A platoon with Pedro Alvarez could cover the backup corner infield/utility player position.
It may be too early to talk about going that route with these guys. As James Santelli noted on the podcast, the key difference between Alvarez/Walker/Snider and Jones is age. Those other guys are younger, with the hope that they could learn how to hit lefties. But if that’s not happening as the year goes on, the Pirates might want to consider the platoon route. Maybe not to the extreme of four platoons, but at least trying to find another Gaby Sanchez for another position. If the Pirates could get a top-third offense from two platoons, and pair that with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and all of their hitters that have success mostly against right-handers, that would be huge. It also wouldn’t be that expensive, since the Gaby Sanchez types usually don’t come at a high price.
That will be something to watch as the season progresses. The main candidate for a platoon seems to be Snider, since he’s pretty much in a platoon right now. The only problem is that the Pirates don’t have a Gaby Sanchez-type platoon guy to pair with him at this point. That could be a good low-key addition to watch for at some point this season.
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.
**Check out the new episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 3: What To Do With Alvarez, Gomez, and Mercer; Casey Sadler Interview.