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.

Gaby Sanchez

Gaby Sanchez is the key to the success of the first base platoon. Photo Credit: David Hague

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.

**Prospect Notebook: Castro, Glasnow Pitching Well for West Virginia.

**Pirates Notebook: Four Things We Have Learned About Pirates Pitchers.

**Draft Prospect Watch: Bryant And Moran Homer, New Third Baseman To Watch.

**Prospect Watch: Brown and Alderson Pick Up the Slack for the Indy Rotation.

**Minor League Schedule: 5/11/13.

**Tony Sanchez Could be Joining the Pirates Soon.

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://twitter.com/jlease717 jlease717

    The biggest improvement the Pirates need right now is the release of McDonald. Hopefully Clint playing him last night was a farewell gift. A weaker hitting, older and with less range Barmes is not at all what the Pirates need.

    The only value he adds is making Barmes look good by comparison. I’d much rather let Presley rot on the bench and let him be a pinch runner than have him. Time to cut bait on McDonald, and admit the mistake it was to get him in the first place.

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

      Barmes should be platooned against both Left AND Right handed pitchers.

    • joe g.

      Mercer needs to stay in Pittsburgh and McDonald needs to go. Mercer can play SS, 2B and some 3B. He can get AB’s at all three positions and if he continues to hit, eventually replace CB at SS.

  • NorCal Buc

    Perhas Tabata will play out in RF to platoon with Snider. I very MUCH like the platoon of Walker and Inge. And I won’t be too sad to see the day when McHenry is a DH for an AL club.

    • NorCal Buc

      McHenry to an AL club for a platoon type right-handed RF? Two things about this: Sanchez is MORE than an adequate back-up to Martin, and I’m hopeful Tabby continues his improvement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

    speaking of 1Bmen putting up numbers, how about Lyle Overbay and the Yanks??
    good guy who deserves better than he got here.

  • MaineBucs

    I have advocated keeping Mercer in AAA so he could get regular playing time. I now believe that they could accomplish the same in Pittsburgh by using him as a regular substitute or a revolving basis for Alvarez, Barmes and Walker. I believe the approach I am suggesting would result in a better quality bench, it would help to keep all players fresh, it would result in better in-game match-ups, it would aid Mercer’s development and it would increase the likelihood of the Pirates winning games.

    Move #1 – Release MacDonald. MacDonald has no value as a pinch-hitter or a regulalr substitute. His bat appears to be close to non-existent. Further, he does not appear to have much value as a 3B.

    Move #2 – Determine if Martin can regularly play as a sub at 3rd. If he can, the Pirates likely can do without Inge in the not too distant future. Inge does not strike me as having the defensive versatility in the roles in which Hurdle has used him.

    Move #3 – Mercer replaces MacDonald on the roster as the main infield reserve. But, he starts in lieu of Barmes at least twice a week (I trust that management will determine some of the best times to sit Barmes), he starts against lefties in lieu of Walker at least 1 per week, and he may start against lefties in lieu of Alvarez at least once a week. Thus, Mercer starts 4 games or so a week and is available off the bench the remainder of the time. He appears to be a much better stick than MacDonald. This approach also means that Walker and Alvarez will be available as pinch-hitters in some games.

    Move #4 – Get Tabata a decent amount of playing time to see if he can be a potential regular in RF or a poential regular for another team – a trad candidate. I would sit McCutchen and Marte 1 game every 2 weeks, and I would Tabata a decent amount of playing time with Snider. I liked the acquistion of Snider, but at some point, he needs to demonstrate that he has some power.

    Move #5 – In the short term the bench becomes McKenry, Tabata, Sanchez, Inge and Mercer, with several of the above (Tabata, Sanchez and Mercer) getting some regular playing time in platooon roles, and if Martin can handle third, then McKenry may see some more regular playing time as well. A bit later in the season I see Inge departing and the Pirates replacing him with any number of options — someone from outside the organization, Presley or perhaps even Tony Sanchez.

    I thought platoons worked well for the Pirates in the 70’s and again under Leyland, and would welcome seeing more of such under the current regime. I also believe that more kudos are in order for hanging onto Garrett Jones and finding a player like Sanchez to platoon with him.