First Pitch: Should Travis Snider Be Starting Against Left-Handers?

Should Travis Snider be getting more playing time against left-handers? Photo credit: David Hague

Should Travis Snider be getting more playing time against left-handers? Photo credit: David Hague

It’s a question I get often: Why isn’t Travis Snider starting against left-handers? Sometimes it’s straight up. Sometimes it’s wondering if he’s really done enough to establish a trend in the majors. Sometimes it’s just complaining that Brandon Inge is in the lineup.

Snider is off to a good start this year. After tonight’s game he has a .288/.366/.397 line on the year. Coming in to the night he had a .292/.361/.400 line against right-handers, and was 1-for-5 against left-handers.

The Pirates have been pretty set on platooning him. They’ve had Brandon Inge starting against lefties in the last week, and there has also been talk that Russell Martin could get some playing time in right field, with Inge at third against lefties. Jose Tabata is 1-for-20 this year against left-handers, so he really hasn’t been a solution. In fact, the Pirates don’t really have a solution that has stepped up yet.

Tabata is 1-for-20 this year. He’s actually doing great against right-handers, with a .310/.412/.483 line in 29 at-bats. But he hasn’t been good against lefties in his career, with a .244/.328/.359 line in 270 at-bats. He showed some improvements in 2012, with a .241 average and a .706 OPS.

Inge is supposed to crush left-handers. In his career he has a .652 OPS against right-handers and a .788 OPS against left-handers. Last year he had a .636 OPS against right handers and a .693 OPS against left handers. He had a .717 OPS in 2011, and his last strong year was 2010 when he had an .817 OPS. It’s been a small sample size, but surprisingly Inge has been better this year against right-handers, with a .781 OPS compared to a .500 OPS in 14 at-bats against lefties. It is a small sample size, but the fact that Inge has regressed each year since 2010 is cause for concern.

Russell Martin has been crushing lefties for the last few years, and he’s got a .788 OPS this year. What is surprising is that he’s destroying right-handers, with a .941 OPS in 70 at-bats. Again, a small sample size. Plus, Martin has been playing third base with lefties on the mound, with Pedro Alvarez slowly moving into a platoon role. Michael McKenry had an .815 OPS against lefties last year, so that works out well. But it also points to a problem with this team that most of the lineup can’t hit lefties.

In Triple-A you’ve got Alex Presley tearing it up at the plate. Presley is hitting for a .310/.395/.451 line in 71 at-bats. He’s doing well against lefties and righties this year, but that’s been in a handful of at-bats. In his career in the majors he has a .656 OPS in 128 at-bats against left-handers. There’s also Josh Harrison, who was crushing lefties in Triple-A this year, but has a .587 OPS in 151 career at-bats.

All of the talk about small sample sizes brings up Snider’s career numbers. He has a career .664 OPS against lefties in 194 at-bats. Is that enough to establish him as a platoon player? Pedro Alvarez has 323 at-bats against lefties and a .628 OPS, and no one wants to see him as a platoon option.

We don’t have to be limited to Snider’s numbers in the majors. We can look at his minor league career too, thanks to Baseball Reference’s new minor league splits.

2012: Snider had an .875 OPS in 92 at-bats against lefties at the Triple-A level.

2011: Snider had a .596 OPS in 120 at-bats against lefties at the Triple-A level.

2010: Snider had a .669 OPS in 90 at-bats against lefties at the Double-A level.

2009: Snider had an .896 OPS in 88 at-bats against lefties at the Triple-A level.

2008: Snider had a .659 OPS in 149 at-bats against lefties between three levels (A+ through AAA).

So the results are mixed, with Snider having two good years, but mostly struggling against lefties. If you assume that the Pirates have to platoon both Snider and Alvarez (at least against tough lefties for Alvarez), then you’ve got the following options.

1. Let Snider play. He doesn’t have the best career numbers, but the hope would be that he could match up well against easier left handers, just like Alvarez.

1a. Let Alvarez play. If you don’t platoon one of these guys, then you only need Martin for one position.

2. Go with Brandon Inge. The hope here would be that Inge doesn’t see a continued regression against lefties, which has happened in each of the last two years.

3. Give Jose Tabata a shot when healthy. He’s in a similar situation to Snider, but has had a bit more success in his career.

4. Go with Jordy Mercer at third base and Russell Martin in right field. This is the wild card, and it all depends on Mercer. Here are his stats against lefties:

MLB Career: .722 OPS in 16 AB

2013 Triple-A: .996 OPS in 26 AB

2012 Triple-A: .594 OPS in 69 AB

2011 AA/AAA: .892 OPS in 128 AB

2010 Double-A: .731 OPS in 129 AB

2009 High-A: .676 OPS in 174 AB

A lot of small sample sizes here. Mercer didn’t really start hitting until 2011. His OPS against lefties was low in 2010, but his OPS against right-handers was even lower. He did well in 2011, and did well in a very small sample size this year, but struggles last year in another small sample size. Bottom line: he’s in a similar situation to Snider. If Mercer played third in place of Alvarez, that would allow him to get adjusted to the majors a little better, and would allow Russell Martin to go to right field. But Mercer might not be any better than Snider, since they’ve both had mixed results, and neither have enough time in the majors to say in a definitive way that they’re good/bad against lefties.

Here’s what I think will happen: Snider and Alvarez will continue to sit against lefties in favor of Martin and Inge. I’m fine with that in Martin’s case, but I’m not sold that Inge isn’t continuing his regression. If he doesn’t turn things around, the Pirates should consider some other options. Either let Snider play more against lefties, or go with someone like Tabata or Mercer to help the problem against lefties.

That problem against lefties seems to be a team-wide problem. I’ll probably touch more on that tomorrow from a team perspective. As for Snider, I wouldn’t mind seeing him get more time against lefties. However, that’s only because I’d rather see if he can learn to hit them, as opposed to seeing if Brandon Inge can reverse his downward trend against lefties from the last few years.

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.

**Be sure to check out the new podcast: P3 Episode 2: The Returning Pitchers, The Hot Start, and a Robby Rowland Interview.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Taillon Hit With Line Drive, Glasnow Strikes Out Ten.

**Prospect Notebook: The Other Guys From the Hanrahan Trade.

**Minor League Schedule: 5/8/13.

Pirates

**Neil Walker Starts Rehab Thursday in Altoona, Could Join Pirates Over Weekend.

**McDonald to the DL, Martin Day-to-Day.

**Duke Welker Heading to Pittsburgh.

**Who Could Take James McDonald’s Spot in the Rotation?

**Gomez Shines on Short Notice in Pirates Win.

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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  • bucco4life

    Alvarez should be benched period. His head is obviously not in the game. There’s no way that someone with that talent should struggle the way he does. Good luck getting him that huge contract when the time comes,Borass

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

      starting to agree with you on Kdro.

      .

      • https://profiles.google.com/107500598404660809214 Kerry Writtenhouse

        Starting?? That’s laughable Lee. Or do you just jump off the wagon when he struggles like most fans?

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.yazhynka Richard Ya’Zhynka

    Since the start of the 2012 season, Neil Walker has a .578 OPS (.232/.310/.268) against left-handed pitchers.

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

      that’s not good either….

  • jg941

    #1 gets my vote – Let Snider play, and work on platoons for Pedro (whether it’s Martin or Mercer (or Inge, if necessary).

    The talk about off-the-wall things like Inge or Martin playing right field strikes me as trying to fix some problem that they don’t have.

    They need to focus on real problems like 3B & SS and leave the guys who are actually performing alone.

    Let Snider play.

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

      “The talk about off-the-wall things like Inge or Martin playing right field strikes me as trying to fix some problem that they don’t have.
      They need to focus on real problems like 3B & SS and leave the guys who are actually performing alone.”

      I think you could argue that they do have a problem. Snider is performing, but only against right-handers. The problem is they have so many guys that can’t hit lefties that they need to give someone a chance to see if they can learn how to do that.

      • leadoff

        Snider can hit lefties as good as Walker can, move him down in the lineup against lefties. They are willing to let Alvarez learn to hit lefties, but not willing to let Snider learn. Snider is still young and developing, let him develop, he won’t do it as a platoon player.

  • jg941

    Snider – one simple adjustment: against righty starters, keep him at 2nd in the order, and against lefties, swap batting order spots with Martin.

  • ianmonk

    I believe Snyder and Alvarez will sit against certain lefties as you mentioned Tim. My theory is that Alvarez isn’t comfortable in his stance. Somebody, somewhere will hopefully give him the opportunity to go back to his individual stance or find something else that works for him. He has all the talent in the world and I still feel he will figure it out.

  • leadoff

    I think that defense is not showing up as a concern in this column, IMO, you play the best all around player you have for the position as a first string player.
    I have no problem with certain platoon situations, but to sacrifice defense for a hitter that might or might not make you any better is not a good move to me.
    Hurdle defends Barmes’s offense with his defense, but he does not recognize the importance of right field defense. IMO, he does not have an adequate platoon partner for Snider, he does have one for Jones.
    Hurdle gets carried away with his 2-1 switches and IMO, he is getting carried away with his platoon system.

  • joe g.

    Walker should consider dropping the switch hitter thing. Tabata showed improvement against lefties in 2011, then came the 2012 disaster. He’s still young. Let him play and see what happens. Same goes with Snider. He’s improved his offensive game early. Spoon feed him some left handed at bats, and see how he progresses. Pedro is in his second full season in the bigs. He’s a slow starter, so sit him some against lefties early and increase his workload end of May/early June.