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