First Pitch: The Actual Value of Platoons

Last night I wrote about how the problem with the Pirates offense this year has been that three positions in the lineup struggle against left-handed pitching. Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and the right-field duo of Travis Snider and Jose Tabata have all struggled against lefties this year.

Platoons are very underrated. Or should I say the left-handed side of the platoon is underrated. Just look at a lot of the comments about Gaby Sanchez’s value. Some will see how valuable he is this year. Others will point to his .233 average and .754 OPS and say he’s a horrible hitter.

Then you’ve got Pedro Alvarez. He’s got an .833 OPS. However, that’s because he’s crushing right-handers and struggling against lefties. Every time you talk about platooning him, you inevitably have someone demand the conversation stop. Who would ever consider platooning Alvarez? It’s almost like he wouldn’t continue crushing right-handers if you didn’t keep him in there to struggle against lefties.

The thing about platoons is that the guy who hits right-handers is going to have the better overall numbers. If you only look at those numbers, you’ll question why that guy isn’t playing every day. If you dig deeper, you’ll see that a platoon situation could actually improve what the team is getting, while at the same time getting the bulk of the production from the guy who crushes right-handers.

Then there’s the guy who hits lefties. He’s not going to see as many at-bats against lefties, so his overall numbers will be lower. If you look at the numbers, you’ll write him off as having no value. The idea of sitting an .833 OPS guy for a .754 OPS hitter seems strange on the surface. But once again if you dig deeper, you’ll see the value. Together, you’ll get a duo that crushes everyone, rather than one player who can only hit right-handers and one player who can only hit left-handers.

The Pirates have three positions that could be platooned: second base, third base, and right field. They have one position currently in a platoon: first base. Garrett Jones has actually been struggling in his role lately, but Gaby Sanchez has been excellent. Sanchez has a .293/.400/.569 line against lefties. The Pirates have pretty much stuck to the platoon with Jones, benching him against lefties. Sanchez has played some against right-handers with Jones moving to right field, in part because of the struggles from Travis Snider and the injury to Jose Tabata.

You can talk about how platoons work all you want, but what about the actual value? What if the Pirates had someone who provided Gaby Sanchez value against left-handers at second, third, and right field? And what if they had those players from the beginning of the year?

Here are the combined stats against left-handers this year for the current starters.

Pedro Alvarez is crushing right-handers, but struggles against lefties. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pedro Alvarez is crushing right-handers, but struggles against lefties. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Pedro Alvarez/Neil Walker/Travis Snider/Jose Tabata – .193/.242/.282 in 181 AB, 9.22 wRC.

That’s a horrible triple slash line. To put the wRC number in perspective, that’s the same amount of runs that Clint Barmes has provided this season on offense in about the same amount of at-bats. So those four combined against lefties have been as bad offensively as Clint Barmes.

If we combined three Gaby Sanchez hitters to replace those guys, we’re just going to get Sanchez’s triple slash line. But what about the wRC? Sanchez numbers against lefties at three positions would be 42.1 wRC, which is basically his 14 wRC against lefties multiplied by three.

Putting that number in perspective, Pedro Alvarez on the season (against everyone) has a 45 wRC. Three platoon guys putting up Sanchez numbers would equal the value of what Pedro Alvarez has done to date.

If we compare those, we could say that going from Alvarez/Walker/Snider/Tabata against lefties to three successful platoon guys would be the equivalent of upgrading offensively from Clint Barmes to Pedro Alvarez.

There are a few disclaimers. The starters would still get at-bats against lefties. They could be limited, like Jones, with about 16 at-bats each to this point. So that would impact the overall results.

There’s also the disclaimer that it’s not easy to add a platoon guy to hit lefties. If it was, every team would just find a player who hit right-handers, find a player who hit left-handers, and combine them for some extreme value at each position. That’s not to say it’s impossible. It’s just that the guys hitting lefties have small sample sizes. So even though a guy might be strong against lefties his entire career, he might have a year where his numbers struggle, all because of sample size. Or you might find a guy like Matt Diaz a few years ago who is at the end of his career and regressing against lefties, taking away his only offensive value. That’s what is happening to Brandon Inge now.

Even if the lefty hitters struggle, there’s not much downside. It would be hard to bring in three platoon guys who would struggle worse than Alvarez/Walker/Snider/Tabata so far this year. You’re going to upgrade the offense, just maybe not with that Barmes to Alvarez scenario.

This is an approach the Pirates need to consider as they approach the deadline. They don’t have to focus on giving up top prospects because platoon options who hit lefties come cheap. They don’t have anything to lose, because they’re not getting production against lefties from second, third, and right field at the moment. And they’re not going to lose any production from guys like Alvarez because almost all of Alvarez’s production comes against right-handers. Upgrading the team, keeping top prospects, and all with no risk of seeing a downgrade to the offense is an approach the Pirates need to take at the deadline. It’s the best thing to do in the short-term, and the best thing for the team in the long-term.

Links and Notes

**Download the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 12: Prospect Analysis on Jameson Taillon, Luis Heredia, and Tyler Glasnow. Also includes an interview with 2013 first round pick Reese McGuire.

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates International Signing Tracker.

**Pirates Prospects is Looking For Writers and an Ad Sales Representative.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Stetson Allie Homers For Bradenton; JaCoby Jones Hits First Homer.

**GCL Notes: First Looks at Austin Meadows and Nick Buckner.

**Minor League Schedule: Holmes and Sandfort Lead Full Slate On Thursday.

**Minor Moves: Pirates Acquire Brian Bocock From Nationals.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Down Phillies, Injury Updates For Three Players.

**Pirates Agree With 11th Round Pick Erich Weiss.

Pirates

**Pirates Notebook: All Quiet with Trade Deadline Three Weeks Away.

**Liriano Cruises, Pirates Bats Spark 5-0 Win.

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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