First Pitch: The Pirates Finally Have a Productive First Base Platoon

The Pittsburgh Pirates have been trying to put together a successful platoon for several years now. Each time, it has failed to work.

It started in 2011 with Garrett Jones. After showing that he couldn’t hit left-handers while playing full-time in 2010, the Pirates brought in Matt Diaz as a platoon partner. Diaz had strong career numbers against lefties, but was on the decline, and didn’t do his part in the platoon with Jones in right field. Meanwhile, the Pirates had Lyle Overbay struggling at first base, up until their trade for Derrek Lee at the deadline.

Jones made the switch to first base in 2012, and a new platoon partner was brought in. This time it was Casey McGehee. The numbers against lefties weren’t bad from McGehee. He had an .807 OPS with the Pirates in his platoon role. The problem was that Jose Tabata and Alex Presley struggled in the outfield, which led to Jones playing everyday in right field, and McGehee playing everyday at first base. The Pirates had a successful platoon, but couldn’t platoon the two players.

In 2013, things finally looked right for Jones. The club added Gaby Sanchez at the previous deadline, trading Gorkys Hernandez and a first round compensation pick in the 2013 draft. Sanchez was having a down year in Miami in 2012, but that was pretty much the story with every hitter in Miami that year. He came to the Pirates, and had a .799 OPS against lefties in 2012. In 2013, he crushed lefties, to the tune of a .987 OPS.

The problem in 2013 was Jones. The Pirates finally had a platoon partner for their first baseman, but Jones was the one struggling. He had just a .730 OPS, and to make matters worse, he was spending time in right field, playing every day due to struggles from Tabata and Travis Snider. The team added Justin Morneau for the platoon later in the season, but Morneau only had a .744 OPS against right-handers.

This year, the team started the year with Travis Ishikawa and Gaby Sanchez as their platoon at first. The production against right-handers looked doomed from the start. It also didn’t last long, as the team traded for Ike Davis, three weeks into the season. With that trade, the Pirates finally have a successful first base platoon.

When you analyze what a first base platoon could do, the thing you usually do is take the splits from both players, and combine them to create numbers that you’d expect an elite player to put up. It looks good on paper, but as we’ve seen in previous years, it doesn’t always work in reality. This year, it’s working it reality. Here are the numbers from each side of the platoon, against their respective pitchers, since the Davis trade.

PA AB H BB TB HBP AVG OBP SLG OPS
Gaby Sanchez

26

25

10

1

18

0

0.400

0.423

0.720

1.143

Ike Davis

114

98

31

16

43

0

0.316

0.412

0.439

0.851

Total

140

123

41

17

61

0

0.333

0.414

0.496

0.910

One disclaimer here is that you’ll inevitably have plate appearances against the non-favorable matchup. Clint Hurdle has done a good job of limiting this. Ike Davis only has 11 plate appearances against left-handers since joining the Pirates. He is 0-for-11 in those appearances. Gaby Sanchez has seen more plate appearances against right-handers, totaling 37 plate appearances in over a month. That’s still not a lot, and Sanchez is actually doing a decent job in that time. He has a .749 OPS during that stretch. I don’t know if that’s due to Hurdle picking the matchups well, or just Sanchez playing better against right-handers since Davis came in. It could also be just a small sample size situation.

The combined effort since Davis took over is an .821 OPS. That would rank 14th out of 27 qualified first basemen this season. One thing to consider here is that this is the overall production from first base for the Pirates, compared to just the production from starting first basemen for other teams. The Pirates could rank higher when you consider overall production for other teams. For example, in the month of May, the Pirates have an .871 OPS from their first basemen, which is good enough for the tenth best team in baseball.

That kind of production is about all you can ask for from a platoon. Prior to tonight, the Pirates first basemen had an 0.5 WAR in the month of May. That pace over a six month season is a 3.0 WAR, which would be worth $15-18 M a year on the open market. The Pirates are currently paying Davis and Sanchez a combined $5.8 M. The duo is under control for at least one more year, and even if the combined cost is north of $8 M, it would be worth it for this production.

And for once, the above statements can be said based on what a Pirates platoon is actually doing on the field, rather than what they’re expected to do on paper.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Reese McGuire Extends Hit Streak, Strong Outings From Kuhl and Neverauskas

**Andrew Lambo makes a visit to a specialist for injury

**2014 Pirates Draft Prospects: Alex Blandino, Brandon Finnegan, Ti’Quan Forbes, Luis Ortiz

**Prospect Highlights: Homer From JaCoby Jones, Strikeout By Worley

**Minor League Schedule: Adrian Sampson Has Been Tough At Home This Season

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.

Share This Post On
  • emjayinTN

    This pairing of veterans gives CH a lot of ability to make changes when needed. Last night in the 7th, the Dodgers brought in Maholm to pitch to Davis; CH immediately made the substitution of Gaby Sanchez, who doubled off of Maholm to bring in the 3rd run of the inning. Their hitting and fielding abilities make it a good situation for CH because he is not giving up anything in that switch, and that is great stuff when it results in a positive impact for the team. I think 13 doubles, a triple, 7 HR’s, and 24 RBI’s make their 1B combination a solid cleanup hitter in the lineup. I hope to see more power out of Ike Davis, but it is hard to argue with a .280 batting average and a .375 OBP. I think both are .993 fielders, and Davis has a Range Factor of 10.79 which would put him in the Top 5 of MLB 1B. Hard not to like the makeup of the team with these two guys at 1B.

  • impliedi

    I can’t believe that it’s already been 5 years since the Pirates traded Adam LaRoche. And, that it took 5 years to finally find his replacement! (As Tim says: in reality, as opposed to on paper). To put it in some perspective, Gaby Sanchez was in AAA and Ike Davis was in AA at the time of the LaRoche trade, and the Pirates have gone through all of those players that Tim wrote about to get to this point…

    • impliedi

      Was just looking more at LaRoche’s numbers…. seems that in the 3 of the 5 Aprils since leaving the Pirates, he’s had an OPS over .900. So much for the “slow starts/plays half a season” myths.

    • Leefoo Rug Bug

      I was always a LaRoche fan. Unfortunately, he had been overhyped before he got here and could never live up to expectations

      They love him in Washington.

      • NorCalBuc

        Laroche ran into the same “affliction” that affected Brandon Moss. They were both miscast. Previous to their Pirates tenure: LaRoche was a #6 hitter in a powerful ATL line-up; Moss was just off his first season in BOS.

      • smurph

        I think at the end Laroche just didn’t care. Maybe he got sick of playing on bad teams, but he just seemed to be going through the motions his last year or so with the Pirates. Has anyone noticed that Laroche and Ike look enough alike to be brothers?

        • stickyweb

          Please God no. We’ve had enough of Adam LaRoche’s brothers on the team.

      • jaygray007

        LaRoche, in my opinion, is the most underappreciated pirate of the past decade. Always OPS’d over .800. Just imagine if he had a platoon partner!.

        he was definitely brought in to be a savior when he was just a solid major leaguer. Heck, if Washinton wouldve eaten some salary, i would’ve liked the pirates to try to trade for him before they got Ike when there were rumors of Zimmerman moving to 1b.

        • emjayinTN

          LaRoche was on an Atlanta team that was very good and he had a lot of very close friends that he had come through the minors with – he resented the trade and never did get right mentally or able to accept the loser status in Pittsburgh. He may be a very nice guy, but he was Mr. Constipation when he was with the Pirates. Don’t stop with him, ARAM was a young kid that we all wanted to be our savior, but the Pirates decided that $6 mil was too much (he was already making $3 mil). He went to the Cubs who took the pressure off by placing him 6th and 7th in the order and he became one of the best hitters in the NL, and still kicks our butts now that he is with the Brew Crew.

          • leowalter

            Emjay,someone had to go that year due to debt load, and unfortunately, the pitcher who would have gone picked that time to get an arm problem. If not for that stroke of luck,Ramirez wouldn’t have been traded, Benson and his prize of a wife at that time would have been gone.

  • Scott Kliesen

    Got to give props to Gaby Sanchez for adapting to his role of PH most nights. Much easier for Davis to be productive when penciled in to the starting lineup nearly every day.

    The defensive abilities of both players is the cherry on top of this platoon.

  • Cato the Elder

    I hate to be ‘that guy’ but I’m going to go ahead and call 140 PA/123 AB) what it is: a small sample size. BA stabilizes 910 AB; OBP around 460 PA; slugging around 320 AB. I’m happy that the 1B position is meeting with on field success and given the players career #’s nothing looks particularly unsustainable, but I think the old SSS disclaimer is in order.

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

      SSS doesn’t really apply if they’re playing like their career numbers. You’re never going to get that amount of plate appearances in a season from each side of the platoon, so you’d never be able to grade the platoon under those restrictions.

      The point here is that the Pirates have always added guys who had good career numbers. The platoons always looked good on paper. And yet they didn’t work out, for one reason or another. This year they’ve got the career numbers, it looks good on paper, and it’s actually working out.

      • Ron Loreski

        If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try, try again.

      • Cato the Elder

        I understand. I guess what I am saying is that Ike Davis could go hittless the next 5 games ( 0 for 20 isn’t exactly likely, but impossible either) and suddenly the platoon’s OPS would drop to .744. And then the: Platoons work on paper but not in practice article would/could be written. Then he could go 4-4 on day six and…you get the idea.

  • leadoff

    I am not so sure it is working out, Sanchez is doing what he should, but has anybody noticed that Ike has been doing very little since he was moved to the 4 slot! IMO, the only way they are going to fix the 4 spot problem is draft specially for it or find a free agent somewhere.

  • R Edwards

    First, I am going to preface this response with this – Gabby Sanchez has been one of the few relative bright spots on this team so far – and we would be really in bad shape if not for his production through the first two months. As part of a first base platoon, he has more than held up his end of the bargain 0- and quite frankly, is carrying Ike Davis up to this point.

    I have to disagree with the overall premise of this article, which seems to suggest that first base is now a productive position and no longer a major concern. On most teams, first base – along with third base and the corner outfield positions – are where you expect your home run power, RBI production, higher slugging percentages, etc.

    When he arrived 5-6 weeks ago, It was expected that Davis could provide power, RBI production, and offer protection in the lineup for McCutchen, Alvarez, etc. He has done little of that – instead he has become a largely singles hitter (and many have been opposite field bloops) who has hit for a higher than expected average so far. The average is good, but there has been little else. He has 2 HRs and 11 RBIs to date with the Pirates, in a little over 100 ABs. That is pathetic for a first baseman – especially when over 1/3 of his RBIs came on one swing. His power numbers, extra base hit numbers, and slugging percentage may be the lowest among first baseman in the NL – even compared to guts like Votto, Howard, Chris Carter, and Duda – none of which are having good seasons. Even though Morneau did nothing for the Pirates late last season, his numbers dwarf Davis’. Garrett Jones has been far more productive than Davis. Plus, he is still striking out at over a 20% rate, which is improved over his career numbers – largely due to the fact that he rarely faces LH pitchers – against whom he is 0-11!!!

    So, I certainly hope the team is not satisfied with what Davis has brought to the table so far. If he was a middle infielder, his numbers would be okay – but not for a first baseman who you are counting on to drive in runs and provide power.

    When he gets healthy, I’d like to see Lambo brought up as a spare outfielder, who can occasionally also get some ABs at first base and see if he can be more productive than Davis.

    • MDFitness1975

      I’m happy with the platoon – the metrics are solid, and my eyes tell me that Gaby and Ike have nice approaches at the plate, are willing to hit the ball the other way when needed, and dont wildly hack away and have decent pitch recognition.

      My eyes also tell me this – Ike doesnt attack the ball with anger. He – like Tabata and Snider do – sometimes seems to be trying to ‘serve’ the ball and simply make contact rather than truly attempting to drive it with authority. Anyone else get that sense?

      My god have you seen Edward Encarnacion’s swings? Talk about VIOLENT AGGRESSION. He swings like he is trying to injure the ball. Ike typically swings like he is worried he’ll hurt the ball. Russ martin is one of the few Pirates who swings with that violent aggression – not always, but he does let it rip occassionally.

      • R Edwards

        Like I said, I have no problem with Gabby;s production.

        If Davis was my shortstop, and not my first baseman, I would be happy with his production as well. But, as my first baseman, it is lower than acceptable.

        I would gladly have a guy like Encanarcion in our lineup – he was what almost 20 HRs and 50 RBIs already? It will take Ike the next 18 months to reach those numbers.

  • https://www.facebook.com/paul.rutledge.543 Paul Rutledge

    Tim, Would it make sense for the Pirates to try to extend both of them, buying out maybe 2 years of free agency? This seems to me like it would represent good value, especially considering the lack of options in the system for first base and the cost of free agent first basemen who would put up a even a 2.5 WAR on the open market.