Garrett Jones is doing his job.
The Pittsburgh Pirates moved Jones to right field this year, and brought in Matt Diaz to platoon with Jones, utilizing the strength and favorable platoon splits for each player. So far this season, that is working out favorably for Jones.
The left hander is batting for a .280/.393/.547 line on the season, with six homers in 75 at-bats. That’s entirely fueled by his performance against right handers. Jones currently has a .303/.425/.606 line against right handers, with all six of his homers in 66 at-bats. Against left handers he is a mere 1-for-9.
The other side of the platoon hasn’t worked out so far. Diaz, who hit for a .340/.384/.544 line against left handers from 2008-2010, has struggled in the early part of the 2011 season, going 1-for-16 against southpaws. Diaz is hitting for a .273 average in 33 at-bats against right handers, although the average is empty, with a low on-base percentage (.294) and not a lot of power (.333 slugging percentage).
It’s too early to suggest a change, especially when we consider that Diaz has a whole career of success against left handers, and just 16 at-bats in his struggles against left handers in 2011. Because Diaz is struggling, the platoon isn’t working as expected, although it’s definitely working for Jones. The Pirates were willing to move Jones to that platoon role after just a year and a half of splits from him. For that reason, it makes no sense that Lyle Overbay is currently a full time starter.
Overbay is also doing his job. Correction. Overbay would be doing his job, if his job was to serve in a platoon role. In his career, which is almost 4000 at-bats long, he has an .836 OPS against right handers, and a .699 OPS against left handers. So far this year, Overbay has a .267/.360/.373 line in 75 at-bats against right handers, with an 11:11 K/BB ratio. Against left handers he has a .111/.172/.111 line, with an 8:2 K/BB ratio in 27 at-bats.
I can see why the Pirates wanted Overbay in a full time role, despite his obvious platoon splits. His defense has been very strong, which justifies his struggles against left handers. That hasn’t been the case this year. His success against right handers in the early part of the season hasn’t been as strong as years past. His defense hasn’t looked elite, at least not to the point where it could make up for the poor hitting against left handers, and the struggles against right handers compared to Overbay’s normal numbers.
Just like with Diaz, it’s still early to worry about Overbay, although his leash should be shorter, since we’re not talking about 16 at-bats in this case. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options available to assist Overbay. Steve Pearce is the best option to platoon with him, although Pearce is struggling this year with his normal platoon stats, hitting for a .250/.308/.333 line in 12 at-bats against left handers.
There’s not really help on the way in the minors any time soon. Matt Hague is strong defensively, and hits for average, although he’s suffered the same problems as Overbay, with success against right handers, and major struggles against left handers. At best, Hague would be an average first baseman, and very comparable to Overbay. Beyond Hague, Aaron Baker and Matt Curry seem to be the best options, although neither will be ready in time for the 2011 season, and the earliest either of them could be ready would be June 2012, which requires aggressive movement and success in the upper levels.
In the short term, the best option would be to platoon Overbay with Pearce, and hope that both players revert to their career platoon splits. Overbay is obviously a platoon option, and his defense this year hasn’t been strong enough to ignore that trend. If his early season struggles continue throughout the month of May, I don’t see how the Pirates can keep playing him as an everyday starter.