2012 Season Preview: Platoon Opportunities

Patience & Roster Margins
YES names Meredith Marakovits new clubhouse reporter
Via Reuters Photos

Platoons in baseball can be tricky machines. In theory they’re great. They allow batters to emphasize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. But in practice they don’t quite add up perfectly. There are all sorts of issues that go along with platoons, not least of which is the sheer number of roster spots available. As such, teams have to pick their platoon guys with care. The 2012 Yankees seem to have one prominent platoon pair, with a couple of other low-level ones to consider on occasion.

Andruw Jones

Heading into the 2010 season, the Yankees needed a righty outfield bat. They had just traded for Curtis Granderson, who had struggled against left-handed pitching for most of his career. They were also going to try Brett Gardner, another lefty, in left field. Having a right-handed outfielder to spell one of them seemed not only like a good idea, but a pretty necessary insurance plan. And so, despite Marcus Thames‘ subpar spring training, he made the team.

Deciding that they’d gotten the best of Thames, the Yankees sought another lefty masher for their 2011 lineup. Andruw Jones appeared to be a perfect fit. After slipping in 2007 and turning in a disastrous 2008, Jones had recovered to be a serviceable part-time player, excelling particularly against left-handed pitchers. His continued production against left-handed pitching earned him a return trip for 2012.

Jones has expressed a desire for a more regular role, facing both lefties and righties. He might get that opportunity, given the concerns with our next entrant on the platoon bats list. But chances are he’ll be at his most effective against left-handed pitchers. Since 2009 Jones has produced a 129 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, which ranks 55th among all major leaguers with at least 200 PA (against LHP).

Raul Ibanez

Once the Yankees traded Jesus Montero, their DH situation became a big clearer. Jones could take reps at DH against left-handed pitching, leaving Brett Gardner to a full-time role in left. But that still left open the strong side of the DH platoon. By that point in the off-season there weren’t many viable options remaining, and so the Yankees picked the player whom they thought gave them the best combination of the skills they valued. That turned out to be Ibanez.

Like Thames two years ago, Ibanez has started slowly in the spring. Given his guaranteed contract and lack of competition, however, he’ll likely break camp with the team and commence his role as the platoon DH. Yet it’s difficult to expect big things from him. Since 2009 Ibanez has produced a 112 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, which ranks 65th out of 147 qualified hitters. That does include a poor 2012 as well as a torrid 2009. The Yanks will do best to avoid all confrontations between Ibanez and lefties.

While Ibanez and Jones represent the bulk of the Yankees’ platoon opportunities, they do have a few other players who carry platoon splits. They likely won’t get platooned, at least not frequently, but their rest days would preferably come when facing same-handed pitchers. (Though that should be the rule of thumb regardless, right?)

Brett Gardner

Last year Gardner saw fewer at-bats against left-handed pitching. This is partly because Jones hit them so well. But there were also signs that he was struggling against them. He didn’t hit for average (.233) and had absolutely no power (.039 ISO). While he did walk and strike out against lefties less frequently than he did against righties, the overall result was pretty negative (75 wRC+).

With the DH spot open against left-handed pitching, Gardner could see more opportunities this year. He did hit lefties fairly well in 2010, a .373 OBP and a 102 wRC+. He’ll get days off against lefties for sure, but it does appear that he’ll get a few more chances to prove his mettle against them in 2012.

Derek Jeter

Jeter did bounce back in the second half of last year, but his total season numbers against righties still disappointed. In fact, it was his torrid production against lefties, a 160 wRC+ in 168 PA, that contributed greatly to his overall success. Against rigthies, whom he faced 439 times, he hit just .277/.329/.338. Still, that was an improvement on his 2010 season, in which he hit .246/.315/.317 in 500 PA against RHP. The last time he hit righties effectively was 2009: .311/.381/.435. Given his age it’s difficult to expect more out of him than he hit last year. If he can keep up that pace he’ll be OK. But it’s easy to see how his production against righties will hurt his overall numbers in the final years of his contract.

Alex Rodriguez

Larry covered A-Rod’s continued woes against left-handed pitching earlier in the off-season. He did a pretty comprehensive job, so there’s no need to rehash it here. A-Rod‘s poor production against lefties makes Eric Chavez an unideal understudy, since he’ll face mostly right-handed pitchers. But perhaps the new, more balanced A-Rod will buck the trend and once again mash left-handed pitching.

There could also be room here to mention both Nick Swisher‘s and Mark Teixeira‘s struggles against righties, but that’s not really a platoon issue. That is, they’re not going to sit against right-handed pitching, since they’re their own platoon partners. But those issues do exist. Just to be clear.

Patience & Roster Margins
YES names Meredith Marakovits new clubhouse reporter
  • J.R.


    Let’s say a righty is on the mound against Ibanez and the opposing manager brings in a lefty (but has another righty warming in the pen), do you bring Jones in to counter the lefty and then let him face the righty? Or do you then counter with Chavez? Or do you just let Ibanez face the lefty?

    • YankeesJunkie

      Once a pitcher comes in he has to face a batter therefore your situation could not happen. However, I don’t know if once the batter comes into the box and they swith pitchers if they can switch batters I believe they can, but not positive.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

        Yep. You can switch batters whenever. But a pitcher must face a batter before exiting the game.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      You look into the Binder and see what it tells you to do. :-)

      Hope they’ve got scouting reports that gives you an idea of how each batter would fare against the potential opposing pitcher and then go with your gut.

    • DM

      Need more info.

  • YankeesJunkie

    It would not be surprising to see Jones get at bats against lefties playing left field just because Gardner has been such a poor hitter against lefties in his career. That also opens up the DH spot for Jeter or A-Rod and Nunez a right hander can be put right into SS or 3B as a DH. Obviously after six or seven innings Gardner can come in as a defensive replacement.

  • Ace

    Brett Gardner had a .001 difference in OBP vs righties and lefties last year. Isn’t that the only thing that truly matters and should that not cement his case as the full-time LF?

    Or is RAB stating that actually hitting the ball and/or driving in runs counts now?

    • YankeesJunkie

      No, Brett derives quite a bit of value from his defense and his offense is underwhelming. According to wRC+ he has been above average or average against righties. (115, 101 the last two years) while against lefties the highest he has put up is 85 wRC+. So there is a little bigger difference than you are making it out to be.

      • Ace

        So hitting for average and/or driving in runs does indeed matter.

        • JobaWockeeZ

          Yes there’s no such thing as power in baseball.

        • radnom

          Hitting for average does matter (not as much as OBP), but what really does matter is SLG. A single isn’t the same as a double.

          • nsalem

            Is a single and a stolen base the same?

            • radnom

              Not at all, but its close (well at least for someone with a high success rate).

              The thing is – his SB rate when he gets on first is not effected by which side of the plate he hit from. The few extra SB opportunities he has by hitting more singles against lefties is not enough to make up for the huge difference in wRC+.

  • Rey22

    Trade Garcia for Jim Thome. The Phillies want a pitcher, the Yankees want a better LH than Ibanez. Win win?

    • Cris Pengiucci

      The Phillies want a pitcher?

  • Monterowasdinero

    Sign Damon and DH him for 140-150 games. Against lefties, play Andruw in left and rest Gardy. In the 7th inning or later, bring Gardy in for defense or pinch running and defense. You can also rest Grandy once in awhile and play Gardy in center against lefties.

    This is after we get rid of Ibanez and sign Damon.

    • DM

      When would A-Rod, Jeter, Swish, Tex, etc get their 1/2 day off DH days?

  • Anchen

    Hmm, do my posts just get deleted sometimes or something…? I swear I had a post in this thread but apparently not…

    • Anchen

      Guess it was off topic. I’ll post it in off topic I guess.