So, what did everyone think of the Justin Upton deal? Took a long time to sign. Got a lot of money. Good player. Gonna hit a bunch — probably something like 25% better than league average. Might not be great in the field, but, hey, it’s certainly an upgrade over what they already had. Deal mostly makes sense. It’s just so weird that the Rays were the team that signed him.
You didn’t hear? Yeah, it was the Rays that got him. The Tigers? No, no no no no no. The Rays landed Upton. Big-time move for them.
OK, fine, they didn’t technically get Upton. Technically, Upton signed with the Tigers, sure. I’ll admit that. They didn’t get Upton, but what they did get was Corey Dickerson and Steve Pearce, and — hey, stop laughing! Hear me out, here. Dickerson, for his career, has mashed right-handed pitching. Problem’s been the lefties. He’s got a career 139 wRC+ against righties. Pearce, for his career, and especially lately, since he turned his career around, has crushed left-handed pitching. Problem’s been the righties. He’s got a career 123 wRC+ against lefties.
When the Tigers went out and signed Upton to a six-year, $132 million contract, they signed up for something like a 127 wRC+ in 2016, according to the Steamer projections we host here on the site. Makes sense. That’s the exact midway point between last year’s production in San Diego, and the previous year’s production in Atlanta. The Rays? The Rays got Dickerson from Colorado yesterday for Jake McGee, an injury-prone, yet very effective, left-handed reliever. As for Pearce, he was signed for one year and $4.75 million. And if Dickerson only batted against righties, getting two-thirds of the season’s plate appearances, and Pearce got the other one-third by only batting against lefties, Steamer projects that the duo would combine for something like a 124 wRC+ — just a shade below Upton’s performance and at a fraction of the cost.
Of course, it never works that way. Dickerson’s going to be forced into some playing time against lefties, and it’s inevitable that Pearce is going to face his share of righties. Neither one is as adept in the outfield as Upton, and because the Tigers have an everyday player in left field, rather than a platoon, they’ve got an “extra” roster spot, relative to the Rays. You’d rather have Upton than Dickerson and Pearce. At the same time, you’ve got to applaud the Rays for spending so little to acquire a pair of corner outfielders whose production, so as long as the players are used optimally, could rival that of Upton’s.
This is one of the ways in which small-market teams can keep up with their big-market brothers, and one of the reasons why clubs like the Indians, A’s and Rays are so often found near the top of the platoon advantage leaderboard. There’s something very compelling about the cost-effective nature of a productive platoon, as well as the brutal honesty. A platoon is an organization’s way of telling a player, “We know you’re severely flawed, but we’re fine with who you are, and don’t need you to be anything more,” which sort of flies in the face of the traditional macho, “strive for greatness” athlete persona.
And so, in celebration, I thought we could go over a few of baseball’s more notable platoons. With some help from RosterResource, I constructed a table of every position in baseball where it looks like a team might run a platoon this year. Jared Cross then provided me with Steamer’s platoon split projections, and from there, I was just a couple spreadsheet formulas away from having combined projections. To account for roughly two-thirds of baseball pitchers throwing right-handed, I assigned 67% of the playing time to the left-handed batter, and 33% to the righty.
Sorted by WAR, the table (now sortable!) looks like this:
|NYM||2B||Neil Walker||119||Wilmer Flores||110||116||1.1||3.5|
|BOS||OF||Jackie Bradley Jr.||103||Chris Young||112||106||2.8||3.3|
|STL||2B||Kolten Wong||101||Jedd Gyorko||115||106||0.8||3.1|
|LAD||LF||Andre Ethier||122||Scott Van Slyke||121||122||-7.1||2.9|
|NYM||OF||Michael Conforto||116||Juan Lagares||92||107||2.0||2.9|
|TB||SS||Brad Miller||109||Tim Beckham||79||98||-0.9||2.8|
|TB||OF||Corey Dickerson||126||Steve Pearce||121||124||-10.0||2.7|
|SEA||1B||Adam Lind||125||Jesus Montero||118||123||-12.5||2.5|
|ARI||3B||Jake Lamb||106||Aaron Hill||92||101||3.6||2.3|
|SD||2B||Cory Spangenberg||96||Jose Pirela||100||97||1.2||2.3|
|SEA||RF||Seth Smith||114||Franklin Gutierrez||104||110||-7.2||2.3|
|MIL||CF||Kirk Nieuwenhuis||98||Domingo Santana||121||106||-2.9||2.3|
|HOU||3B||Luis Valbuena||109||Marwin Gonzalez||79||98||2.3||2.2|
|ARI||LF||David Peralta||119||Phil Gosselin||89||108||-11.4||2.1|
|TOR||LF||Michael Saunders||107||Dalton Pompey||86||100||-4.2||2.0|
|CLE||RF||Lonnie Chisenhall||105||Collin Cowgill||88||99||-3.6||2.0|
|DET||CF||Anthony Gose||90||Cameron Maybin||100||94||-0.2||2.0|
|HOU||LF||Colby Rasmus||97||Jake Marisnick||86||93||-1.6||2.0|
|KC||RF||Jarrod Dyson||83||Paulo Orlando||85||84||2.9||1.9|
|TEX||LF||Josh Hamilton||107||Justin Ruggiano||112||109||-11.0||1.9|
|OAK||2B/3B||Eric Sogard||80||Danny Valencia||110||91||0.6||1.7|
|HOU||1B||Jon Singleton||113||Matt Duffy||94||106||-16.0||1.7|
|OAK||LF||Coco Crisp||93||Mark Canha||116||101||-8.4||1.7|
|WAS||CF||Ben Revere||97||Michael Taylor||95||96||-0.2||1.6|
|PIT||1B||John Jaso||119||Michael Morse||105||114||-12.1||1.6|
|TB||DH/OF||Logan Morrison||110||Brandon Guyer||105||108||-10.7||1.5|
|MIL||2B||Scooter Gennett||94||Jonathan Villar||75||87||1.8||1.4|
|NYY||RF||Carlos Beltran||110||Aaron Hicks||89||103||-11.4||1.2|
|CHW||1B/DH||Adam LaRoche||104||Mike Olt||100||103||-13.3||1.1|
|CLE||CF||Abraham Almonte||87||Rajai Davis||84||86||-1.7||1.1|
|TOR||2B||Ryan Goins||74||Darwin Barney||71||73||5.8||1.0|
|LAA||LF||Daniel Nava||96||Craig Gentry||79||90||-5.2||1.0|
|ATL||2B||Jace Peterson||83||Gordon Beckham||79||82||1.5||0.7|
|CIN||LF||Scott Schebler||90||Yorman Rodriguez||90||90||-6.8||0.7|
|MIA||1B||Justin Bour||108||Chris Johnson||82||99||-18.1||0.7|
|COL||1B||Ben Paulsen||88||Mark Reynolds||116||98||-11.3||0.6|
|ATL||LF||Michael Bourn||83||Nick Swisher||95||87||-9.4||0.5|
|PHI||1B||Ryan Howard||100||Darin Ruf||110||104||-16.9||-0.4|
|BAL||DH||Jimmy Paredes||78||Nolan Reimold||96||84||-19.3||-0.6|
The Mets come out on top, with a platoon that might not actually be used as a platoon. Wilmer Flores is reported to be Lucas Duda‘s primary backup at first base, and his presence will also allow the brittle David Wright to take some days off. But the Mets still have Ruben Tejada as a utility infielder further down the bench, and given the nature of their infielder’s skill sets, Walker should be sitting against left-handed pitching in favor of Flores as often as possible. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is a switch-hitter with relatively even platoon splits, so he seems a candidate to play every day. Walker, though, has been 40% better against righties (123 wRC+) than lefties (83) throughout his career, and was essentially unplayable against southpaws in the most recent season (58). Since neither Walker nor Flores is particularly adept with the glove, the Mets wouldn’t lose anything on defense, and could gain a big advantage on offense by letting Flores handle the lefties. The combined production: 116 wRC+, 3.5 WAR. Robinson Cano‘s projected numbers: 117 wRC+, 3.6 WAR.
The Red Sox signed Chris Young to a two-year deal worth $11.5 million this year, and it looks to be a swell fit. Young is the most extreme fly-ball pull hitter in baseball, and that’s an exciting distinction for a batter who will now play his home games at Fenway Park. In addition, he complements Jackie Bradley perfectly. Most days, Bradley will play amazing outfield defense in center, and should be able to hold his own as a league average hitter against righties. When a southpaw starts, the Red Sox will replace him with Young, who will be positioned in a corner, with Mookie Betts or Rusney Castillo shifting over to center. The projected outcome of a Bradley/Young platoon looks a lot like an everyday Carlos Gomez (103 wRC+, 3.2 WAR).
The third-best projected platoon is also one that was constructed during this offseason, one that the Cardinals accomplished by trading Jon Jay to San Diego for Jedd Gyorko. Gyorko can also play other positions in the infield, but he should primarily be used to prevent Kolten Wong from seeing too many lefties, as he’s been more than 30% worse than league average against them in his career, thus far. The Wong/Gyorko comp looks a lot like a regular Dustin Pedroia (105 wRC+, 3.3 WAR).
The last platoon I want to focus on is one that Jeff Sullivan already examined earlier this offseason, the Mariners‘ pairing of Adam Lind and Jesus Montero at first base. Sullivan paid some mind to that pairing, because Lind is notable for being the lefty with the most substantial platoon split since we started tracking that data in 2002. Lind is one of the better hitters in baseball, against righties. You don’t wanna know what he is against lefties. What you do wanna know, is that Lind and Montero’s optimally projected performance for 2016 is nearly indiscernible from Prince Fielder‘s (124 wRC+, 1.9 WAR). Folks might view the Mariners a bit different if they had Prince Fielder.
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