After signing four consecutive minor-league contracts, outfielder Laynce Nix agreed to a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Nix can be a useful piece for an organization that is willing to acknowledge his faults and limit him to a part-time player. As a left-hander, he has always struggled against left-handed pitching, though he has always showed plus-power against right-handers. He owns a career .198 ISO and .317 wOBA against righties and only a .090 ISO and .227 wOBA when facing southpaws.
Philadelphia wrestled the 31-year-old away from the Nationals by offering a multi-year offer. Nix likely also saw an opportunity to match playing time with postseason aspirations. The early speculation is that he will be expected to platoon in left field with John Mayberry Jr., and he could even see some time at first base early in the year with Ryan Howard on the disabled list.
When fashioning a platoon, especially in the outfield at a premium offensive position, the key is to match two players together with a similar weakness — just at opposite sides of the plate. Nix and Mayberry do not fit that mold. Take a look at the 2011 lefty-righty splits:
The isolated power is just a touch lower for Mayberry against right-handers than it is for Nix, but the wOBA is higher for Mayberry by eight points. That stems from better plate discipline as a whole. In 2011, Mayberry had a 29.9% O-Swing and 10.0% SwStr compared to a 42.8% O-Swing and 12.0% SwStr for Nix.
So, Mayberry performed better against righties in 2011 than did Nix, and the 27-year-old Mayberry also displays better plate discipline across the board. We’re running out of reasons why this platoon would make sense. Perhaps the defense Nix provides is better than Mayberry’s, which would push the slightly worse numbers against righties over the top and justify significant playing time over Mayberry.
UZR did not like Nix in 2011 — rating him a below-average -3.6 UZR in left field — despite the fact that he has traditionally been a very good outfielder throughout his career. Mayberry, on the other hand, was rated an above-average +2.6 UZR in left field throughout the 2011 season. A one-year sample size for UZR should not necessarily be considered gospel when rating a player’s defensive abilities, but what the numbers do suggest, however, is that Nix is not a significantly better defender than Mayberry — which, yet again, does not improve the argument for a platoon in left field.
With the roster as currently constructed, Laynce Nix should be a useful bench bat and fourth outfielder, who can adequately handle all three outfield positions with the glove. Mayberry should be given the chance to win the everyday job in left field, and some combination of Ty Wigginton, Nix, and perhaps even Jim Thome can cover the void at first base during the absence of Ryan Howard.
The Laynce Nix signing does signify the end of the Raul Ibanez era in Philadelphia. It’s tough to believe the veteran will receive a big league offer this winter as anything other than a bench bat with power, as he was worth -1.3 WAR (-18.9 runs defensively) in 2011.
The monetary value of the two-year contract given to Nix is not yet available, but one has to imagine the guaranteed amount is somewhat negligible. Philadelphia should not need overpay for a fourth outfielder, nor should they consider platooning Nix in left field with John Mayberry Jr. The numbers that necessitate a platoon are simply not there.
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