The Platoon Player Stigma

As mentioned in the comments section of yesterday’s post regarding Gabe Gross, the idea of a player being limited to a platoon player seems to limit his perceived value. That leads me to an obvious question – does this perception agree with reality?

The crux behind many of the arguments against players with these high platoon splits is that their vulnerability to pitchers of the same hand makes them a worse value. A manager can merely put in a decent left-handed pitcher, in the case of Gross and, for example, Curtis Granderson, and the otherwise good hitter is reduced to a shell of his former self.

However, this doesn’t account for the ability for a manager to now leverage the situation. If the team has a right handed hitter with good or even normal platoon splits, by replacing the left handed hitter with that batter, the team could be in an equivalent or better situation. This is especially notable when facing a starting pitcher who would have the platoon advantage against your team’s hitter, as the pinch-hitting penalty wouldn’t be in play here. Overall, by taking the advantage in a vast majority of platoon situations, the team will get more wins out of that position or lineup slot than if the player did not have a large platoon split.

MGL puts it best, I think.

In fact, having good overall numbers with a horrible split is a POSITIVE and not a negative! If it turns out that he is truly (true-talent wise after accounting for small sample performance) poor against LHB, then you would be able to platoon him, sit him against tough (high splits) lefties, or pinch hit for him against lefties in high leverage situations, which would provide even MORE value to his team than his overall or historical numbers would suggest!

We can also infer, as MGL goes on to say, that we can apply this to anyone who has a large split in any sort of numbers – such as offensive value and defensive value, for example.

This isn’t to say there aren’t disadvantages to platoon players. If you can’t find a player with comparable defense to your platoon player, the gain from pinch-hitting or spot-starting another player could be minimal or even negative. We also are forced to deal with the limited number of roster spots. With 25 roster spots, we can only see so many players of this type on one roster, as eventually you run out of the roster spots for the players who cover their weaknesses. This is certainly at the center of the debate over whether teams should carry 12, 13, or 14 position players, and why many sabermetric writers implore teams to carry as many position players as possible.

In the end, though, what matters more than whether or not a player has leverageable platoon or defense or any other kind of skills is his overall talent. The decision of who to play becomes easy when one player is just clearly better than the other. Despite that, these issues will probably come into play for years to come as MLB teams attempt to squeeze every last possible run out of the resources that are available to them, and the smartest teams will properly leverage their platoon players.

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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

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