The all-platoon teamby Jeff Moore
October 02, 2012
This is an exercise I did once before years ago for another website, but I thought it was time to revisit it. Would it be possible to put together a team that always had the platoon advantage?
Of course it wouldn’t be possible in reality, but the exercise became a fun way to point out the ridiculous advantage some players have when facing pitching from only one side, and just how drastically the ability of some hitters varies depending on who they are facing.
It also demonstrates a strategy in roster building that is not used to the same extent it was a few decades ago—the platoon.
Sure, there are still platoons in major league baseball, but it feels like the number of strict platoon situations used in the majors dipped dramatically during the steroid era, when strategy was pushed aside in favor of simply trying to add as much power to a lineup as possible.
When it comes down to it, there are just more starting positions in the major leagues than there are players worthy of getting that many at-bats, and while no team has ever gone to the extreme I’m about to, the point remains that sometimes two flawed players, when their flaws complement each other properly, can come together to produce at an all-star level.
To do this exercise, I made a few ground rules. First, I have to stick to major league roster limits, which means 25-man rosters. Assuming a 12-man bullpen, that leaves me with 13 roster spots for position players. And I’m building a National League team because I’m an American and the DH sucks.
I’m not getting into additional roster spots for minor leaguers, so ignore the question of “what happens if someone gets hurt?” Remember, this is hypothetical. If an organization were going to attempt to build an entire roster this way, it would have to develop players with specializations in mind, which is not a terrible idea, but is an article for another day.
With eight spots to fill and 13 players to work with, that leaves me with three players who need to play every day. That’s what switch-hitters are for.
If my goal really is to go an entire season without having a hitter face a same-handed pitcher, I’m going to need some positional flexibility. If I have three players playing every day, I want two of them to be my shortstop and center fielder. It’s a personal preference, but my two defensive captains aren’t where I want to have a rotating door, even on this team. Catcher would be up there as well if catchers didn’t already have to take days off for wear and tear anyway.
So to start my team, I’ll look for the best switch-hitting shortstop and center fielder I can find. This team is going to have to be built around solid defense (I’m not expecting a lot of sluggers on this squad), so I want players who are plus defenders.
My first two players are Jimmy Rollins and Dexter Fowler.
Rollins has been a steady defensive shortstop for a decade and is just the stable player I want to solidify my defense up the middle (as long as he hustles). Fowler has always been a plus-defender and this year has finally hit enough to warrant full-time at-bats. Neither has a drastic platoon split like many switch-hitters do either.
With two players firmly entrenched, the remainder of this team is going to need some positional flexibility. We also need another switch hitter.
Enter Ben Zobrist.
A player like Zobrist, who switch-hits and plays multiple positions, is essential to this team-building strategy. I don’t know where I’m going to play him yet, but I’m sure his ability to play all over the field will come in handy. If nothing else, he can also back up Rollins at short in a pinch.
For now, I’m pretty sure Zobrist will play second base part of the time; it just remains to be seen whether he plays there versus righties or lefties. This team will essentially have two different starting lineups, one against righties and one against lefties, and Zobrist, Rollins and Fowler will be the only ones in both of them. Rollins and Fowler will remain in their same defensive spots. Zobrist will move around because he can.
My next task was to find a second baseman. Now that I’m getting into the portion of my team that won’t be playing full-time, I’m not going to allow myself to select players who are too associated with being starters. I’d love to have Ryan Howard and Josh Hamilton facing only righties, but that would be really unrealistic, and I’m trying to be only a little unrealistic.
While searching for the right second baseman, I came across Logan Forsythe, who I knew more about from his days as a moderately touted prospect in the Padres organization than I did about his major league career. I knew that he had yet to firmly entrench himself as a starter on the Padres, but I was unaware of his massive platoon splits.
Forsythe, a right-handed hitter, has a career line of .227/.297/.314 against right-handed pitchers, but has hit .333/.404/.485 against lefties. It’s not a good sign for Forsythe’s career if this continues, but it’s a good sign for him making my team. His ability to play second and third base and potency against lefties makes him a perfect fit for this team.
Looks like Zobrist will be playing second base against righties, putting him in right field (his other primary position) against lefties, meaning I need a right-handed hitting right fielder.
My right-handed options will be getting fewer starting opportunities than their left-handed counterparts, so in general, I’m going to look for players who are more accustomed to coming off the bench, and in an ideal world, are also strong defensive players. The way I see it, my left-handed lineup will see a lot of LOOGYs in the late innings, forcing my manager to pinch-hit. If these right-handed options are entering the game in the late innings, they should fit the mold of defensive-replacement as well.
In my search of right-handed hitters who played a corner outfield spot, I saw lots of good options. If I wanted to add a little pop to the lineup, I could go for the likes of Scott Hariston and John Mayberry Jr., two players who have fallen into that in-between category where they’ve had success against lefties so their teams have tried them in a full-time role, only to be disappointed. With the intent of keeping team chemistry high, and not having players who are used to full-time at-bats on my bench, I’ll pass on both.
I’m going to go with Chris Denorfia, who has a career .827 OPS against lefties but just a .704 mark against right-handers. He’s also never been a full-time player, coming his closest this season as he nears the 360 plate appearance mark. Furthermore, he’s made 92 pinch-hit appearances in his career, and lastly, he can fill-in in center field if need be.
So far we’ve got five players taking up eight of our 16 spots in our two batting orders, leaving us eight for the remaining eight. That means I now just need to find players who dominate pitchers from one side of the rubber or the other.
My team still needs platoons at catcher, first base, third base and left field. From here on out, it’s really just about preference. There are a number of platoon options throughout the league at every position, and there are no wrong choices, but to make it realistic, I stuck to players with significant platoon splits (thus making them the type of flawed player I could actually obtain) and I stuck with players who, for the most part, can play more than one position.
Except behind the plate.
Because of the left-right goal on this team, I’m going to carry the standard left and right-handed hitting catchers, but I’m also going to make sure that one of my additional players can also catch.
My left-handed hitting catcher will be my starter, and there are few catchers in the game with a bigger platoon split than John Jaso. Jaso has turned himself into a major league starter simply by being a left-handed hitting catcher, because catchers sit enough that he doesn’t get classified as a platoon player, which he is. If he played third base, that’s what he’d be.
In his career, Jaso has hit .267/.366/.415 versus right-handed pitching, but .169/.306/.237 verses lefties. His strong plate discipline remains intact, but everything else falls off the wagon. He’s perfect for my team.
For my right-handed catcher, take your pick. For my team, I’ll take a guy like Michael McKenry, who has had a surprisingly good year for the Pirates because manager Clint Hurdle won’t play him more. McKenry this season has hit .255/.339/.510 against lefties but just .240/.320/.447 vs. righties. He’s a perfect backup.
I need a third catcher, but I want one who can be a full-time player at another position and serve mainly as my emergency catcher, or occasional starter if need be. That doesn’t leave me with a ton of options.
There are a number of catchers who have also seen time at first base, but there are also a lot of extreme platoon first baseman I’d like to squeeze onto this team, so ideally, I’d like to find a player who can play a different position.
There’s really only one such player who fits this description, and that’s Ryan Doumit.
It’s cheating a little bit because Doumit is a switch-hitter, and if I have too many, I’m basically just putting together an all-switch-hitting team, and that’s no fun. But despite being a switch-hitter, Doumit still has a pretty massive platoon split. As a left-handed hitter, he has a career .802 OPS, but as a righty, he’s at just .707. Those are two very different hitters.
I’m going to have Doumit start only against righties on this team. He can play both first base and left field, and I’m pretty sure I can do better when I look for a left-handed hitting first baseman, so Doumit will serve as my starting left-fielder vs. righties and my third catcher.
That leaves me looking for a right-handed hitting left fielder. We’re basically looking from the same pool of players from which I found Denorfia, and I’m looking for a similar-type player.
And surprisingly, I’m going to stick with the Padres.
Jesus Guzman emerged last season as a legitimate power threat, but when further exposed to the league this season, it became evident why he had never been a full-time player. Guzman’s career splits are pretty dramatic (.891 OPS vs. lefties, .698 OPS vs. righties), but they got even worse this season after the league got a book on him. In 2012, Guzman has received almost equal exposure to lefties and righties (meaning the Padres have protected him as much as possible), but he’s hit .298/.397/.537 against lefties and just .206/.254/.331 against righties. Against righties, he loses both his power and his plate discipline, but against southpaws, he’s a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter, even while playing half of his games at Petco.
With Doumit and Guzman as my left fielders, I’ll have to hope that I play at a ballpark with a small left field, but since this team is taking the field in my imagination, I’ll make sure that happens.
That leaves us needing just first and third baseman, and the roster spots to have one of each handedness for both spots.
At the hot corner, I’m going to go with a platoon of Matt Carpenter and Jeff Keppinger, both of whom fit my mold of having big platoon splits and playing multiple positions. Carpenter hit .323/.403/.478 against righties this season while hitting just .255/.273/.200 versus lefties. He can also play first base and both corner outfield spots, and even has a few appearances at second base this season. Keppinger is equally impressive in his splits, hitting .332/.375/.485 versus lefties this season and just .270/.322/.360 against righties. He won’t play as often as Carpenter, but his flexibility at first and second base should also come in handy.
I’ve got plenty of players on this team who can handle first base, with Keppinger, Carpenter, Zobrist, Doumit and Guzman all having spent time there, but I still have to open spots on my team and am going to fill them with first basemen.
I need some pop on this team, so I’m going to look for flawed sluggers, and there are few more flawed than Garrett Jones.
Jones has a career line of .280/.349/.503 against right-handers, giving him legitimate pop against two-thirds of the league’s pitchers. The rest of the league, those pitching from the left-side, have had no problem getting Jones out, as he’s hit just .199/.238/.355 against southpaws in his career. He’s virtually non-existent against lefties, but he’s plenty potent against righties.
For my remaining spot, I want Paul Goldschmidt. It violates my rule on not taking players who are used to starting and using them in a part-time rule, but bear with me. I can explain.
Goldschmidt put together a nice sophomore season in the majors in 2012, hitting .289/.363/.493 overall with an impressive 43 doubles and 19 home runs. It’s not a bad season on its face, but it has a few specific problems.
For one thing, while his overall power production was not terrible, a slugging percentage below .500 and 19 home runs is below average production for an everyday first baseman. The doubles indicate that there may be more home run power in his bat down the road, but there’s also the possibility that there isn’t.
If he never becomes the 30-plus homer threat the Diamondbacks envision, it’s likely because of his massive platoon split. Against right-handers, the right-handed hitting Goldschmidt loses most of his power. This season, Goldschmidt hit just .258/.329/.408 against right-handers, and hit just nine of his 19 home runs against them despite almost 200 more at-bats.
Goldschmidt may be a starter for now, but if he continues to struggle against righties and lose all of his power against them, he may not be a starter for long. His overall numbers remain acceptable because of how good he’s been against lefties, hitting .351/.429/.661 against them this season. Overall, his domination of lefties helps average out his overall numbers, but in reality, he’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He’s not a .289 hitter. He’s a .351 hitter and a .250 hitter with no power, depending on who he’s facing. I don’t know how long the Diamondbacks will continue to let him face righties.
On my team, he won’t. He’ll just dominate the lefties.
Which wraps up my team. My lineup vs. righties looks like this:
- 1- Fowler, CF
- 2- Denorfia, RF
- 3- Zobrist, 2B
- 4- Jones, 1B
- 5- Doumit, LF
- 6- Rollins, SS
- 7- Carpenter, 3B
- 8- Jsao, C
And versus lefties:
- 1- Fowler, CF
- 2- Keppinger, 3B
- 3- Zobrist, RF
- 4- Goldschmidt, 1B
- 5- Rollins, SS
- 6- Guzman, LF
- 7- Forsythe, 2B
- 8- McKenry, C
Neither lineup has anyone truly fearsome in it (except perhaps Goldschmidt against lefties), but they both offer balance and have no real holes.
Again, this is not a realistic exercise, but one that does point out the advantages of using platoons properly. This team may never be able to come together completely, but aspects of it could be used to help many teams that struggle for offense.
Jeff Moore is the creator of MLBProspectWatch.com, your one-stop site for all the information you need about minor league prospects. He can be reached via e-mail at mlbprospectwatch AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter at @MLBPW