2011: Year of the Platoon?

The Blue Jays have been fairly active this offseason retooling their lineup and organization both for 2011 and beyond, though perhaps not as active as some would like. As dedicated readers of this forum know, I am firmly of the belief that the 2010 Blue Jays were a top tier team and can continue to be so with only a few easy-to-make improvements, both from inside and outside the organization. Given the ease of these moves, such activity does not preclude AA and the Jays’ front office from continuing to retool for the future via trade (Lawrie, Gose) and investing in the draft and international signees.

Here, I present a modest proposal for improving the Jays offense in 2011 – a platoon-based lineup. The idea of a positional platoon is very well accepted in baseball. However, given that the Jays have several players capable of playing multiple positions on the field, I propose to not simply interchange players at one position, but to change half the lineup depending on the handedness of the starting pitcher the team is to face.

Note that this proposal uses only players the Jays have currently under contract or team control, except for the DH position. As I am a large proponent of signing Manny Ramirez to fill that spot, I have included him in my sample lineups. Any player the Jays sign to be an every-day DH would fit into these configurations, but it would work best if that player hit well against both RHP and LHP (e.g. Manny) rather than having heavy splits (e.g. Jim Thome). I like Manny in the number 2 slot since, at this point in his career, he brings great OBA (>400 the past 3 seasons, nothing below 388 since 1997) and decent power (~20HR is reasonable, IMO). I'd even consider leading him off, but I think the outrage from sports-yak radio types ("you can't lead off MANNY RAMIREZ!!!") would be too deafening.

My platoon idea revolves around 3 principal players and 2 supporting actors: The principals are Lind, Encarnacion and Davis. Bautista and Wells play supporting roles by changing defensive positions to make things fit, but don’t really change the overall outcome.

Here are the proposed lineups:

Vs RHP                                  Vs LHP

Escobar SS                           Davis CF

Manny DH                           Manny DH

Bautista RF                          Bautista 3B

Wells CF                               Wells RF

Lind 1B                                  Snider LF

Hill 2B                                    Hill 2B

Snider LF                              Encarnacion 1B

Encarnacion 3B                     Escobar SS

JPA C                                     Arencibia C

PH/PR: Davis                      PH/PR: Lind


Now let’s look at the splits of the principal players plus Yunel using OPS:

                                2010                                       career                   other

Lind splits            L:341(142PA) R:829          L:608 R:860          2009—L:780 R:992

E5 splits                L:914(78PA) R:755            L:847 R:768

Davis splits          L: 784     R: 666                    L:750 R:694

Escobar splits      L: 733  R: 633                        L: 739  R:771

In 2010, Lind was laughably bad against left handed pitching. Even in his disappointing 2010 season, though, he still hit right handed pitching very well (for comparison, Ryan Braun put up an 866 OPS this season). In his breakout 2009 season, Lind did better against lefties, but E5’s career mark vs LHP still beats him by over 65 OPS points (which equals the difference between Matt Holliday and Billy Butler in 2010).

Rajai Davis, who over his career is approximately an average offensive contributor (according to fangraphs), is actually quite a good hitter against left handed pitching, both career and in 2010. If we assume he also provides league-average CF defense (better than what we can expect from Wells, IMO), he would be an above average contributor as a starter against left handed pitching. I would even consider leading him off against LHP, since Escobar has reverse splits over his career. However, in 2010, Yunel had a >380 OBA against LHP, which I would certainly want at the top of the order. 

Let’s look at the pros and cons of my proposed alignment:

Pros: Obviously, ensuring that the Jays offensive output is maximized by exploiting strong splits and hiding Lind and Davis’ poor hitting against LHP and RHP, respectively. Assuming they hit to their career averages, a platoon of Lind and E5 at 1B would produce 855-860 OPS, better than Carl Crawford or Scott Rolen’s 2010 OPS and the same as Butler, Ryan Howard, Andre Ethier and David Wright. That’s pretty good production right there, and I don’t think it terribly unlikely that they could surpass those numbers.

As well, I don’t see much of a problem defensively, as I think Bautista can be approximately as good as E5 at 3B. Lind will be fine at 1B, and his superior bat vs. RHP more than mitigates whatever defensive deficiency he brings relative to Edwin. Davis in CF is probably better at this point than Wells in CF (certainly not worse), so there is no defensive drop there, and Wells is almost certainly a better RF than Bautista. Our defensive alignment vs LHP is probably a bit better than that vs RHP, but Lind’s strong bat against RHP makes up for his defensive problems when he is in the lineup.

Cons: 1) This would mean basically giving up on Lind as an everyday player, at least in the short term. Do we really want to stunt the development of a guy who we hoped would be a centerpiece offensive player on a contending Jays team? Maybe it’s better to keep throwing him out there against LHP to see if he can rediscover his 2009 form, or even improve on it.

2) Bautista will need to play 2 very different positions consistently (3B and RF). He would need to play 3B about 25% of the time, and often switch positions midgame if Davis/Lind came in as a pinch hitter in the later innings. E5 and Wells would also need to be flexible, though the difference between their positions is seemingly less drastic than for Bautista. Could they do this effectively? Would it affect their offense having to constantly think about different defensive responsibilities? I don’t think this is a major problem, but I could be wrong.

Could this alignment work? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Are there other benefits/drawbacks I left out? I leave it to the discussion board to hash this out…

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