SB is running a promotion for the Moneyball movie, opening tomorrow. Anyone want to go with me tomorrow afternoon to see it? I am going to sneak away from all the things I really ought to be doing to see it opening day, since the rest of my weekend is filled.
Moneyball was about finding players that were undervalued by the other MLB teams. Back in the early 80's the Blue minor league system was just starting to produce some good major league players. Bobby Cox took over as manager in 2002 and found he had some really good prospects like Lloyd Moesby, Willie Upshaw, Jesse Barfield but also some gaping holes. Since the Jays weren't going to be spending a lot of money on free agents, Cox had to work with what he had.. One of the things he did, to make the most of what he had, was to platoon at a few positions.
Platooning is one of the strategies that seems to go in and out of style over the years. At the moment, it is not used all that much, because teams are carrying more pitchers than they used to. Bench players have to be able to cover a number of positions. There isn't room to carry 2 guys to play one position. It was a lot easier to platoon at 2 or 3 positions, back when teams only carried 9 or 10 pitchers. Now, when teams are carrying 12 or 13 pitchers, there isn't a lot of room to have two guys share a position.
I have an idea that, at some point, some GM is going to have the 'Moneyball' idea to platoon in a couple of positions again. It might be easier to find two guys that can put up decent production, each when they have the platoon advantage than find one guy that can hit both lefties and righties. Or maybe, it wouldn't work as well anymore because teams carry more relievers, so they can match up better.
A couple of the positions Cox platooned at were third base and catcher.
At third base, Cox used Rance Mulliniks and Garth Iorg. Mulliniks was a left-handed batter, who came up as a shortstop with the Angels and then went to Kansas. He didn't hit well enough, with either team, to earn himself a full-time role. Iorg was a right-handed hitting middle infielder, who hadn't hit much in his first couple of seasons with the Jays.
Iorg would never become much of a hitter. Rance, on the other hand, played with the Jays for 11 seasons and really turned out to be a good player for us. In reality, they should have given up on the platoon and given him the full-time job.
Now I have a hard time separating the player that I really liked, from the color commentator that I hated listening to on Sportsnet. As a player, he hit for a decent average, took a good number of walks and had occasional power.. From 1983 to 1988 he had OPS+ of 125, 124, 125, 103, 127 and 143. Not bad for a former light hitting shortstop. .
I always liked Mulliniks as a player, he seemed to get the very most out of his fairly limited athletic ability. He wasn't big. He wasn't fast. He wore glasses. But he worked really hard to become the best player he could.
At catcher, Cox used a platton of Ernie Whitt and Buck Marinez. Whitt was the left-handed half of the platoon. He an original Jay, he played a few games in our first season but really didn't get much playing time until 1980. Buck Martinez was the right-handed half. Buck was your basic good glove/bad bat catcher. His batting line, in 6 seasons with the Jays, was .222/.298/.378.
Whitt was never a high average hitter and didn't hit for much power until 1982 when, at 30, he learned to pull the ball. He as in double figures for home runs every year from 1982 to 1989. He also had a pretty good eye, he would take his share of walks. Between the decent power and the ability to walk, he kept his OPS+ over 100 for 7 straight seasons.
I loved his swing, it was an all out pull swing. He had an open stance, and would swing as hard as he could, often he'd finish with his left knee on the ground. He was a smart hitter, as a catcher he was pretty good at guessing along with the pitcher. He was also a good defensive catcher.
Ernie played 12 seasons for the Jays. As a platoon player, he didn't have the great counting stats, but hit 131 homers and drove in 518 runs as a Jay. He also coached for us for a few years then was let go when John Gibbons was fired and then burned bridges with the team, calling himself the best manager the Jays never had.
So Mulliniks and Whitt are my choices as the most under-appreciated Blue Jays ever. Who would you pick?