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Why Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion should break up

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Batting Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion back-to-back seems like a good intimidation tactic, but it might not be a good baseball tactic.

Mike Stobe

The Blue Jays are very fortunate to have both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

Both players could be described as top-ten hitters in the major leagues and by definition most teams don't even have one guy like that. The pair is the foundation upon which the Jays impressive lineup is built. This team is designed to score a ton of runs, and when they are doing so Bautista and Encarnacion are driving the bus.

Furthermore the Jays are lucky to have the two sluggers because they happened upon each more or less by accident. Jose Bautista was brought on as a depth piece they got in exchange for a Robinzon Diaz, who is 30 years old and has one MLB home run to his name. Edwin Encarnacion was a stopgap third baseman whose contract the team took one for the privilege of getting Zach Stewart and Josh Roenicke.

The fact that they have not converted this extraordinary good fortune into more wins and playoff appearances is both infuriating and depressing, but ultimately it's a topic for another day. If the Jays can squeek into the playoffs in any of the next couple of years all will be forgiven. If not, the team has spat on an unprecedented gift from the baseball gods.

While Bautista and Encarnacion are around, it might behoove John Gibbons to deploy them the most effective way possible. In my view, the first place to start is with the raw numbers. Tom Tango's 2006 must-read The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball is the definitive authority on lineup optimization. His thoughts on the matter are best summed up in this piece over at Beyond the Boxscore.

The long and short of it is this. The #2 hole and #4 hole should contain your best hitters. While Melky Cabrera has been fantastic this season it's obvious that Bautista and Encarnacion are at another level. The #3 spot in a lineup, largely because it comes up so often with two outs and no one on, is just not an important enough place to but a guy like Bautista.

This is not news in a sense. The Blue Jays dabbled with Bautista hitting second last year. It's not entirely clear why they abandoned it. The only lead we have is the good old-fashioned human element.

I will willingly admit there is more to this than the numbers. It is clear that Jose Bautista prefers hitting in the three spot, and that's why probably why he's there. That doesn't mean nothing. His comfort level is important.

However, he spent a lot of time (242 AB) hitting second last year and the results were far from disastrous with a .252/.332/.488 line. He's a better hitter than that, but it is clear that the psychological strain of hitting in a different spot did not completely erase his ability to destroy baseballs.

The this issue isn't just about the relative importance of different spots in the lineup. Bautista should be hitting second, but another factor here is the advantage is splitting up Bautista and Encarnacion and slotting Lind between them.

The idea of going right-left-right in a lineup seems inherently old school, but platoon splits are a very real phenomenon and managers should be looking to get their players into situations where they have the platoon advantage as much as possible. Failing in that they should at least force other managers to use their best bullpen arms on a single batter.

The following chart shows how often the Blue Jays' top 10 hitters by plate appearance have faced opposite-handed hurlers this season.

Player

Platoon Advantage Percentage

Melky Cabrera

100%

Jose Reyes

100%

Dioner Navarro

100%

Juan Francisco

85%

Adam Lind

85%

Anthony Gose

77%

Colby Rasmus

74%

Brett Lawrie

23%

Edwin Encarnacion

22%

Jose Bautista

22%

League Average

58%

It is very difficult to get right-handed hitters who start every day a platoon advantage. I'm surprised to see Brett Lawrie here, considering his career numbers, but he been something of a lefty killer in the past. The numbers for the right handed bats here aren't shockingly low, but all of them are below their career averages.

When games begin to come down to the later phases, there is just no way Bautista or Encarnacion are going to see any southpaws.  In fact, they are a big pair of targets for specialist righties like Darren O'Day and Joe Smith.

That's important because even though the two stars can clearly handle right-handed pitching, they unsurprisingly do their best work against lefties.

Splits

Jose Bautista

Edwin Encarnacion

2014 wRC+ vs. RHP

140

159

2014 wRC+ vs. LHP

200

157

Career wRC+ vs. RHP

126

117

Career wRC+ vs. LHP

137

133

If you envision a late game inning with the Jays 2-4 spots coming up reading Cabrera-Bautista-Encarnacion the opposing manager's tactics are clear. Melky Cabrera has almost exactly even platoon splits (wRC+ of 103 vs. LHP and 101 vs. RHP) so you put in your very best right hander and hope he can mow down all three. If you get to Adam Lind, in comes the southpaw to finish the job.

In the same situation is the Jays 2-4 was Bautista-Lind-Encarnacion things are more complicated. You can try and burn through all three with a right hander, but that gives Lind a shot to do what he does best. If you go right-left-right with your relievers the three-pitcher innings may come to haunt you later. Not only that, but Encarnacion gets to face only your second best guy from the right side. Another course might to go with a righty then a lefty and hope for the best with Edwin. The Jays would take that any day of the week.

The situation I've outlined here is very specific, but the overall premise of putting Lind between the two right handed sluggers is probably better for late-game situations. The guy who benefits the most may actually be Lind in this case, but that's OK because he is the player of the three who is most reliant on his platoon advantage.

At the end of the day lineup construction is a pretty minor factor when it comes to the overall task of winning baseball games. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be examined. The Blue Jays are in a position where squeezing out every additional run and every additional win couldn't be more important.

For that reason, and despite Jose Bautista's likely complaints, it might be time to break up the best two hitters this team has to offer, you know, again.