The potential impact of a well-used platoon pairing is no secret around major league baseball nor among Beyond the Box Score’s regular readers. It is indeed common knowledge that many hitters perform far better against opposite-handed pitchers, and moreover, that a hitter can be made far more valuable when used in the right situations or against the right type of pitcher.
Take Oakland’s Brandon Moss, for example, a 29-year-old first baseman who never even received 250 plate appearances in a single season in the majors until 2012. Since the start of last year, Moss ranks within the top 25 in all of baseball with 47 home runs, tied with another first baseman named Albert Pujols and just ahead of St. Louis’ Matt Holliday. To illustrate just how valuable a well-platooned player like Moss can be, let me just note how much money Moss is making this season ($1.6 million) compared with Pujols ($16 million) and Holliday ($17 million).
The secret behind Moss’ success, of course, is Oakland’s ability and willingness to put him in the best situations to succeed. So far in 2013, for instance, the left-handed slugger has faced right-handers in 82% of his plate appearances, while belting 22 of his 26 long balls against righties. Such usage has enabled Moss to hit .255/.338/.502 this year, while posting a .263/.349/.521 line and a 141 wRC+ in 381 plate appearances against righty opponents.
Relying on platoon pairings is nothing new for Oakland, who famously rode a number of part-time players to the AL West division title in 2012. In many ways, the A’s have repeated their success with platoon players this season, splitting at-bats between Derek Norris, John Jaso, and Stephen Vogt at catcher, Moss and Nate Freiman at first base, and rotating the trio of Josh Reddick, Seth Smith, and Chris Young in the outfield. These players, along with Oakland’s more regular performers, have contributed to an offense that ranks fifth in the American League in home runs, sixth in wRC+, and seventh in OPS.
But the A’s are not the only team to take advantage of a given player’s skills against opposite-handed pitchers. Boston’s Mike Carp, who the team acquired from Seattle in February for cash considerations, is hitting .314/.379/.564 with a 151 wRC+ this season in 201 plate appearances. Ninety-two percent of Carp’s at-bats have come against right-handers, including eight of his nine home runs. Throughout much of 2013, the Red Sox have relied on players like Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava, David Ross, and Carp as important cogs in platoon pairings.
The Jays have used their lefty first baseman, Adam Lind, in a similar manner, coaxing the best season out of Lind since his 2009 campaign by restricting his plate appearances versus southpaws. Against righties this year, Lind has compiled a .372 on-base percentage and a 137 wRC+ compared with a .250 OBP and 60 wRC+ against left-handers.
Why more teams don’t use the benefits of platoons more often remains an unanswered question, especially when cash-strapped organizations like the Rays and A’s contend year after year by getting better offensive production from less investment when platooning players. Matt Joyce has made his career out of hitting well against righties for Tampa Bay, and since 2010, 82% of Joyce's 1,638 plate appearances have come against them.
Sometimes injuries can foil the laid best plans, as the Yankees encountered earlier this season when they had little choice but to field an overmatched lineup each night. It must be admitted, though, that Yankee GM Brian Cashman has shrewdly and successfully combined players such as Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, and Raul Ibanez to fill in possible holes in years past.
Nevertheless, despite the potential value that platoons hold, many teams, either by necessity or simply smarter planning, have taken better advantage of players who hit better against either lefties or righties.
For an organization like the A’s, the benefits only grow more stark each time Brandon Moss belts a home run deep to right.
. . .
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com.
Alex Skillin is a regular contributor to Beyond the Box Score and also a Staff Editor for SoxProspects.com. He writes, mostly about baseball and basketball, at a few other places across the Internet. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexSkillin.