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The Blue Jays’ disappointing left field situation

The planned platoon of Melvin Upton and Ezequiel Carrera is unlikely to cut it for a hopeful contender in the AL East.

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox
Bluejays Left Field
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As things stand, the Toronto Blue Jays plan on using a platoon of Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera in left field to start the 2017 season. Initially, there was some talk about using Steve Pearce there, but given that he’s coming back from shoulder surgery, it’s likely he’ll see more time at first base, platooning with Justin Smoak. What Justin Smoak’s value is to a major league club? It’s a conversation for another day, because today we’ll try to analyze what the Blue Jays can expect from the Upton/Carrera left field platoon.

Melvin Upton Jr. has been around in the major leagues for a long time. He spent the majority of his career playing for a different AL East team, the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was bastion of inconsistency. On the surface, he has all the tools to be a star player, but never found any kind of consistency year over year. His best year was 2008, when he posted a 4.8 fWAR while stealing 44 bags and getting on base at a .383 clip. His last truly successful year also came with the Rays, when he posted a 3.3 fWAR in 2012.

In the last few years, however, Upton has not been much more than a replacement-level player. He signed a healthy contract with Braves before the 2013 season, but after very poor performance was traded to the Padres and, subsequently, to the Blue Jays, in a move where the Padres ended up eating his salary to get him off their roster. Since coming over the Blue Jays, Upton has hit .196/.261/.318 in 165 plate appearances, and since he left the Rays, in 1795 PAs, he’s hit .218/.288/.356.

On the other hand, Ezequiel Carrera has been with the Blue Jays for the past couple of seasons, where he has done an admirable job as a fourth outfielder. He has played 201 games during this span, mostly filling in during injuries to regular players, and has hit .258/.322/.362 in 502 PAs over that span.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a platoon would mean Upton gets more playing time against lefties while Carrera would righties. Let’s look at their career splits against those sets of pitchers:

Opposite-Handed Splits

Player ABs PAs HR AVG OBP SLG K% wRC+
Player ABs PAs HR AVG OBP SLG K% wRC+
Upton vs L 1424 1672 45 .249 .351 .409 27.5% 109
Carrera vs R 646 726 9 .245 .304 .345 20.8% 78
Career Splits data www.fangraphs.com

Upton over his career has been about league-average against lefties, while Carrera has a horrible wRC+ of 78 against righties. Considering that righties are more common, and Carrera would end up with the majority of plate appearances in this traditional platoon, this is a frightening proposition for the Jays.

Another thing to consider, which Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has addressed, was Carrera’s reverse splits, meaning he has done better against lefties than righties in the past. But if both Upton and Carrera hit lefties well, then the Blue Jays need someone who can play left field and hit righties well, or else this won’t be much of a platoon. Let’s look at these two player’s records against same handed pitchers:

Reverse Splits

Player ABs PAs HR AVG OBP SLG K% wRC+
Player ABs PAs HR AVG OBP SLG K% wRC+
Upton v. R 3751 4186 119 .242 .309 .399 27.5% 93
Carrera v. L 231 254 2 .286 .343 .368 20.9% 98
Against same handed pitchers www.fangraphs.com

This makes things look even worse; both are no more than offensively replacement level (and that’s if you trust Carrera’s small sample of plate appearances). Given how competitive the AL East looks, and given the other holes the Jays have on their roster (like at first base), it’s important they look to improve in left if at all possible.

Moving forward, this duo can be expected to combine for, at most, a win or win and a half in 2017. Most of their value comes from defense, which has been inconsistent of late and rarely stellar. In 2016, both Upton and Carrera posted average defensive numbers combined.

One intriguing option, up until his injury during Spring Training, was Dalton Pompey. Young, but no longer a top prospect, Pompey can still offer similar value to this Upton/Carrera combo on both offense and defense, and do so at a league-minimum salary. The other benefit on giving Pompey an extended look is that what Carrera and Upton produce collectively might be a worst-case scenario with Pompey. If that’s all the Blue Jays get, they at least have given themselves an opportunity to know what they have in him and if he is part of the team’s future going forward. On the other hand, if he gives you better value than Carr-ton, you improve your performance internally, without spending money or prospects.

The Toronto Blue Jays have plenty of power, with at least five players capable of hitting 20 home runs or more. However outside of these five players — Donaldson, Bautista, Morales, Tulowitzki and Martin — there is a lot of offensive uncertainty. Center fielder Kevin Pillar is a defensive wizard and brings an enormous amount of defensive value but limited offense; first base has Justin Smoak spreading his wingspan; at second base, Devon Travis continues to recover from his knee injury, giving Ryan Goins an opportunity to play everyday and provide as much defensive value in the infield as Pillar provides in center field. The result is a roster that has two spots left to improve at: perhaps first base, and definitely left field. It doesn’t look like the Upton/Carrera platoon is going to cut it.