I get it. Platooning is a way of increasing offensive output. The idea is you have two guys who play the same position but one of them hits way better against righties while the other hits way better against lefties. Sort of seems like a no brainer when you play each guy - right?
Platoons have been around FOREVER, and they certainly aren’t going away.
Of course the main reason why these splits have come into play is that right-handed pitchers throw a ball that breaks away from a right handed hitter and toward a lefty. And vice versa. It’s generally easier to hit a ball that’s over the plate instead of breaking away from you. Of course this only comes into play with breaking balls and not as much on straight fastballs.
Platoons can be good. They can also be bad. First, let’s look at a few platoons that ARE/HAVE worked.
Jon Jay (L) / Albert Almora Jr (R) (CF - Cubs) - 2017
Jay is slashing .299/.389/.771 while Almora is slashing .273/.328/.728. This platoon of a vet and a rookie is working out really well for the Cubs. Career wise, Jay has pretty even splits, but in 2016 he had an OBP 62 points higher against righties which is pretty significant and in 2015 it was pretty much more of the same. So far in 2017, Jay’s OPS is 70 points higher against righties. While Jay vs. righties makes sense, Almora is a bit more confusing since he actually hits righties better than lefties, though his slugging and overall output is better against lefties, and more importantly, he is slugging .550 against lefties compared to Jay’s .333. This is a platoon I can get behind and it doesn’t seem to be affecting the output of either player.
Hank Conger (L) / Chris Iannetta (R) (C - Angels) - 2014
In general, catching platoons make a lot more sense that other positions since it’s difficult for anyone to catch 150+ games per year. In this case, it was a lefty righty platoon that worked out pretty well even though neither catcher was a superstar hitter. Conger was horrible against lefties in 2014, with a .188 AVG and no extra base hits. Iannetta on the other hand, hit .272 vs. lefties and slugged .491. Conger played the perfect backup to give Iannetta rest days when a righty was on the mound. Conger wasn’t all that great against righties either, but it’s a split that made sense to give Iannetta breaks.
Ben Revere (L) / Cameron Maybin (R) (LF - Angels) - 2017
Set aside for the fact that Ben Revere is struggling at the plate this year - he is struggling MUCH less against righties against whom he has an average that is 80 points higher and is slugging almost 200 points higher. If you look back at a more full season, Revere in 2015 slashed .318/.349/.398 vs righties compared to .271/.321/.316 against lefties which is pretty significant. Cameron Maybin has struggled mightily against righties this season to the tune o fa .209 AVG and .709 OPS but against lefties he’s hitting .333 with a .783 OPS. His BABIP vs. lefties is nearly 200 points higher. Last year, Maybin had ALMOST IDENTICAL OPS splits so perhaps he will benefit from getting his groove back, having more playing time, and adjusting to those right handed pitchers.
There are other platoons I could mention as well, but the point is that sometimes they work. But sometimes they don’t. Why?
Hitters don’t like them
If can affect their confidence. It can affect their love of playing for the team. Mookie Betts was famous for asking for a trade because he didn’t like being platooned. Earlier this year, Kolten Wong also expressed frustration with his platoon situation. Players don’t always express it, but I can bet almost none of them LIKE being in a platoon. Why wouldn’t you want to play every day? Sure, there are some guys who like it. The Shane Robinsons of the world who are fringe outfielders will take any playing time they can get at the big league level.
The wrong time
Sometimes platoons and lefty/righty match-ups just don’t make sense. Let’s look at CJ Cron. Mike Scioscia doesn’t play Cron against righties. He can’t hit righties, and I right? That’s completely wrong. First, it’s true in major league at bats this year, Cron is hitting a measly .218 against righties while he’s hitting .333 and slugging .833 against lefties. Those are pretty big numbers. BUT in 2016, Cron slashed .290/.336/.490 against right handed pitchers, so why did the Angels need to bring in a 7.5 million dollar platoon buddy to hit against right handed pitchers? Of course Valbuena can also play third base, but let’s face it - with Escobar there he was mostly brought in to take at bats away from Cron. Valbuena was a VERY expensive depth move that was not needed. I’m all for depth on team, but when it costs you THAT much money it’s a big fail.
CJ Cron can hit right handed pitching. CJ Cron can hit left handed pitching. Most of his struggles have come when he doesn’t get regular playing time. Case in point is that Cron is not slashing well against righties this year in the majors but when he was sent to AAA he was playing every day and had a rightly slashline of .324/.395/.757. He batted .400 against righties but with only a .600 slugging. All 4 of Cron’s minor league homers came off right handed pitchers. Still think he can only hit against lefties?
Don’t get me wrong, because I’m not saying Cron is an amazing player. What I AM saying is that platooning him makes very little sense and he seems to thrive on regular action. Cron had 10 days off (including pinch hit days, team days off, etc) in April between April 3 and April 28th when he went on the DL with a foot issue. When he returned, he hit in 5 out of 7 games including a grand slam before he was sent packing to Salt Lake. Cron was hitting .308 in the 4 games before being sent down with a homerun, 5 RBIs, and only 2 Ks.
Oh and Luis Valbuena in 2016? He slashed .258/.362/.479 vs. righties and .267/.341/.400 vs. lefties - both numbers far below what Cron did last year. 2017? Don’t even get me started on Valbuena who is hitting only .169 against righties. Aside from Josh Hamilton, he might be the player on the 2017 payroll with the worst contract.
Can’t get in a groove
I’ve never coached pro baseball. I have coached baseball and softball and played both. I get that you want to play the hot hitters but sometimes it’s a chicken before the egg scenario. How does a hitter get hot if they can’t play regularly? How do they play regularly if they aren’t hot? Most MLB players are going to benefit from consistent at bats. How do you get better at something? You repeat it over and over until you improve. Batting practice doesn’t cut it. There is just no substitute for a rightly getting at bats against a righty when it matters. If they are a good player, they will learn, they will adjust. Check out this recent article on why platooning Kyle Schwarber is a bad idea. In short, he needs regular at bats to get things right.
"C.J. could be a big player in this league, given the opportunity," teammate Kole Calhoun said. "Consistent at-bats, they're hard to find, though. It's nice to see him go deep [Tuesday] and just kind of gives you a glimpse of what he can do."
In the case of CJ Cron, he doesn’t seem to get that chance. Hit a grand slam? Get sent back to AAA. Get called up and hit a homerun? Ride the pine the next day. When someone is SHOWING you they are swing the bat well and you DON’T give them regular at bats, what do you think is going to happen? On the flip side, when someone is struggling bad (Valbuena, Espinosa), they need to NOT get regular at bats. Sit out. Take a breather. In some cases they the letters D and F and A after their name if sending them down to AAA isn’t an option.